Officials confirm investigation into attempted Lake County Board of Elections data breach used to fuel voter-fraud lies
Updated: Nov. 20, 2021, 9:42 a.m. | Published: Nov. 19, 2021, 7:34 p.m.
WASHINGTON, D. C. — Lake County auditor Christopher Galloway’s phone began going wild in August, when screen shots of information taken from Lake County’s computer system ended up on display at a cyber-symposium that My Pillow founder Mike Lindell said would demonstrate election fraud.
“We were shocked that sleepy little Lake County, where nobody had ever made a suggestion of election malfeasance, was suddenly being splashed around a cyber symposium,” recalled Galloway, who immediately began working with the Lake County Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to figure out what happened.
The cyber-symposium did not show election fraud and the Lake County information displayed by conspiracy theorists had nothing to do with the county’s elections, which run on a separate computer system from the rest of the county.
Galloway says someone in the Lake County commissioners’ offices plugged a non-county laptop into an ethernet port from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. the day of Ohio’s May 4 primaries, and recorded the equivalent of computers and printers talking to each other at a time when nobody was there.
Whoever did it used a scanning program to manually pull in packets of data, says Galloway.
“They just got a lot of nothing,” Galloway said. “It was some copier talking to a desktop saying ‘I am still here waiting for you to send me a print job.’”
The breach has triggered a federal and state probe, first reported Friday by The Washington Post, which revealed that public-records requests show that John Hamercheck, a Lake County commissioner and retired police officer, used his security badge to swipe into the fifth floor offices several times during the time when the leaked data showed the laptop was intermittently connected to the county network.
The Plain Dealer has reached out to Hamercheck but not heard back.
The Post’s report said the Lake County episode bore “striking similarities to an incident in Colorado earlier this year, when government officials helped an outsider gain access to the county voting system in an effort to find fraud.”
Both incidents “point to an escalation in attacks on the nation’s voting systems by those who have embraced Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was riddled with fraud” that include “targeting local officials in a bid to gain access to election systems — moves that themselves could undermine election security.”
The Ohio Secretary of State’s office confirmed it had investigated the matter and referred its findings to the FBI and the Ohio Attorney General’s offices. The Secretary of State’s office also said the Attorney General’s office has confirmed it opened an investigation.
Lake County Election Board Director R. Ross McDonald said the county’s Board of Election data is “fully segmented from the county networks” and there’s no way someone could breach the elections system.
“Cybersecurity has taken a strong hold in Ohio’s boards of elections,” said McDonald, who assisted with the Secretary of State’s investigation. “We do two-factor authentication on all machines.”
Galloway and McDonald said they did not know who went into the county’s system, how they transmitted it to Lindell’s group, or what their intentions were. Galloway said he’s handed all the information he has over to the FBI.
“The good news about this is that the breach showed our network security was really strong,” said Galloway. “They didn’t get anything.”