Wary members of the state election board said they could not certify a new voting system for use in the June primary election until more security measures are put in place. State election officials were hoping to certify a new online ballot marking tool that could be accessed when downloading a ballot online — a feature that is currently available to all voters. But board members were troubled by an IT security assessment conducted for the state by a firm that has never performed Internet security tests on election systems. The Largo-based company, Unatek, Inc., also didn’t study voter fraud risks at the front end of the voting system where ballots are requested online. Legislation passed last year required the state to certify the new voting system in order to facilitate some disabled voters and add to the state’s scope of online voter services. Part of the certification requires the state to deliver a secure ballot while maintaining a voter’s privacy. For years, voting advocates have been sounding the alarms that the state’s online voter service systems are highly vulnerable to Internet attacks and voter fraud.
State election officials also hired an independent auditor to verify the authenticity of Unatek’s report. While auditor Valeria James of Mainstay Enterprises Inc. vouched for Unatek, it became clear during her testimony that the auditor never met the security consultant, never independently verified Unatek’s past projects nor had even heard of the company.
State Board Vice Chair David McManus, a Republican, asked the auditor if Mainstay itself had ever had experience with a voting system.
“No, not at all,” James said.
Election board members were also unclear as to whether they needed to certify only the ballot marking tool or also the electronic delivery of the ballot, which makes the ballot marking tool possible.