- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Thursday he is taking “every possible precaution” to protect Mississippi’s election system from hacking or other security risks.

Circuit clerks and elections officials in several counties also said in interviews that they’re working on security ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Republican Hosemann said his staff conducts daily monitoring of the Statewide Elections Management System, a database with voter registration information. He said the state’s roughly 7,000 voting machines aren’t connected to the internet, which means they are not vulnerable to hacking.

“The only way to steal Mississippians’ votes is by physically accessing each of the machines,” Hosemann said in a news release. “With the way polling places are organized and staffed, and the way our machines tabulate votes, it is implausible that any individual or group could ever change the outcome of an election.”

Two of the largest counties in the state, Hinds and Harrison, use paper ballots that are scanned at each precinct. Officials in both counties said several steps of security are the norm, with boxes being sealed and records being made each time they are moved from storage to precincts and eventually to courthouses for counting.

In north Mississippi’s Lafayette County, Circuit Clerk Baretta J. Mosley said election workers have switched to stronger, more complicated passwords to connect to electronic voting systems, as Hosemann’s office advised. She also said officials there are taking “normal precautions” for election-day security at precincts, including making sure poll workers know how to reach law enforcement agencies, if needed.

“We don’t foresee that happening, but you have to be prepared for anything,” Mosley said.

Central Mississippi’s Hinds County is home to the state capital of Jackson. One of the county’s election commissioners, Connie Cochran, said Thursday that election officials are following Hosemann’s instructions “to be very vigilant in not sharing the information we utilize every day.”

Hinds County hires 15 deputies to be available for security at precincts. “We’re doing the same thing we do for every election,” Cochran said.

In the Delta’s Washington County, Circuit Clerk Barbara Esters-Parker said the rate of absentee voting, so far, compares to the high rate from the 2008 presidential election, when Barack Obama’s status as the first African-American nominee of a major party drew people to the polls. Esters-Parker - without taking sides herself - said this year’s race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump is generating lots of conversation in Washington County.

“It’s a really peculiar race,” Esters-Parker said.

Absentee voting levels are also brisk in coastal Harrison County, said Circuit Clerk Connie Ladner.

“If absentee turnout is any indication, election day will be extremely busy,” Ladner said.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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