The North Carolina and Durham boards of elections are pushing back against the veracity of a recent story published by The New York Times that scrutinized how the boards conducted the 2016 election.
The Durham BOE released a statement on Friday calling on The New York Times to correct several points, including coverage of Durham County’s being targeted by Russian hackers. The NYT story alleged that the Durham BOE “rebuffed help” from federal officials and from an organization called Free & Fair after technical problems arose on election day related to the county’s electronic poll books, according to a statement emailed by both the state and local boards.
County officials said they found no record of contact with either that group or with federal officials about Russian hacking.
“County officials did not receive an offer for help from outside entities as stated in the coverage,” said the statement. “Many of the allegations contained in the coverage are based on remote hearsay or were otherwise unverified by election officials in North Carolina before the story was published.”
After the election, the county turned over equipment and computers to the N.C. State Board of Elections for independent analysis as part of an ongoing investigation of issues that arose on Nov. 8.
“Neither Durham County or the Durham County Board of Elections, its members or its staff ever was warned prior to the 2016 election of any potential hacking by anyone, including Russia,” said Durham County Board of Elections chair Bill Brian. “Even now, Durham County officials are not aware of any evidence that would suggest a hacking, Russian or otherwise.”
The electronic poll books run on a separate computer system than vote-counting machines. The release said that problems arose with the electronic poll books after about three-quarters of the votes had been cast.
The county board of elections said it was not aware of any hacking aimed at the e-poll books before June. After information leaked about the report the board had sent to the state and the NC BOE then launched its own investigation into possible hacking. The state board requested assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.
The state board also sent a letter to the New York Times, calling its article’s allegation of cyberhacking in Durham County unconfirmed.
“The implication that the State or County Board of Elections rejected federal assistance is unfounded and damaging,” according to a letter from NC State Board of Elections executive director for elections and ethics enforcement Kim Strach.