IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Taking seriously an apparent threat from a notorious collective of computer hackers, the Iowa Republican Party is boosting the security of the electronic systems it will use in two weeks to count the first votes of the 2012 presidential campaign.
Investigators don't know if the threat is authentic, but it has led the state party to confront a worst-case scenario. Their fear: an Iowa caucus marred by hackers who corrupt the database used to gather votes and crash the website used to tell the public the results that can shape the race for the White House.
"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," said Wes Enos, a member of the Iowa GOP's central committee and the political director for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's campaign in the state. "We don't want that to be the story."
Confident in the existing safeguards protecting the vote count itself, Enos and other members of the party central committee told The Associated Press they recently authorized additional security measures aimed at ensuring hackers are unable to delay the release of caucus results.
The state GOP fears such a delay could disrupt the traditional influence of Iowa's first-in-the-nation vote. Candidates who do well tend to gain momentum in the presidential race, while those finishing at the back of the pack may drop out. Experts in computer security said such concerns are valid.
"It's very clear the data consolidation and data gathering from the caucuses, which determines the headlines the next morning, who might withdraw or resign from the process, all of that is fragile," said Douglas Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa who has consulted for both political parties.