Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Friday couldn't guarantee that the November election won't be completely free of hacking, but at the same time, the nation's decentralized systems should keep any serious interruptions from happening.
"We are seeing efforts at hacks into the systems of state and local election officials [and] one of two of those have been successful, into the online presence of state and local election officials," Johnson told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.
"Exactly who did it is also still under investigation. I've been out there publicly engaging with state and local election officials encouraging them to come to us for our cybersecurity expertise to help secure their own systems."
Johnson said the hacking incidents are in addition to other open investigations into the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails, as well as those of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"I'm pleased that yesterday, Speaker Paul Ryan and [House Minority] leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter for encouragement to come to us for help in this area," said Johnson. "We have to be concerned about sophistication of cyber actors and do our utmost to protect the election systems."
But even with one hacking incident being successful, there are still "established best practices" that allow backups for tallying votes, and Johnson said he suspects the system will remain secure "because it's so decentralized."
"There are 9,000 jurisdictions responsible for vote counting across this country," said Johnson."The way our elections work in this country, there's no one single point of failure."
However, there are backup plans in place, even if a person's name isn't on the registered voters' rolls.
"If you go to a poll and the people there don't have a record of your name, you can fill out a provisional ballot," said Johnson. "It happened to me once. And that's a reason why we need to have these kinds of backups."
State officials do need to watch for vulnerabilities in their systems, said Johnson, as "the most sophisticated devastating attacks occur because on employee opens an email they shouldn't have."
"What does it say about where we've come as a nation, the reason we can rest better at night knowing the Russians can't completely come in and hack and change the results of the election is because it's decentralized?" show co-host Joe Scarborough commented.
"It's not on one computer system, because it's not run like our banks are run, because it's not run like our academic institutions are run. It's not run the way our government files are run."
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