Christopher Krebs, the former top U.S. cybersecurity official who oversaw election security efforts for the November ballot, cited the new and widespread availability of paper ballots to dismiss spurious claims by President Donald Trump and his allies about fraud and rigged voting.
In the first interview since he was fired two weeks ago, Krebs told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that allegations by Trump and others about fraud and voting machine malfunctions are easily disproved because almost all election precincts this time had paper ballot backups.
Krebs, who led the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and called the November election the “most secure in American history,” told the network that for three years the agency and state election officials prioritized getting states to have paper ballot backups that could be used to verify vote tallies produced by machines. The agency also helped boost cybersecurity around election machinery in all states.
“Paper ballots give you the ability to audit, to go back and check the tape and make sure that you got the count right,” Krebs told CBS News. “And that’s really one of the keys to success for a secure 2020 election; 95 percent of the ballots cast in the 2020 election had a paper record associated with it.” By comparison, only 82 percent of ballots cast in the 2016 election had paper backups, he said.
Having paper ballots allows election officials to “prove that there was no malicious algorithm or hacked software that adjusted the tally of the vote,” Krebs said.
Trump and his campaign have faced defeats in multiple states as courts have tossed out more than three dozen lawsuits challenging results that show Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Yet Trump continues to claim that voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems switched votes in Michigan and Georgia to Biden from Trump.
Krebs shot down those allegations. “Georgia has machines that tabulate the vote,” Krebs told CBS News. “They then held a hand recount, and the outcome was consistent with the machine vote.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Nov. 20 said the state had completed a statewide audit of the election, which is like a hand recount, and confirmed that Biden beat Trump by 12,284 votes. The Trump campaign has requested another recount, which will be done by machine and is ongoing.
The audit backed by paper ballots, “in my opinion, debunks some of these sensational claims out there that I’ve called nonsense and a hoax, that there is some hacking of these election vendors and their software and their systems across the country. It’s just … it’s nonsense,” Krebs told CBS News.
In his first television interview since Election Day, Trump continued to allege fraud. He told Fox News on Sunday that Dominion voting machines were faulty, adding that “the only way this is going to be safe is paper votes.”
Trump’s backing of paper ballots is markedly different from two years ago, when the White House and top Republicans in the Senate, led by Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, killed a bipartisan bill that would have required all states to have paper backup systems that could be used to conduct postelection audits.
In August 2018, a bill that had the bipartisan backing of 11 senators and was set to be marked up by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee was abruptly shelved. Shelby, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and also a member of the Rules committee at the time, said he objected to the bill because it would have given the federal government a greater role in elections that are traditionally managed by states.
Congressional Republicans also opposed several measures by Democrats to boost federal assistance to states for election security measures.
In February 2018, a panel led by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called for $1.7 billion in grants to be distributed to states by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to boost security and ensure that all states had paper ballots. Republicans opposed the proposals.
Despite Republican opposition, Congress has approved more than $1 billion in federal grants to be administered by the Election Assistance Commission since the 2016 elections. It approved $380 million in the 2018 appropriations bill; another $425 million was approved as part of a fiscal 2020 appropriations bill. In March, Congress approved another $400 million as part of a pandemic relief package to help states prepare for elections that were disrupted by the pandemic.
The last tranche of money helped states that were scrambling to figure out how to adapt in the face of the pandemic, EAC Chairman Ben Hovland told CQ Roll Call in a recent interview. Some states that had never used mail-in ballots on a large scale used the additional money to beef up infrastructure for that, while others used it for training poll workers to prepare for extended in-person voting, Hovland said.
Hovland said the November election represented a “high-water mark” for mailed ballots but he expects the 2022 and 2024 elections to see continued use of voting by mail across the country. That would mean a consistent paper trail to check and validate votes and also provide strong evidence for courts to dismiss false allegations of fraud.