Republican rival puts Georgia's Democratic Party under investigation for 'cyber crimes'

Hacking claims don't seem to hold water when considering the state's previous accusations.
Written by Catalin Cimpanu, Contributor

In a move that's bound to raise a few eyebrows, the office of Georgia Secretary of State has announced on Sunday that it opened an investigation into the Democratic Party for an alleged failed cyber-attack on the state's voter registration system.

"I can confirm that the Democratic Party of Georgia is under investigation for possible cyber crimes," said Candice Broce, Press Secretary. "We can also confirm that no personal data was breached and our system remains secure."

"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," Broce added in a second press release during the day.

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"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," she added.

Georgia officials refused to provide any details about the accusations they made against the Democratic Party, but it should be noted that Georgia's Secretary of State is Brian Kemp, the Republican's Party nominee for the gubernatorial election.

ZDNet has learned that the Georgia Secretary of State's accusations appear to be related to a Who.What.Why report that was published on Sunday morning.

The report cited new vulnerabilities in Georgia's voter registration system, and also cited an email sent by the Democratic Party warning about these new vulnerabilities and how they could be used to compromise the state's voter registration system.

The Who.What.Why publication claims that the Kemp's office issued its accusations against the Democratic Party right after the publication of its report.

Many have called the announcement a dirty shot from Kemp's office against Democrat nominee Stacey Abrams, an announcement meant to tarnish his rival's reputation right before the election.

As Secretary of State, Kemp is also in charge of organizing and overseeing any state-level elections, including his own. This has sparked a huge national debate about Kemp's obvious conflict of interests.

Former US President Jimmy Carter has asked Kemp to resign in a recent open letter, only to be met with silence from Kemp's office.

"Other secretaries of state have stepped down while running for election within their jurisdiction, to ensure that officials without a direct stake in the process can take charge and eliminate concerns about a conflict of interest," Carter wrote in his letter.

But looking at Kemp's past deeds, his office has a history of unexplainable behavior that others have simply labeled as abuse of power.

For example, just last month, Kemp's office put over 53,000 voter registration applications on hold just weeks before the election, on the claim that signatures on voter registration cards didn't exactly match signatures on documents from the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security Administration.

Most of the flagged voters who had their voting registration put on hold were African-American females -- just like his Democrat Party rival, Stacey Abrams. A judge invalidated Kemp's office decision on Friday, allowing the 53,000 Georgians to vote.

Kemp's office also purged roughly 1.5 million registered voters between the 2012 and 2016 elections, one of the largest numbers in the country, and many of these purges were highly contested.

Plus there's that time over the summer when Kemp's office coincidentally destroyed a server containing alleged evidence that might have showed if the state's voting systems were breached by Russian hackers.

But strange behavior on Kemp's side goes way back. When in 2016 the Department of Homeland Security tried to re-categorize election systems as critical infrastructure and offered to provide free technical support in securing state election systems, Kemp was one of the leading Republican Party voices that labeled the attempt as a "vast federal overreach" and an effort to "subvert the Constitution," and declined any help.

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A few months later after the DHS' attempt to improve election security, Kemp accused the DHS of carrying 10 cyber-attacks against Georgia's election systems, instead of investigating reports of Russian interference within Georgia's presidential elections. A House Oversight Committee found no validity to Kemp's accusations and cleared the DHS of any wrongdoing, with the cyber-attacks proving to be only an employee copy-pasting data from Georgia's voter database into an Excel.

Furthermore, a US judge also found this year that Kemp's office had done nothing to improve the security of Georgia's voting machines. This was deemed a big deal, especially since Georgia is one of few fourteen states that use electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper ballot. This means that if a vulnerability was found in the voting machine software, it could allow a hacker to tamper with actual results.

"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, Georgia Democratic Party executive director in a CNN interview. She also denied all the accusations made by Kemp's office today.

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