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Ahead Of 2020, Voting Group Warns Most County Election Websites In Texas Are Not Secure

Voters line up to cast ballots at Austin Community College's Highland Campus in 2016.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Voters line up to cast ballots at Austin Community College's Highland Campus in 2016.

Almost 80 percent of county election websites in Texas are not secure ahead of the 2020 presidential primary, according to  a report from the League of Women Voters of Texas.

Before every major election, the nonpartisan voting group says, it looks through the state’s 254 county election websites to make sure they have the information they are legally required to have, that the information is easy to find and that it’s easy to read.

League of Women Voters of Texas President Grace Chimene said as the group conducted this review, it found a glaring issue.

“One of things that stood out to us is that there is a definite problem with website security,” she said. “I was really surprised. I was totally shocked that this is a problem.”

In particular, Chimene said, 201 of the 254 sites don’t have https in their URLs, signaling the website is secure.

“This is just the most simple thing to fix and it hasn’t been fixed,” she said.

The overwhelming majority of sites also didn't have a .gov address, indicating they are government-verified domains. Chimene said only nine counties in the state have a .gov address.

“Voters need to know that when they land on a website that it is actually the correct website,” she said. “Right now we have websites that are .net, .org, .com, and it’s really hard to tell whether it’s an actual website by the government or if it’s another website by perhaps some other organization that doesn’t have good purposes and wants to lead voters astray.”

Disinformation is a huge concern among voting rights groups ahead of 2020. In  a recent report, the Brennan Center for Justice urged state and local election officials to “ensure adequate preparations are in place to quickly and effectively recover if prevention efforts are unsuccessful.”

The report listed possible attacks, including “hacking of election websites that provide information on polling locations, voting times, and registration status.”

Chimene said she wants to see state leadership on this issue, particularly from the Texas secretary of state.

In a statement, the secretary’s spokesperson, Stephen Chang, said the office has been prioritizing cybersecurity ahead of the election.

“The Secretary of State’s Office plans to use approximately 24 million dollars in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds appropriated to Texas last year to strengthen election cybersecurity defenses at the state level, assist local governments in implementing improved election security measures, and strengthen the infrastructure surrounding the state’s computerized voter registration database, TEAM,” Chang said.

All that money will be spent before the general election in November, but not before the primary next spring, however.

Chimene said her group wants to see these security issues addressed before voters head to the polls. Early voting in Texas begins Tuesday, Feb. 18.

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Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.