IOWA CITY, Iowa â€“ Â Republican PartyÂ officials in Iowa are taking new steps to secure their vote counting systems after an anonymous threat suggested computer hackers could attempt to disrupt next month’sÂ presidentialÂ nominating caucuses.
A video uploaded to YouTube features a computer-generated voice denouncing a corrupt political system and calls on supporters to “peacefully shut down” the Jan. 3 caucuses
The video claims to be from Anonymous, a loosely organized group of hackers who have successfully conducted past computer attacks.
Investigators aren’t sure whether the video is authentic, but party officials have instructed precinct caucuses to use paper ballots as a backup system and taken other steps to protect the database and website that displays caucus results.
The party fears such a delay could disrupt the traditional influence of theÂ Iowa caucuses. Candidates who do well tend to gain momentum in the presidential race, while those finishing at the back of the pack may drop out.
“With the eyes of the media on the state, the last thing we want to do is have a situation where there is trouble with the reporting system. We don’t want that to be the story,” said Wes Enos, a member of the central committee and the political director for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s campaign in Iowa.
The two-minute video features a computer-generated voice denouncing what it calls a corrupt political system that favors corporations and calls on supporters to “peacefully shut down the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.” The video claims to be from Anonymous, a loosely organized group of hackers that has claimed credit for attacks on targets ranging from the Peruvian government to Paypal.
A former activist for Occupy Des Moines, Clarke Davidson, has acknowledged posting the video on YouTube. He said he did so after masked men left it outside his tent near the state Capitol on Nov. 3.
Investigators aren’t sure whether the video is authentic, and state authorities have not taken any actions since the call to “peacefully shut down” the caucuses does not amount to a crime, said Jim Saunders, director of the Iowa Intelligence Fusion Center at the state’s Department of Public Safety.
Unlike most presidential primaries, which are conducted by state governments,Â Iowa’sÂ caucusesÂ are run by the political parties. On Jan. 3, voters will gather in 1,784 precincts in Iowa’s 99 counties to declare their preference for a candidate. Those results are then reported to the state party, where they are tabulated electronically and reported to the public on a website.
Ryan Gough, the state GOP official in charge of coordinating the caucuses, said the party was taking steps to protect its election data, but declined to comment on specifics so as not to give away “the game plan” to hackers.”
The GOP is also encouraging the party activists who run the precinct votes to use paper ballots instead of a show of hands, which has been the practice in some areas. The ballots would provide a backup in the event of any later confusion about the results.
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