ST. PAUL -- Leaders of the Minnesota Republican Party said they suspect a cyberattack was behind a mass of users overloading its online voting system, forcing the party to postpone its virtual state convention on Saturday, May 16.
The technical difficulties began Saturday morning, forcing the party to postpone its online election process for two hours while software developers attempted to solve the problem on the backend. After 1 p.m., the issues persisted, and MN GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan announced over the online conference call that the convention would not be possible that day. She said her staff will work "feverishly and furiously" to troubleshoot and reschedule a convention for a later date.
Carnahan asserted that the online vendor used for the convention, vVote, is secure. The party successfully used the same system for its 95 virtual local conventions earlier this spring. Conventions were moved online due to concerns of spreading the novel coronavirus in large gatherings.
"The integrity of that system and the unique voting codes and all of the processes that have been put into place have not been compromised," Carnahan said.
However, Carnahan said an outside source could have attempted to interfere by swarming the server. A representative with the software provider Options Technology, based in Florida, said on the conference call that more people logged in to vote than were credentialed, also insinuating a possible outside interference.
Following the conference call cut short, Carnahan released a written statement saying the system overload could have been "due to potentially malicious interference."
"While our voting system remains secure, and the integrity of the system and process remains intact and has not been compromised, our vendor witnessed an unprecedented spike in volume they can not attribute to normal use of any kind," Carnahan said in the statement. "This is the same voting technology we have used for at least a dozen other conventions with no issues."
In a subsequent tweet, she said the party notified the Minnesota Secretary of State and filed reports with the FBI and Edina Police Department.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon on Saturday evening responded on Twitter, saying that his office does not handle political party security, but he referred Carnahan and the MN GOP to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FBI for possible investigation.
"Regardless of political party, we should all agree that election security is critical," he said.
The party was set to endorse its candidate for U.S. Senate on Saturday, in addition to electing a national delegate and nominating a presidential elector, plus alternates.
Former-congressman Jason Lewis, a Republican running to unseat Minnesota's Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, in a video posted on Twitter Saturday afternoon pointed a finger at "the lockdown left" -- referring to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz's orders to halt non-essential gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic -- for the interference. He said Saturday's convention is "another casualty" of the state's executive orders.
"You know what? None of this would have happened had Minnesota been open for business," he said. "A convention could have been conducted, social distancing guidelines in place, and we could have gotten the job done without hackers interrupting our convention. That’s why we’ve been fighting to reopen Minnesota."