Ongoing upgrades to the Suffolk Board of Elections’ “older” computer system, coupled with “additional processing functions” in place for the 2022 election, were the cause of a two-hour delay in reporting results, officials said Wednesday, denying any direct connection to the Sept. 8 ransomware attack.
As Newsday reported Wednesday, election workers encountered severe slowdowns in attempting to upload memory cards from voting machines to computer servers at 24 secure locations around the county, leading election officials to turn to a contingency plan to physically drive the cards to the Board of Elections offices in Yaphank. The delay pushed the release of results to after midnight.
In a statement Wednesday, the board said its own computer staff, working with the county’s, was able to rule out “any cyber-security causes” of the widely criticized delay. The board also ruled out “any problems” tied to new wireless data and front-line firewall systems installed to help safeguard the election.
The board and county officials said none of the slowdowns were related to the Sept. 8 ransomware attack, which did not compromise the Board of Elections network but did lead the county to take down the election board’s public-facing website.
“All of these new security features operated exactly as they should have,” the bipartisan board said.
Lisa Black, chief deputy county executive, in interviews Wednesday noted that Suffolk installed a new firewall on one Board of Elections server following the Sept. 8 breach, in addition to a new firewall on all the board’s servers that had been installed in May 2021.
Black said the additional firewall protection was done “out of an abundance of caution because of the cyberattack and the importance of a secure election.”
But, she said, that additional protection didn’t cause the slowdown. “We’ve actually indicated there were no issues with the firewall protections that were the cause,” she said.
Black also cited “increased volume of voter turnout” in addition to the prior Board of Election's software upgrades as the likely cause of the slowdowns.
Still, she said, while “there were a lot of accusations last night that the additional security was the blocking” factor in the delays, “at the end of the day I’d rather have additional security than somebody contest an election, and if it took two hours to wait for that, then so be it.”
Suffolk County and party officials said the decision by elections officials to turn to a contingency plan sometime after 10 p.m. Tuesday — which called for workers driving 1,446 memory cards to its offices in Yaphank — was done out of caution and to prevent results from being further delayed.
Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), presiding officer of the county legislature, in an interview Wednesday said it was his understanding that the older system combined with “the new security that we put in around there — we put in a new firewalls in there,” led to a situation where the system “couldn't detect any [election] data coming in, although it was.”
Black said the explanation was more nuanced than that.
Still, the decision pushed the release of results until after midnight, rankling some.
Legis. Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville), chairman of a committee formed to investigate the ransomware event, said Wednesday during a county legislature meeting that he was “very disappointed about how this election was run,” noting results for some races were delayed until after 3 a.m.
Jesse Garcia, chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Party, commended county election workers for getting the results out despite the slowdowns. “The goal is not to be quick, but to be accurate,” he said.
The delay “was frustrating and made a night that was very exciting for us a little slower,” he said. “But the number was right and that process served the people.”