MOUNT VERNON — The Knox County Board of Elections became Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s 41st county Board of Elections visited in the seven months since he took office Jan. 14.
“As it relates to elections, it’s important that we get accurate and timely information out there to the public, particularly in the environment of intentional disinformation efforts that are ongoing — by foreign adversaries and others,” said LaRose, a Republican from Hudson, Ohio.
All members of the American voting public need to be ever vigilant about those who may be trying to spread disinformation by emails and other means, he said, and that includes attempts to trick the media with untruths concerning elections. LaRose is visiting 11 county board of elections this week alone, getting the word out about the importance of all Ohio boards of elections being on the same page about issues involving cyber security.
“Really, the expertise and the experience of running elections in Ohio exists at our 88 county boards of elections, and so I’m out on the road to learn from them and to reinforce the collaborative nature of all of this,” LaRose said. “We’re all in this together, particularly as it pertains to getting ready for the 2020 election cycle.”
LaRose said his plans to tour all 88 counties by the end of the year will achieve his goal of building personal connections between election officials and himself, along with his staff.
Two months ago, LaRose sent out an elections security directive that sets standards for the types of hardware and software to be used. Knox County Board of Elections Director Kim Horn, and Deputy Director Scott Howard, said they are about a third of the way there in completing the Secretary of State’s security protocols, which include staff trainings.
By January, when board of elections statewide have completed the election security directive requirements, “We will be able to say that Ohio is the best-prepared state in the nation as it relates to the cyber security environment surrounding our elections infrastructure,” LaRose said, soon adding, “The US Department of Homeland Security is asking other states to take a look at what Ohio is doing — and copy that.”
While some states are only now deciding to use paper trails to back up electronic voting systems, Ohio has been doing so for nearly 20 years, he noted. A paper trail is important for every ballot cast, he emphasized. In addition, Ohio has offered 28 days of early voting, no-fault absentee voting, and online voter registration, which shows that “Ohio has led the way on a lot of really important things as it pertains to elections,” he said.
LaRose said his election security directive for Ohio’s board of elections involves two components. One involves the elections infrastructure connected to the Internet, which includes county elections websites, email addresses, voter registration databases, and election night reporting.
“By necessity, all of that stuff is connected to the Internet because that’s how we inform the public in 2019,” he said. “Those are pieces of the elections infrastructure that have to be carefully protected, and that’s what our election security directive is all about.”
Horn and Howard gave LaRose and his staff a tour of the county elections board office, including a high speed scanner for ballot tabulation. He also viewed and asked questions about the county’s system involving ballots cast information by precinct, coming in every half hour on election days. Horn said the proper protocol is followed, which involves ballots cast information being downloaded onto portable USB drives while the computers are disconnected to the Internet. Once the results are placed on the drives, the Internet is connected temporarily so the results can be sent on to the state. The USB drives, which the state provides, are then destroyed.
LaRose also mentioned a cyber security measure known as an “intrusion protection” protocol. It serves as a “burglar alarm” when unauthorized use of the elections infrastructure takes place and is endorsed by Homeland Security, he said.
LaRose’s visit to Knox County on Tuesday included attending a tour of the old Central School property which is currently under renovation to house the board of elections and county Veterans Service Office by next year; and a business roundtable offered by the Knox County Chamber of Commerce.
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