NOEL KING, HOST:
The midterm elections are four months away. And there are real concerns about election interference. Yesterday, at the Aspen Security Forum, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats talked about the threat that Russia poses.
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DAN COATS: I think we have to be relentless in terms of calling out the Russians for what they've done. We have to be vigilant in terms of putting steps in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.
KING: I talked with NPR reporter Miles Parks about whether there's more security around these upcoming elections than there was around the presidential election in 2016.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: When you think about how Russians operated this cyberattack, basically, a lot of it was what's called spear phishing - targeted emails to try and get passwords from people. Election officials were not thinking like targets before the summer of 2016. And there was a lot of clicking on emails like that. Now they're thinking like targets. And that kind of changes the game in a lot of different ways. But now that caveat - the technology that we're actually using to vote - that has not really changed in the past two years. One study found that 41 states will use equipment to vote in this upcoming midterm election that's more than a decade old.
KING: Ten years old.
PARKS: Yeah, exactly. Earlier this week, I asked Senator Marco Rubio how confident he is in America's voting system. And here's what he told me.
MARCO RUBIO: I'm confident about America's election system. But I'm equally confident about the determination and the capability of Russian intelligence to interfere in ways that most people don't think about. It's not about changing votes, necessarily.
KING: When Rubio says it's not about changing votes, what does he mean? What is he saying that he is worried about?
PARKS: What he's talking about is voter confidence. Basically, this scenario does not involve actually affecting vote tallies. What it involves is going into voter registration systems, changing where people are supposed to cast their ballots, breaking into election websites that are supposed to show the winners and then showing losers instead. And basically, that sews chaos within the voting public without ever affecting or changing a vote.
KING: What is the government doing to fix this or to at least improve it?
PARKS: Right, so Congress did allocate $380 million this year to election security, which is a big deal. But it's important to realize that money in context. The state of California got more money than that for the 2000 elections to overhaul just their voting infrastructure. I don't want to say it's a drop in the bucket, but it's not enough to actually affect the hardware that people are voting on. It's going to go towards trainings and software improvements and things like that. What's unclear is whether there's more money coming down the road. House Democrats released a report earlier this month that said it would cost about $1.4 billion over the next 10 years to actually get America's voting infrastructure up to where we need it to be.
KING: And so when President Trump sort of veers back and forth on the extent to which Russia interfered in the 2016 election, as we've seen him do this week, what effect does that have on the government's ability to get the money out there and to get the job done?
PARKS: Right. I think it definitely doesn't help, so the National Association of Secretaries of State actually released a statement after that remarkable press conference in Helsinki earlier this week. And they asked the White House to, quote, "provide clear and accurate statements going forward." And then when you look at the fact that it's been academic groups and private sector groups who've actually made a lot of strides in training election workers and thinking about this issue in - on the big picture, it kind of shows that the government has had trouble making this a priority.
KING: NPR's Miles Parks. Thank you so much, Miles.
PARKS: Thank you.
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