There were two burning questions for Republican Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson: Did Russian government entities or hackers compromise the state’s election system? And does she believe the 2016 election results are accurate?
Lawson did not hedge in her responses. “Indiana did not get hacked,” she said flatly. Her office was informed by the FBI late last summer that at least two states had their systems entered, and dozens of states were probed. “We examined 15,500,000 logins from the 92 county clerks’ offices. They were processing candidate filings, absentee ballot requests and petition signatures and all the things that counties do. So we were fine. Those IP addresses had not touched Indiana’s system.”
While there have been an array of news reports saying that anywhere from 21 to 30 states had their election systems probed, Lawson explained, “Not one secretary has been notified that their system was endangered in any way. Our systems are scanned multiple times a day, thousands of times a week. Some are by nefarious actors, some just curious who want to rattle the door knobs to see if any doors have been left open. We continue to work with our technology staff to make sure we haven’t left any doors open.”
The second question comes after candidate Donald Trump repeatedly asserted during the 2016 campaign that the election was likely to be “rigged.” When he won the Electoral College, but not the popular vote, President Trump cited widespread voter fraud as a prelude to launching the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, of which Lawson is a member.
“The election results are absolutely unaltered and no votes have been changed,” Lawson said.
There were more questions: Do you believe the Russian government sought to impact the 2016 presidential election, whether through election system hacking, or fake news, or via social media?
“I believe that the statements about Russia hacking the DNC data base are likely to be true,” Lawson said of the Democratic National Committee. “Do I know whether it was the Russian government? No, I don’t.”
Do you think somebody knows?
“I think somebody does,” Lawson said.
How does Lawson process President Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud as a commission member? Lawson explained, “Of the numbers I heard, three to five million fraudulent votes, we have no evidence of that here in Indiana.”
While Vice President Mike Pence chairs the commission, co-chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has suggested that we will probably never know who won the 2016 election.
Does Lawson believe that?
“I didn’t hear or see the interview with Secretary Kobach,” she said. “Do I believe the election results reflect who our president is? Yes, I do.”
Lawson said that she aligns with Pence, who said at the commission’s opening meeting, “there are no preconceived notions and no preordained outcomes.”
Might there be some surprises?
Lawson quotes Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who said, “Sunshine is a great disinfectant.”
The commission requested information that Indiana and some 40 other states cannot comply with due to state statutes that protect voter file data. What has Indiana given the commission? And what will be withheld?
“We have not given the commission anything to date,” Lawson said. “In the letter Kobach sent on behalf of himself as a commission member, he asked for any data that was publicly available, including dates of birth, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers if they were publicly available. Indiana and I, as secretary of state, cannot release dates of birth, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers. I can’t do it.”
The 2016 election was a surreal swirl of allegations and controversies. “It truly was,” Lawson conceded. “We couldn’t get the candidates to decide what they were running for. We had statements being made by the candidates and their issues with the election process. Then we had the notice from the FBI as well as the voter registration investigation. There were many stressful hours.”
That investigation she mentioned resulted in the Indiana State Police arrests of 12 people associated with the Voter Registration Project, not for vote fraud, but for mishandled election forms.
This year, Lawson has overseen the reduction of 481,000 people off the 92 county voter rolls, names removed only if they did not respond to two postcards seeking to verify addresses.
“It’s important to keep in mind that no one is ever removed from the rolls simply for not voting,” she said. Had the voter roll maintenance program been conducted prior to the 2016 election, the 58 percent turnout would have been 65 percent.
To critics of the 2005 Voter ID law she co-sponsored in the Indiana Senate that some saw as an effort to suppress voters, Lawson said that in the 2008 election when Barack Obama won Indiana’s 11 Electoral College votes, there was a record 65 percent turnout.
Lawson is a busy public servant. She is seeking a second full term. She is president of the National Secretaries of State Association. She serves on a cyber security panel. And she is always, always trying to stay several steps ahead of a world teeming with “nefarious actors.”
— Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.