Security top priority for election boards going into fall elections

Montgomery County Board of Elections Infrastructure Engineer Adam Lawson explains how many safeguards there are in place to secure elections in Montgomery County in this Wednesday, July 6, 2022, photo. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

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Montgomery County Board of Elections Infrastructure Engineer Adam Lawson explains how many safeguards there are in place to secure elections in Montgomery County in this Wednesday, July 6, 2022, photo. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

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Early voting for the rare August primary has started in Montgomery County and surrounding areas and local officials say election security and integrity continues to be the top priority.

“We don’t do security just one or two days a year, we do it every day,” Montgomery County Board of Elections Infrastructure Engineer Adam Lawson said. “And we’re always moving forward and always trying to get better. We are always in a constant state of change.”

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Security protocols at the Montgomery County Board of Elections include voting machines being under lock-and-key and video surveillance of many areas including where votes are tallied. There are rooms at the election board that require both a Republican and a Democrat to enter, election board director Jeff Rezabek said, and the board is working on upgrading its badging system.

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Darline Long votes early with friends at the Montgomery County Board of Election Wednesday July 6, 2022. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Darline Long votes early with friends at the Montgomery County Board of Election Wednesday July 6, 2022. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Combined ShapeCaption
Darline Long votes early with friends at the Montgomery County Board of Election Wednesday July 6, 2022. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Lawson said the county has strong cyber security that protects the office from malware and ransomware.

“Realistically this is a full-blown enterprise for people to exploit,” Lawson said. “Ransomware is rampant and you got people making a lot of money off that and they are always evolving so we have to be evolving as well.”

He said voting machines are not connected to a network, so they can’t be hacked into. Rezabeck and Lawson said results are audited, which includes a hand count of a randomly selected portion of the votes, to ensure accuracy. Montgomery County got 100% accuracy when it audited the May 3 primary results.

“Even if there was something highly unlikely to happen, it is extremely easy to catch it on the back end and even on the front end,” Lawson said. “Everything is caught. We know how many people voted and how many voted on each race, it’s next to impossible to do anything.”

Montgomery County participated in a pilot program this year with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to upgrade its security standards, Rezabek said, and now other counties must follow suit. The secretary of state’s office issued a new directive last month that requires the county board of elections to upgrade its security systems.

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The directive “establishes new security standards for vendors, strengthens physical security requirements, prevents purchasing of equipment from dangerous foreign entities, and modernizes cybersecurity capabilities,” a secretary of state office release says.

The new directive was issued late last month and offers up to $10,000 to counties to help pay for the new requirements. All counties must be up to the new standards by the end of the year.

“Ohio has established a national reputation among election security experts because we refuse to rest on our laurels,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank Larose said. “Threats are out there every day, both foreign and domestic, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure our boards are ready.”

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Early voting began Wednesday morning at the Montgomery County Board of Elections on West Third St. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Early voting began Wednesday morning at the Montgomery County Board of Elections on West Third St. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Combined ShapeCaption
Early voting began Wednesday morning at the Montgomery County Board of Elections on West Third St. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Brian Sleeth, the elections director in Warren County, and Lisa Boggs, the director in Preble County, said their offices are working to implement the changes now. Sleeth said supply chain issues might slow down the process, but elections are safe.

“It’s not like we are not secured right now,” Sleeth said. “It’s modifying and improving what we have already. It is incredibly secured, I would stake my job on it.”

The election officials say they hear concerns about election integrity a lot. But Boggs said despite the small staff size of her office, it has big security.

“Where our voting equipment is, it’s under double lock, keypad, with a Republican having a certain code and Democrat having a certain code neither of which knows (each other’s) code and it’s all under camera,” Boggs said. “So nobody can enter the secure areas where the voting equipment is unless there is one of each party.”

They each said their office focuses on security regularly and the upcoming election is no different.

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