How safe is your vote this November? Go behind the local election firewalls to find out

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LIBERTY, Mo. — Behind several locked doors at the Clay County Board of Commissioners office building in downtown Liberty, a single, unremarkable laptop computer sits on a table.

“It is a standalone computer. It is not hooked up to the internet or anything,” said Patty Lamb, the Republican director with the Clay County Election Board. “So it’s not able to be accessed from the outside.”

On Nov. 3, the vote totals from all of Clay County’s precincts will arrive at this building on a secure thumb drive. The totals will go from the thumb drive to the standalone laptop to be tabulated, long before the results are submitted to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office on a separate computer.

“We tell people not to worry because our system here, it’s not hackable,” Lamb said.

In addition, Clay County election officials worked tirelessly with federal authorities to shore up any cybersecurity leaks following the 2016 election.

Matt Masterson with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said election workers have been repeatedly practicing so-called “worst case scenario” disaster drills.

“Election officials are ready. They’re prepared,” Masterson said. “We’ve been working with them over the last four years across all 50 states, including Missouri and Kansas.”

Computer systems all across the nation have also been equipped with so-called “Albert” detectors, which alert officials immediately at the first whiff of a threat from malware or foreign interference.

“This is one of the huge areas of improvement from 2016 to 2020,” Masterson said. “Getting these Albert sensors deployed and working with state election officials like (Kansas Secretary of State) Scott Schwab.”

Schwab said several state and local agencies are working in lockstep to protect your vote from hackers.

“We work great with Homeland Security and the National Guard to make sure that nothing is compromised, and to this date nothing has been,” Schwab said.

But what has been seen, according to experts, are attempts at foreign interference of a different kind. Disinformation campaigns on social media have likely originated from places like Russia, China and Iran.

Election officials urge voters to make sure they’re following news about the candidates from trusted news sources.

Experts say, oddly, the best defense against foreign interference is the simplest thing: make sure you vote.

“The more people that vote, the less chance foreign influence can sway an election,” Schwab said, “because they can’t overrun the voter unless there’s hardly any voters out there voting.”

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