Election officials at the state and local levels are unhappily coming to terms with the idea that more funding probably isn’t coming for securing electoral systems from hacks this fall. But with help from the Department of Homeland Security, their confidence appears to be growing about how well they will perform on Election Day. Those officials are the front-line soldiers in the battle to combat Russian and any other cyber interference aimed at the midterm elections. In turn, they are becoming cybersecurity managers, according to Noah Praetz, director of elections in Cook County, Ill. He warned that $380 million in recent federal assistance to the 50 states “is not nearly enough to do a technology refresh” to update all of the antiquated elections systems across the country, but it has helped put state cyber experts “on the street” in five counties across Illinois. “It’s kind of like Andy in Mayberry being sent to deal with a foreign invasion,” he joked. DHS official Jeanette Manfra, speaking at a recent cyber conference, said the department is collaborating with states to shield voter registration from manipulation, ensuring the machines that tally votes are secure, and helping ensure that “unofficial tallies” released before the final election results aren’t altered to sow confusion and discord.
The department is sharing information and sending officials and technical experts into the field to help, she said. “I yearn for the days when we just worried about the electric grid going down,” she quipped.
Other state and local officials say they too are already mobilizing and innovating.
Amber McReynolds, director of elections in Denver, Colo., said her jurisdiction has already shifted to paper ballots at the demand of voters, and that amid resource constraints, voting officials have partnered with Denver’s technology office to find cybersecurity improvements.
Neal Kelley, chief of elections and registrar of voters in Orange County, Calif., said training has increased but that phishing — in which employees are fooled into clicking on email links containing malware — remains a major challenge. Overall, he cited paper ballots and third-party auditing as the two most important steps election officials can take.