State of security: Alaska

Who’s in charge: Josie Bahnke, State Elections Director

Alaska’s huge size and dispersed population help create some unique problems for the state when it comes to securing its electoral process.

Maurice Turner, of the Center for Democracy & Technology, noted in his testimony in May 2018 before the Alaska House State Affairs Committee that overall the state does a good job of staying out ahead of threats, but it does face some unique challenges. Digital and physical communications between municipalities are hampered by the state’s geography and because at times, internet service can be spotty state election officials have to rely on the postal service to send and receive documents between election workers.

Alaska did suffer a cybersecurity incident in 2016 when an unauthorized person gained access to the server hosting the state’s public election website, but luckily the intruder did no damage. However, the fact that hackers do pose such a problem has state officials aware of the importance of not connecting polling and tallying equipment to any public facing servers.

The state is also in the process of deciding how to spend the $3 million it received from the federal Elections Assistance Commission to increase its election security.

Earlier this year Alaskan election officers attended a conference, along with those from other states, at the Belfer Center at Harvard University to learn best practices during a cyberattack. Here they participated in table-top exercises to learn how to properly react to a cyber incident on Election Day and this information was passed along to local Alaskan election staffers during a meeting in Juneau.

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