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Politics & Government

How Secure Were The Midterm Elections?


How secure were yesterday's elections? U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned of efforts at foreign interference, the kind that Russia engaged in during 2016. People also worried about election hacking and more. Tammy Patrick was following some of this. She is a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization working to secure the U.S. electoral system. She's in our studios. Good morning.

TAMMY PATRICK: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What were you looking for?

PATRICK: So yesterday, I was actually in the Situation Room with the Department of Homeland Security. For the first time, they had an unclassified room where they brought in community partners, the political parties and others to monitor what was happening in the field. And what we saw yesterday was pretty much what everyone expected - typical issues. We didn't see anything that caused great alarm. With that being said, I was in the unclassified section of the Department...


PATRICK: ...Of Homeland Security, but we did just see basically typical issues

INSKEEP: What does the Department of Homeland Security look for - attacks on polling places, hacking efforts? What were they worried about?

PATRICK: Certainly. So they would have to speak directly to what they were looking for. I think that what we've seen is that - the typical things that you're talking about, so whether or not there were, in fact, breaches of security, of voter registration systems, of the tabulation equipment, whether there was physical security at the polling places and then the cybersecurity issues that we've all seen.

I think in the press release that they - or the press conference they had yesterday, they did say that it was the most secure election we've ever had in the United States. And they saw basic activity that they've been seeing throughout the entire election season.

INSKEEP: There was - this is a bit different topic, and yet it seems related in a way. There was also concern, at least on the Democratic side, in places like Georgia about essentially domestic threats to the election. Did it feel like a fair election where you were sitting? Did it feel like people were getting a chance to vote where they wanted to vote?

PATRICK: Absolutely. So I am a former election official - served in Arizona for more than a decade. And so I look at things from the perspective of an election administrator. And what I saw yesterday didn't give me great cause for alarm. I think that the election was very well conducted. I think we had some of the same challenges that we've seen in the past. And some of those challenges manifested in long lines in certain areas. But I didn't see anything that gave me pause to think it was due to malfeasance.

INSKEEP: OK. So when you hear these stories here and there, they get magnified on social media of places where the voting machines weren't working or polling places had their hours extended - this is pretty normal, you're saying.

PATRICK: So we - a couple of things that you mentioned actually aren't as normal. So the number of places where they had their polling places opened longer was actually a little atypical. There were more of those locations. But I think that our new normal is the speed with which information, whether it's correct information or misinformation, spreads through social media. And so we saw a lot of that yesterday. And that's something I think we all have to just grapple with and be good consumers of our news and make sure that the information that we're acting on is, in fact, coming from a good and true and valid source.

INSKEEP: Did you walk away from the Department of Homeland Security last night feeling that the election results, so far as they're known, is an accurate reflection of the will of the people?

PATRICK: I do believe so. Now, the other thing that's important to note is that there are still probably millions of votes being cast - or not being cast but being counted...

INSKEEP: Counted, yeah.

PATRICK: ...Rather. And so in the next couple of days and/or weeks, there will be provisional ballots being tabulated. There will be early ballots that were dropped at the polls that return through the mail that will all be counted. And once we get our official results, then we'll also have audits that will verify that.

INSKEEP: Good advice to be patient. Tammy Patrick, senior adviser at the Democracy Fund, thanks for coming by.

PATRICK: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.