Just two days before the election, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office launched an investigation Sunday into the Democratic Party after an alleged attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system.
Kemp, who is the Republican candidate for governor on Tuesday’s ballot, didn’t provide evidence linking the Democratic Party to the hacking attempt. He faces Democrat Stacey Abrams in the election.
The Democratic Party of Georgia called the allegation “100 percent false” and “an abuse of power” by Kemp’s office.
After election officials received a report Saturday that the state’s voter registration website was vulnerable, they blamed the Democrats instead of correcting the issue, said Democratic Party of Georgia Executive Director Rebeccca DeHart.
The explosive 11th-hour development Sunday intensified calls for Kemp to resign as the state’s top election official while he’s running for Georgia’s top political post. Throughout the campaign he has refused to do so.
A recent poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 has Kemp and Abrams locked in a dead heat.
The hacking allegation arose from concerns raised by a computing expert that anyone’s voter registration information could be obtained from the state’s My Voter Page and voter registration site.
The Secretary of State’s Office said the system remains secure and voter information wasn’t breached, but there was an attempt to penetrate the system.
The website’s vulnerability could allow someone to access personal information, such as their driver’s license numbers and address, and potentially change voter registration information without permission, said Richard DeMillo, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech.
“The way the website is set up, once you get access to your own voter record, you can go in and change permissions and get access to anyone’s voting records,” DeMillo said. “You can change voter registration. You can download personally identifiable information.”
Abrams called Kemp’s investigation “a desperate ploy.”
“He twice this week was told by federal judges that he was wrong when it comes to voter suppression,” Abrams told Channel 2 Action News. “He is trying to rile up his base by misleading voters yet again."
Voting access has been a flashpoint throughout the campaign.
Kemp’s office said it opened the investigation after receiving information from its lawyers about failed efforts to breach voter registration websites.
“We are working with our private sector vendors and investigators to review data logs,” said Candice Broce, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office. “We have contacted our federal partners and formally requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate these possible cyber crimes."
But an attorney for a group suing over the security of Georgia’s electronic voting machines said he provided the information about the vulnerability to the state’s attorneys.
“Someone was making a good-faith effort to determine if there’s a vulnerability, and he’s coming after them and saying it’s hacking,” said the attorney, David Cross. “It’s another failure of Kemp’s office to actually have a secure election system in the state.”
Democrats said Kemp’s investigation is a “political stunt” just before Election Day.
“Brian Kemp is desperate to save his failing campaign, and it's likely we'll see even more of his abuses of power as the election nears,” DeHart said.
Kemp’s campaign said the Democrats tried unsuccessfully to expose vulnerabilities in Georgia’s voter registration system.
“This was a fourth-quarter Hail Mary pass that was intercepted in the end zone,” said campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney. “Thanks to the systems and protocols established by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, no personal information was breached. These power-hungry radicals should be held accountable for their criminal behavior.”
The alleged hacking attempt occurred Saturday evening, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
The accusation from Kemp’s office came as President Donald Trump was visiting Georgia to campaign for Kemp.
The poll by The AJC and Channel 2 found that many voters say they’re deeply skeptical about the integrity of Georgia’s elections, including concerns about tampering and ineligible voters casting ballots.
Forty-nine percent of respondents saying they believe it’s likely or very likely that many people will show up to vote and be told they’re not eligible, according to the poll, which has a 3 percentage point margin of error.
Almost as many of those surveyed are concerned about fraud, with nearly 48 percent saying it’s likely or very likely that people who aren’t eligible will vote in the election.
The concerns largely broke along party lines.
There's no indication that voter registration information was breached.
The Democratic Party of Georgia said Kemp is trying to deflect attention from vulnerabilities in the state's online voter registration website.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office has asked the FBI to investigate as well.
Mark Niesse covers voting rights and elections for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also reports on the Georgia House of Representatives and government. He has been a reporter at the AJC since 2013 following a decade at The Associated Press in Atlanta, Honolulu and Montgomery, Ala.