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Security expert questions election official’s claim of cyber-attack

Students at the University of Illinois' wait for more than an hour to vote at the Illinois Street Residence Halls on Election Day. Some students reported spending up to two hours waiting to vote.

URBANA – The Champaign County Clerk’s offices reported Tuesday that they seemed to be the victim of a cyberattack on Election Day.

The attack, according to a media advisory, resulted in “connectivity issues and computer server performance.”

The advisory stated: “These cyber-attacks are a strategic and coordinated effort to undermine and destabilize our democratic process. The intent is to discourage you from voting. Please do not fall victim to this.

“The Clerk’s Office is committed to ensuring every eligible voter in Champaign County has access to a fair, free, and accessible election.”

Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons made a public statement on Twitter about the cyber attacks in response to a tweet from a Champaign County resident who talked about having a bad voting experience. 

“We believe the issue today is due to our VR vendor being attacked,” Ammons said in a tweet, presumably referring to VR Systems, which manages voting systems. “We are working with them to resolve the issue.” 

Ammons said his systems had been under constant attack for a month. In the tweet, he said he was working with his VR vendor to solve the problem.

Later, however, Axios cybersecurity reporter Sam Sabin responded to this claim by Ammons.

She said on Twitter that a senior official with the national Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency was sitting with Ammons’ vendor, and the vendor had in fact not heard from Champaign County elections officials at all.

Chief Deputy Clerk Angela Patton had no updates about the situation by late afternoon.

“We’re just focusing on processing voters. All the information that we have is in the media advisory,” Patton said. “We don’t have any updates. The state board of elections is aware, they’re investigating. That’s all we know at this point.”

Patton repeatedly declined reporters’ requests for comment and eventually sent them to a “media room” to wait for someone who could comment.

Members of the media waited in the room for more than 45 minutes, but no one from the county clerk’s office ever arrived.

Reporters then returned to the building’s main office to ask for the county clerk again. 

Ammons’ staff told the media that they had sent him to the media conference room and that now he had left the building, despite the reporters waiting in the media room for him.

Ammons did not respond to subsequent requests for comment sent through social media. Phone calls to the clerk’s election hotline went unanswered.

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