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Secretary of state warns of bad info

Says our elections cannot be hacked, but our minds can

YOUNGSTOWN — While Ohio has taken numerous steps to make sure its voting system can’t be hacked, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said there’s an equally important issue: Combating disinformation.

“You’re in a fight against foreign actors that want to undermine the credibility of our form of government,” LaRose said Tuesday. “We’re not going to let it happen on our watch.”

The primary threat is coming from Russia, LaRose said, but he added North Korea, Iran and possibly others are targeting people with disinformation campaigns.

Russia in particular uses social media to create confusion among voters by altering images and organizing protest rallies that seek to convince people to either vote a certain way — or to not vote at all, he said.

Russians also are targeting mainstream journalists to convince them that false information is true and trick them into reporting it to the public, LaRose said.

“Don’t think that somebody wouldn’t target us because we’re a smaller market or a smaller area of the state of Ohio or whatever else,” he said. “Ohio is on the radar. I’m here to tell you that our foreign adversaries know that Ohio plays a large role in the U.S. election so we all need to be on guard.”

The state’s election system cannot be hacked by computers, LaRose said, because the voting machines are not connected to the internet.

Someone would have to physically tamper with voting machines and that would easily be detected, he said.

Also, all ballots in Ohio are on paper and go through a post-election audit to verify the election results are accurate, he said.

“Our foreign adversaries know that they can’t hack the actual voting process,” LaRose said during his visit to the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

“They know that it is highly improbable that they would be able to break into this board of elections and others and tamper with the voting machines and actually influence the outcome of the election without getting caught. They know that if they did something like that on a large enough scale to influence an election, that conspiracy would be uncovered. It would be relatively easy for us to know that kind of thing has happened,” he said. “So instead of trying hack the elections, they’ve tried to hack our own minds. They’re trying to use what we used to call propaganda to cause us to distrust each other and to distrust our elections and in some cases, choose not to vote, which I think is the most insidious of all.”

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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