Area elections officials say they met a Friday deadline to comply with a 34-point security checklist mandated by Ohio’s secretary of state to defend against attacks on election infrastructure.
“We’re not going to wash our hands and say we are done with cyber security,” said Jan Kelly, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections. “This is ongoing. This is what it’s going to be in the future.”
The checklist included high priority items that boards of elections hadn’t addressed from one issued in 2018. The new directive included testing systems for the latest vulnerabilities and adding security upgrades, putting elections personnel through background checks, and installing cyber-attack detection and tracking hardware.
The changes provide a standard of election security others hope to emulate, said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
“There’s a reason other states are looking to Ohio,” he said. “We’ve challenged our counties to make significant and challenging improvements well before voters begin casting their ballots; setting up the security redundancies necessary to achieve a successful election.”
To be in compliance, boards of election must also have secure website and email domains ending in “.gov” or “.us.” The requirement forced Montgomery County to move its election site to a new domain, montgomery.boe.ohio.gov, an operation the office conducted Friday. The site has been located at a “.org” domain.
The directive admonished election officials, board directors and employees from conducting official business via email addresses from email or internet service providers.
Miami County’s Board of Elections completed most of the work done a month ago because the office was one of three included in a pilot project the secretary of state used to test the initiative, said Laura Bruns, Miami County Board of Elections director.
“It helped them clarify how the directive would be written, so we were really lucky in that we had all that assistance early on and were able to accomplish most of the things on the checklist before the end of last year,” Bruns said.
Former Miami County Board of Elections Director Beverly Kendall was fired last year following an investigation into the Nov. 6, 2018, election that revealed 6,288 uncounted votes. The problem occurred when voting machines were not shut down properly because of a lack of training and human error, LaRose found during an investigation. The votes, which did not change any election outcome, were cast by early voters on touch-screen machines in the elections office.
Llyn McCoy, Greene County Board of Elections director, said the county’s data processing department was able to complete the work in less time than expected with the purchase of only one piece of equipment.
“We were surprised that it didn’t take more work than it was,” she said. “They made it very seamless for us.”
All three counties will be using new voting systems for just the second time for the March 17 primary with early voting beginning Feb. 19. Deadline to register for the election is Feb. 18 when election offices will be open until 9 p.m.
No elections employees were flagged during background checks conducted in the three area counties, the officials said.
New Greene County elections workers have been subject to background checks since 2015, McCoy said. Longtime employees did undergo a recent check.
Miami County put a new policy in place to meet the directive’s requirement. The sheriff’s office conducted the checks for four full-time and two part-time elections workers through the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Bruns said.
“All of our employees passed with no issues,” Bruns said. “That extended to anybody who is touching our network.”
Montgomery County has conducted background checks now on 28 workers, each costing about $45, Kelly said. More part time elections worker will also undergo the checks, she said.
“Everybody came through clean and everybody is still working here who was subject to the background check,” Kelly said. “Anybody who touches a ballot or has access to anything at the board of elections should be background checked.”
The Secretary of State’s Office will review the county progress reports that were due Friday and is expected to present the results on Wednesday.
The Ohio Secretary of State’s Office offered one-time, $50,000 grants to assist counties implementing the security changes. In 2017, the United States Department of Homeland Security designated U.S. election systems as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure and the next year Congress appropriated $380 million in grants to the states to secure and improve election systems.
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