The Union County Board of Elections has been going through a series of security precautions to ensure the March primary election. Part of the security involves bipartisan teams loading and auditing each machine. The machines are then double locked until they are set up for election day. Above, Michelle Forrider, a republican elections specialist, and Brandon Clay, the democrat board director, work to secure voting machines at the board office. (Photo submitted)
Local and state election officials are pleased with the work done to ensure the security of next month’s primary election.
“We are ready,” said Brandon Clay, director of the Union County Board of Elections.
It’s not just Clay that’s saying it.
“We had assessments done by the Department of Homeland Security,” said Tina LaRoche, deputy director. “We had physical assessments and we had a cyber assessment.”
Clay said Department of Homeland Security officials came to the board of elections, walked through the facilities and examined equipment.
“They pointed out areas where there might be deficiencies,” Clay said.
He explained that the cyber assessment also revealed some areas the county could improve on.
“We took corrective actions to remediate any of the issues that came up,” Clay said.
He added that Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose provided grant money to Union and all counties to pay for improvements to the local facilities.
“So, it did not cost Union County any money out of the general fund,” Clay said.
LaRose said his office used $12.8 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds to enhance election security statewide. He said Ohio is the only state in the nation that made grants available directly to local election officials through HAVA funding.
“The voters in Union County should be proud of their local Board of Elections for successfully embracing such a big challenge,” said LaRose. “By elevating their defensive posture, they’ve helped make Ohio a national model for election security.”
LaRose said the county has been working on security for months. In June LaRose issued what he called “a comprehensive, multi-faceted security strategy for local boards of elections that provides the redundancy required of a strong election system infrastructure.”
The directive included a checklist of 34 separate requirements that must be met in order to be considered compliant.
“The specifics of this checklist essentially serve as Ohio’s detailed defense plan against adversaries who seek to disrupt our elections,” LaRose said in a release.
He gave them until Jan 31 to complete the requirements within the directive. In January of 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated Election Infrastructure as part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure.” LaRose said that every election system is vulnerable to “ever changing security environments.”
“By implementing this elevated security posture that is a model for the nation, Ohio will be in the best possible standing to deter any threats to our election system, both foreign and domestic,” the Secretary of State wrote in a statement.
LaRose said that during the past seven months’ his office has been working “hand-in-hand” with local election boards to help them achieve compliance with his directive. He said his office has done daily phone updates and dozens of site visits.
“There will inevitably be attacks on our election system,” said LaRose. “We have to be vigilant, and this successful implementation of our security directive leaves no doubt that Ohio is the best prepared state in the nation.”
Election officials have said cyber security is one area of particular concern.
“None of our voting machines are connected to the internet or to each other,” Clay said. “There is no networking.”
At the polls, bipartisan teams monitor the voting process. Teams of both republicans and democrats return election materials to the board office after the polls close.
He said the computers as well as the voting machines are kept under a double lock and key.
Furthermore, LaRoche said the board staff works in bipartisan teams to program and load the election onto the machines, to test every single voting machine, every tabulator.
Clay said security starts with the voter. He said that after voters mark their ballots, they are given a printed copy to review. Additionally, at the end of the day, the board conducts an audit, hand counting the ballots to make sure they align with the tabulator report.
“We need to make sure what we have in the ballot box and what we have on the voting machines are the same,” LaRoche said. “We make sure all of the votes say what they are supposed to say.”
Last week’s Iowa caucus also created some concern, but not for local election officials.
“Just because there were issues in Iowa at the caucus, doesn’t mean people should lose faith in the primary process,” Clay said.
Just the opposite, LaRoche said. She explained that caucuses are run by local party leaders, not by trained elections officials.
“They do not run elections,” LaRoche said. “This is our job. We are professionals. This is what we do. When you see what happened in Iowa, it really shows the need for professionals.”
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