Election 2020

The Plot Thickens in Georgia as Investigation into Dem Hacking Picks Up Steam

Georgia Governor-elect Brian Kemp (R) (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

An official from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office told ABC affiliate WSB-TV on Sunday that the FBI was seeking information regarding a woman named Rachel Small as part of their probe of an alleged hacking attempt into the state’s voter registration system.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp announced Sunday morning that an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia over the alleged hacking had been opened.

“After a failed attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system, the Secretary of State’s office opened an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia on the evening of Saturday, November 3, 2018,” the secretary’s office said in a statement. “Federal partners, including the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation, were immediately alerted.”

In a later statement, the office cited efforts to breach the online voter registration system and My Voter Page, which provides residents information about their registration status and voting locations.

We opened an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia after receiving information from our legal team about failed efforts to breach the online voter registration system and My Voter Page. We are working with our private sector vendors and investigators to review data logs. We have contacted our federal partners and formally requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate these possible cyber crimes. The Secretary of State’s office will release more information as it becomes available.

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, I can confirm that the Democratic Party of Georgia is under investigation for possible cyber crimes,” Candice Broce, press secretary for Kemp at the Secretary of State’s Office, said in a statement.

“Federal partners, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were immediately alerted,” the statement concluded.

After skeptical reporters pressed for evidence, Broce sent out a text to the press implicating a Democratic Party volunteer named Rachel Small, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“The FBI is looking for information on ‘Rachel Small.’ We welcome any information about this person’s identity or motives to provide to federal authorities.

“Who is Rachel Small? Is that her real name, and for whom does she work?

“Why was she talking about trying to hack the Secretary of State’s system with Sara Ghazal, the Democratic Party of Georgia’s Voter Protection Director?

“All information will be passed on to federal authorities. Anyone with information can contact our investigator, John Bagwell, at….”

The Democratic Party of Georgia ridiculed the Kemp campaign in response: “BREAKING: Team Kemp is losing their minds. Rachel Small is a volunteer for the Democratic Party of Georgia on our voter protection hotline. She received an email from a man named Richard Wright. She forwarded Richard’s email to our voter protection director. Sorry, @BrianKempGA.”

The Democratic Party of Georgia sent the AJC a string of emails purporting to show their reactions to a potential breach in Georgia’s voter registration data system.

The heavily redacted emails show that Wright, a Georgia businessman, contacted Small about secretary of state voter page “issues” he’d discovered.

“Nate asked me to provide you with details on the issues I’ve discovered, and I believe he’s spoken to you about,” Wright wrote in the email.

Small, in turn, relayed the information to Sara Ghazal, the Democratic Party of Georgia’s voter protection director. Ghazal passed the information on to a redacted party, claiming that the attached data showed a “massive vulnerability.”

David Cross, a lawyer representing several Georgia voters who have sued the state over its decision not to use paper ballots, said Wright had approached him with the information, and he turned it over to Kemp’s office on Saturday morning.

It’s not clear why Wright passed details about the breach to Cross and the state Democratic Party as well as the Secretary of State’s Office.

“We expected the secretary of state would take that seriously and would take whatever remedial actions needed to be taken, and we were surprised to see that the response was to accuse the Democrats of hacking,” Cross told reporters on Sunday.

Democrats have denounced Kemp’s move as  “scurrilous” and “100 percent false.”

“This political stunt from Kemp just days before the election is yet another example of why he cannot be trusted and should not be overseeing an election in which he is also a candidate for governor,” said Rebecca DeHart, executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

DeHart issued another statement later on accusing Kemp of using “false accusations” to smear his opponent with “a creative, but pathetic attempt to cover up his own failures.”

“Within the past hour it was revealed that Brian Kemp’s office, along with the FBI, was notified by a third party yesterday morning regarding a major security vulnerability of Georgia’s elections database,” DeHart said. “We were disturbed but not surprised that when Brian Kemp learned of major vulnerabilities to Georgians’ personal information, he didn’t work to fix the problem. He didn’t warn Georgians that their personal information may be compromised. He instead launched politically motivate accusations against his political opponents.”

Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s Democratic opponent, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning that Kemp “is desperate to turn the conversation away from his failures, from his refusal to honor his commitments and from the fact that he is part of a nationwide system of voter suppression that will not work in this election.”

Abrams, who is hoping to become the first African-American woman to be elected governor in the United States, told WSB-TV in Atlanta that Kemp was “trying to distract voters with a desperate ploy.”

Ryan Mahoney, communications director for the RNC, accused the DNC of attempting “a 4th quarter Hail Mary pass.”

“The Democratic Party of Georgia will stop at nothing to regain relevance and power in our state,” Mahoney said in a statement.

They lied about Georgia’s ‘pending’ voter list, made up stories about missing absentee ballot requests, and spread misinformation about our state’s voting machines. Every time their ridiculous claims were undermined by the truth. In an act of desperation, the Democrats tried to expose vulnerabilities in Georgia’s voter registration system. This was a 4th quarter Hail Mary pass that was intercepted in the end zone. Thanks to the systems and protocols established by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, no personal information was breached. These power-hungry radicals should be held accountable for their criminal behavior.

This isn’t the first time Kemp’s office has accused Democrats of trying to hack into his state’s voting system.

In December of 2016, Kemp went public with findings from his office that a “third-party cybersecurity provider detected a ‘large unblocked scan event’ on the morning of Nov. 15, several days after the election,” the Daily Caller reported:

He further alleged that the event began as far back as February of that year.  The “scan event” turned out to be one of 10 unsuccessful attempts to penetrate Kemp’s firewall, the same one protecting his election systems.

In June of 2017, the Obama-appointed DHS inspector general said Kemp’s allegations were without merit.

Cybersecurity experts alleged that the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security also attempted to hack into state voter registration systems in IdahoIndianaKentucky, Maine, and West Virginia in 2016.

As of Monday afternoon, RealClearPolitics’ gubernatorial forecast listed the Georgia race as a “toss-up,” although Kemp is leading Abrams by an average of +2.7. The most recent poll has Kemp leading by +12.

According to Kemp’s office, Georgia voters have already cast more more than double the number of ballots they cast early in 2014.

The DNC data firm Target Smart shows 921,952 modeled Democrat votes and 1,041,228 modeled Republican votes.

President Donald Trump appeared at a rally for Kemp in Macon, Georgia. on Sunday afternoon.