Ohio is a clear national leader when it comes to election security, technology and early voting access for citizens, Secretary of State Frank LaRose told Logan County Board of Elections officials Thursday during his visit to the local office.
Logan County was the 79th board of election office visited by LaRose this year on his rounds to all 88 boards of election in each of the counties in the state. He took an in-depth tour of the 225 S. Main St. office to see equipment and procedures used, and also hosted an informal discussion with staff members and other area officials, including Logan County Commissioners Paul Benedetti and Joe Antram.
The state election chief’s Thursday stops also included the Union County Board of Elections and Hardin County Board of Elections.
While in Logan County, LaRose checked in with the local officials and thanked them for their efforts on his aggressive cyber security directive that was issued in June. The directive pushed out $13 million in federal funds to all county boards of election to guard against cyber attacks and other threats, especially looking ahead to the critical 2020 presidential election.
He related that the new security infrastructure was put to the test in one part of Ohio Nov. 5 during the general election.
“The threat is real,” he said. “We did fight off an attack on this past Election Day morning. The system worked, and the good guys won.
“Looking ahead to the 2020 election, we know that any county in Ohio, including Logan County, could be potentially vulnerable to an attack, especially from a foreign entity looking to sabotage our election. We need to be prepared.
“With these updates, Ohio is posed as a clear national leader and we are receiving calls from other states asking about our procedures. Thank you all for your diligent work.”
LaRose’s directive required all county boards to request four services from the Department of Homeland Security by July 19: a risk and vulnerability assessment, remote system testing, a communications review and an in-depth hunt for cyber threats.
Logan County officials said their review with the Homeland Security team went well.
“They were outstanding,” Ranae Lentz said of the federal representatives.
Other measures that are part of the directive include each board office installing special intrusion detection devices and a so-called “black box” tool for system security, both provided by the secretary of state’s office. LaRose also is requiring any boards that aren’t already to begin using a new, secure e-mail system, to conduct annual cybersecurity and physical security training sessions and to perform criminal background checks on all permanent employees, vendors and contractors who perform sensitive services.
In the spring, the secretary of state said the new cyber security system will again be put to test in a ‘fake attack” conducted by hired experts to “see who can find the holes.”
During his local visit, LaRose also drew an important security distinction — voting machines and the board’s tabulation equipment for election results are “never connected to the Internet,” and the cyber security updates relate to the other pieces of board equipment.
He demonstrated how election results are retrieved from the board office’s tabulation computer using a USB drive since that machine is in a closed system and has no Internet connection. The USB drive is only used once for that very purpose.
The elections chief also stressed that each individual ballot issued during an election has a paper trail to ensure its security and accuracy.
Additionally, LaRose stated that Ohio also is leading the way in making early voting more convenient for citizens. Prior to the Nov. 5 election, early voting lasted for 28 days in Ohio, well above the national average of 19. Ohio was one of only 20 states that allow voting on Saturday and one of just five that allow for voting on Sunday, he said.
Logan County representatives and the state official discussed ways of increasing their pool of local poll workers, including the “Youth at the Booth” initiative to encourage high schoolers to serve as poll workers.
“When you hear people say that young people are disengaged — I don’t agree with that. I don’t see that at all,” LaRose said, urging the local leaders to continue meeting with government students in local school districts to introduce the program.
He said there is also a Day for Democracy program promoted among larger corporations that provides employees with the day off work if they choose to be an poll worker.
In addition, the board of elections staff also asked LaRose what can be done about raising the poll worker pay. Currently, it is capped at $134.50.
“The poll workers don’t complain, but we are concerned about it as a board considering all the work they do in that one day,” Lentz said.
“I’m happy to take a look at that and see what we might be able to do,” LaRose said.