NEW LEXINGTON — The Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose visited the Perry County Board of Elections in preparation for the elections season last Wednesday afternoon. While stigmas surrounding the voting system is apparent to LaRose, he has been traveling to each county in the State of Ohio to communicate with locals about the state’s safe and secure voting procedures and systems.
Perry County Commissioners Ben Carpenter and Scott Owen along with Perry County Auditor Drew Cannon were present for the Secretary’s visit. Several staff members at the board of elections were sat convened with LaRose in the main room at the building located at South Jackson Street.
“I am getting around all 88 county boards of elections and there’s three simple reasons why I am doing it,” Secretary LaRose stated to the group.
The Ohio Chief Elections Officer stated that he wants to learn from each individual county and how they handle elections. His military background in the Army helped him understand the importance of voting and why some people fight for that right.
“Where served in combat zones in both Iraq and in Kosovo I got to see people who were risking their lives to cast a ballot,” LaRose described to the group. “Voting is a special thing that normal folks like us get to choose who our leaders are going to be and this is where that happens.”
LaRose stated that the staff who work the polls are essential for the voting process to work as they are on the front lines when people come ready to vote for public officials and policies. Staff at the board of elections have the responsibility for opening and closing the polls, test voting machines, training other poll workers, voter registration, data entry and post election auditing.
“The day-to-day work of actually running elections happens at our 88 counties,” LaRose explained.
The second reason for the Secretary’s visit was because the job of running the elections is a joint effort by the state and county board of elections. He explained that the state is responsible for giving local boards the resources they need in order to run an efficient election process. Election security was of the utmost importance to LaRose and he stated how he was able to obtain funding for his security directive.
“We got it granted out to the counties as quickly as we could,” LaRose said.
Last year when LaRose was at the state legislature, he drafted a bill to fund $114.5 million for new voting machines throughout the State of Ohio. This is something the Perry County Board of Elections was in need of.
On the Secretary’s official website, his security directive to county boards of elections is meant to upgrade election security. In 2017, The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identified election infrastructure as part of the country’s critical infrastructure. With ever-changing security environments, implementing a cyber-defense will help deter threats that harm elections, both foreign and domestic.
Secretary LaRose’s directive is dependent upon county boards of elections to carry out significant security upgrades. The upgrade is funded through the Help America Vote Act which was signed into law by then President George Bush in October of 2002.
Requirements for the security upgrade include installing Albert intrusion detection devices provided by the Secretary’s office. The devices provide security notifications that alert county boards if and when there is a network intrusion.
More requirements include annual assessments and training on cybersecurity as well as physical security. LaRose stated to the group that the voting machines used in Ohio do not connect to the internet. Hacking a voting machine is only possible by physically breaking the machine apart.
Additional requirements involve criminal background checks of permanent board of election employees and vendors, an email security program and the implementation of Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) logging system, a security collecting network.
The directive also required counties to complete services by July 19, 2019. Those include a risk and vulnerability assessment, remote penetration testing, valid architectural design review and cyber threat hunt.
LaRose stated that Ohio is in a good place when it comes to elections and its security. He told The Perry County Tribune that Ohio is the leader when it comes to election security preparing the states citizens for upcoming elections.
“The eyes of the world will be on us in 2020,” LaRose stated. “When the world is watching, we will do as we have done in the past and run an honest and fair election where eligible Ohioan gets to cast a ballot.”
His last reason for his statewide county to county visits is to have local community members understand the safeguards that go into elections every cycle. He commented that rumors spread through online outlets are damaging for voter pride and trust in the election process.
“We are constantly pushing back against the rumors you’ve all heard,” LaRose commented.
The Secretary stated that a common misconception is that absentee ballots are only counted when elections are close.
“That’s false,” LaRose stated. “Never been true. In our history that’s never been true.”
LaRose said the press has been subject to disinformation as foreign entities have been known to create campaigns spreading false ideas and information. He has been working with other members of the press in order to correct some of what has been done but still urges local residents to seek out information that is important to them.
“Voters, any member of the public, needs to be skeptical about the information they consume,” LaRose stated. “It’s also important that we tell the public about all the security that exists and all the safeguards that exist so they know that their vote will count.”
At the Perry County Board of Elections, doors protecting voter information and elections results are required to have two locks from two different sets of keys. One set is reserved for a Republican representative and the other to a Democratic representative. This way, both a Democrat and a Republican must be present together in order to access election results.
LaRose stated that the constant misinformation and disinformation that spread hurts voter pride leading some residents to not wanting to participate in the election process.
“If people are constantly hearing how messed up elections are, they’re going to start to believe it,” LaRose concluded.