Technology

AT&T’s 3G shutdown catches blame for a major election headache in Michigan


Some Michigan counties can’t immediately report Tuesday night’s election results due to a confusing mix of federal vote reporting guidance and AT&T’s decision to retire its 3G networks this past February.

In a website alert, the Wayne County clerk’s office confirmed that 65 of Michigan’s 83 total counties “are no longer modeming unofficial election results.” Wayne County is where Detroit is located, and it’s the state’s biggest county by population, with about 1.8 million residents. It’s unclear how many are due to county officials that did not upgrade their own modems, or if this is due to U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) guidelines advising against using modems.

In section 14.2-E, the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) 2.0 established in February 2021 advised against connecting voting systems to the internet. The guidelines cited the risk of ransomware, the ability for attackers to view files within the system, or modify files within it that have to do with election results and ballot records.

“This has significantly delayed the reporting process,” the Tuesday night Wayne County alert read. “We do not have a definitive time of when we will reach 100 percent reporting, but will continue to work throughout the evening and morning until this is achieved.”

Early Wednesday morning, the Wayne County clerk’s office told WDIV reporter Grant Hermes that the plan was never to use the modems, which hadn’t been updated for 4G LTE or 5G because the state is no longer certifying upgrades. At least in Wayne County, Hermes reports the results are driven from precincts to city and township halls, manually read into a computer there, exported, and sent to the county using secure FTP.

Elsewhere in Michigan, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum told The Verge that to be cyber security conscious, “we have never modemed results. So this did not change our process in Ingham County.”

In a statement emailed to The Verge early Wednesday morning, Tracy Wimmer, the director of media relations for the Secretary of State, explained the steps that have been taken to present any possibility of interference and to counter misinformation about voting that has focused on the use of modems. “The unofficial results from polling places are being driven by election workers in vehicles in the many counties that are phasing out the use of modems to transmit unofficial results … Counties are phasing out modems on different schedules because of their specific voting system configurations and county needs – for example, all 65 Dominion systems no longer use modems.”

AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After announcing its plans to end its 3G wireless network in 2019, the provider officially sunset the service this past February.

Wayne County Clerk:

Election Results Update

Based on the recommendation of the Voluntary Voting Systems Guideline 2.0 issued by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, coupled with AT&T’s decision in March 2022 to no longer support 3G modems, 65 out of 83 Counties in Michigan are no longer modeming unofficial election results. This has signficantly delayed the reporting process. We do not have a definitive time of when we will reach 100 percent reporting, but will continue to work throughout the evening and morning until this is achieved.

Michigan Secretary of State:

Polling places have closed and publicly posted unofficial results across Michigan and those unofficial results are being transmitted to county clerk offices. Meanwhile, many absentee ballot counting boards continue to count the votes of as many as half or more of the jurisdictions’ ballots, and full unofficial results cannot be known until all absentee ballots are counted. The unofficial results from polling places are being driven by election workers in vehicles in the many counties that are phasing out the use of modems to transmit unofficial results. This is being done in accordance with guidance issued by the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission in order to prevent any remote possibility of interference, and to counter misinformation that has been circulated concerning the use of modems. Counties are phasing out modems on different schedules because of their specific voting system configurations and county needs – for example, all 65 Dominion systems no longer use modems.

Update August 2nd, 1:58AM ET: Added additional information from the Wayne County Clerk, and a statement from the office of the Michigan Secretary of State.





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