Voting Appears To Be Going Smoothly With Only Scattered Reports Of Problems
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
If you've been on social media today, you might have seen photos of long lines at polling places, reports of people being turned away at their precincts or having to fight to get a ballot that they feel they're entitled to. But federal officials watching the big picture say they're not seeing anything out of the ordinary so far today. Joining us now is NPR's Miles Parks. He covers voting for us. Hi, Miles.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: So what kinds of issues have caught your eye today?
PARKS: So I've been seeing the same things that many people have been seeing - a lot of long lines, especially in places that are using electronic voting machines - Texas, South Carolina, New Jersey and Georgia specifically. A watchdog group, nonpartisan voting watchdog group Common Cause, said earlier this afternoon that voting in the metro area of Atlanta was taking on average about three hours.
SHAPIRO: Three hours on average.
PARKS: Three hours on average, and they said they received about 500 calls so far from issues in Texas. But it's important to put those issues into context. There are more than 170,000 different voting precincts in the United States, and a lot of data from previous elections suggests that the vast majority 95 - more than 95 percent of people will vote in less than 30 minutes, and the vast majority of people will travel less than 30 minutes to get to their polling place. I personally did both of those things today.
SHAPIRO: OK. So while there might be some isolated long wait times and other problems, those don't seem to be widespread. We heard and continue to hear so much about foreign interference in the 2016 election. Is there any indication of similar foreign interference in today's election?
PARKS: So the Department of Homeland Security has obviously been watching this issue very, very closely, specifically looking for the kind of interference that we saw leading up to the 2016 election. You'll remember that Russian hackers were able to break into one voter registration database in Illinois and also break into the systems of a voting software manufacturer. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said today they have not seen anything like that so far.
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KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: I can confidently say that the 2018 elections will be the most secure election in the modern era. At this time, we have no indication of compromise to our nation's election infrastructure that would prevent voting, change vote counts or distrust the ability to tally votes.
SHAPIRO: So what do people think is causing the problems that we've seen today?
PARKS: So I think it's important to remember that we're talking about the possibility of historic turnout for this midterm election - possibly the highest we've seen for a midterm election in 50 years. So it's obviously going to lead to some crowded polling places. And then you add in the fact that a lot of this voting equipment - most of this voting equipment is another two years older than it was in 2016. So then you get the possibility of more technical malfunctions. Congress did allocate money to up cybersecurity since 2016 - about $380 million - but that was not enough money to overhaul the entire voting system. More than 40 states are using voting equipment today on Election Day that's more than a decade old.
SHAPIRO: We've also seen reports today about disinformation being spread on social media. What do election monitors and officials in charge of voting say about that?
PARKS: So the Department of Homeland Security, while they said they aren't seeing any efforts to actually affect the voting equipment, they have said that they're seeing ongoing efforts by Russia, as well as other foreign countries, as well as domestic actors, to try to influence the minds of American voters.
Basically, they're saying please check everything you're reading online. And they're giving media briefings every three hours about what they're seeing in the field. They even let media outlets into the Situation Room where they're monitoring what's going on across the country. That seems to be an effort on officials' parts to kind of saturate the media landscape with facts in a way that wasn't being done before 2016. You'll remember election officials and federal officials were kind of thinking this as a speak no evil about election interference.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Miles Parks. Thanks so much.
PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.