Creating a perfect defense against cybercriminals or foreign governments seeking to influence U.S. elections is "probably impossible," a top suburban election official said Wednesday.
Rather than stopping all such incursions, being able to recover from them is the key to election security, said Noah Praetz, director of elections for the Cook County clerk's office, which oversees elections in suburban Cook County.
Praetz was among four suburban officials from Lake and Cook counties who met with U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider at the Northbrook Public Library to discuss election security. The meeting was closed to the media and the public to prevent providing a "detailed road map" to anyone trying to influence elections here, Lake County Clerk Carla Wyckoff said.
Schneider, Wyckoff and Praetz were joined by Cook County Clerk David Orr and Lake County Chief Deputy Clerk Debra Nieto. They spoke with reporters afterward.
The gathering came a week after U.S. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats warned this year's elections are a potential target for the Russian government. And, on Friday, federal indictments were filed against more than a dozen Russians who tried to subvert the 2016 election and boost Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
Every American voter wants to have confidence in the integrity of their individual vote and in the integrity of the overall election, said Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat. Local, state and federal officials must defend against security breaches, he said, by detecting attacks and recovering from them.
People love voting using touch-screen computers, but keeping a paper record of voting results is critically important, the group agreed.
"We can recover from a catastrophic attack ... because we have paper ballots," Praetz said. "That's not true in the whole country."
The focus shouldn't be only on election results, Wyckoff said. Officials also need to protect computerized voter-registration systems and other election-related databases.
"We have to constantly be vigilant about all of our systems," she said.
Although elections typically are overseen at the local or county level, the federal government should help in protecting against attacks, Schneider said. He called for release of $400 million that remains unspent from the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
Democratic lawmakers have said the money could be used to replace outdated and unsecure voting machines.
Schneider also is pushing bipartisan legislation that would require the director of national intelligence to investigate whether foreign governments had interfered with a federal election within a month of Election Day.
The legislation also would mandate sanctions specifically against Russia if intelligence officials determine the Kremlin again interfered with a U.S. federal election.