Russian hackers? Oregon does elections differently

Voter registration is public information

Oregon mail-in ballots being processed (KOIN, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A classified report leaked to a news outlet revealed the National Security Agency believes Russian hackers attacked at least one US voting software supplier in the days before the November 8 presidential election.

A 25-year-old with top secret clearance was arrested and charged for leaking the document to The Intercept.

But Oregon’s mail-in election system — the first-of-its-kind in the nation — is different from the system used in the rest of the US.

If you’re an Oregon voter, your ballot lives on long after you turned it in at the county elections office. But there are no names and addresses on the ballots.

ballot generic
Signed, sealed and delivered ballots. (Nov. 3, 2012 | KOIN 6 News)

Tim Scott, the Multnomah County elections director, said they just have ballot style on it. “No names, no identifying information.”

Hundreds of thousands of voted paper ballots remain separated forever from the signed envelopes they arrived in. Counties store your ballot in a locked room for 2 years before they’re shredded.

Those ballot counting machines used on Election Day are not connected to the internet.

Your voter registration cards end up at the same place. Later they’re scanned into a system and archived.

It’s actually voter registration information that is at the heart of the federal investigation into what happened during the 2016 presidential election.

Drivers line up to drop off ballots outside Multnomah County election headquarters. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Oregon does not use the company VR Systems — the company identified in the leaked classified document that was targeted by Russian hackers — to provide elections technology for the state of Oregon.

“Thankfully the vendor that had these attacks on them in Florida doesn’t have a presence in Oregon,” said Steve Trout, the elections director for Oregon. “So we are safe and protected that way.”

Trout said the elections staff undergoes regular training and reminders on “how to handle and prevent these kinds of phishing campaigns.”

But he also pointed out Oregon’s ballot counting system and voter registration system are not connected.

Voters need to remember voter registration is public information. But knowing your actual ballot remains secret is a relief for many voters.