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WGLT's reporting on the November 2020 election cycle.

County Clerk Praises Illinois For Response After 2016 Voter Database Breach

John and Kathy
Dana Vollmer
Tazewell County Clerk John C. Ackerman, right, speaks during an event Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Pekin. McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael is at left.

McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said Thursday she’s “very comfortable” with the enhanced cybersecurity protections put in place across Illinois’ election infrastructure following a 2016 breach.

Russian hackers compromised a voter registration database in 2016. In response, Illinois bolstered its protections of voter databases and invested over $13 million in other measures. That includes the Illinois Cyber Navigator program, which helps smaller election authorities defend against breaches and detect and recover from cyberattacks. Michael said Cyber Navigators visited her office for a comprehensive risk assessment and gave guidance regarding software patches, system updates, and security software.

Michael praised State Board of Elections staff for “jumping into action” after the 2016 breach. She said Illinois “sometimes gets a bad rap” because of the incident even though “gladly nothing very serious happened.” 

“We feel very comfortable in McLean County with the system,” Michael said Thursday during a gathering of election officials in Pekin. “We are very appreciative of Illinois being on top of it. And I think they set the standard for the rest of the country.” 

In a handout provided Thursday, Michael also noted that her office has joined the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) and the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC). McLean County also now utilizes Albert Network Monitoring, which provides network security alerts to help organizations identify malicious activity. Michael said she’s also promoted two of her staff members to cybersecurity experts. 

And while Michael said election authorities statewide could still benefit from more federal funding, she said her biggest concern is the spread of misinformation on social media.

“That’s our biggest concern: How do you stop it? How do you stop the rumors? Cause we all know we like to go on Facebook and read the stuff,” Michael said.

She said she’s empowered Democratic and Republican election judges as “social media monitors” for the past couple years—a measure she said has helped debunk misinformation.

The clerk’s office administers elections across the county, except for the City of Bloomington. The Bloomington Election Commission handles voting there.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.
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