Government

County auditors, voting system vendors to attend cybersecurity workshops in Iowa

A machine shows 133 ballots cast as of 10:10 A.M. at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A machine shows 133 ballots cast as of 10:10 A.M. at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — To ensure cybersecurity of Iowa’s elections, officials with the Iowa Secretary of State Office say the first line of defense always will be vigilant election officials.

“It’s important that we build this human firewall along with the technological one,” said Kevin Hall, Iowa Secretary of State Office communications director.

Meanwhile, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller has argued that security standards and mandated training — specifically with I-Voters, the state’s voter registration system — need to be implemented before the upcoming November election.

County auditors and staff, IT officials and voting equipment and system vendors later this week will attend cybersecurity workshops aimed at providing additional information and free resources to aid in securing local elections.

The workshops — to be held in Cedar Rapids and Johnston — will be hosted by the Secretary of State’s Office and the Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer. U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials also will be in attendance.

A voluntary workshop agenda will include discussions on cybersecurity, physical security, available resources and cybersecurity awareness training program Secure the Human.

To further protect Iowa’s election systems, Secretary Paul Pate last month announced the creation of a Cybersecurity Working Group, which includes officials with the U.S. and Iowa Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, Iowa National Guard, county auditors and other officials. The group will create recommendations for protecting Iowa elections.

“There is not one single solution,” Hall said. “It has to be a team effort.

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“We’re all on the same page, we all want the same thing, which is clean, fair and secure elections.”

Auditor Miller in a May letter to Secretary of State Paul Pate, however, argued that, rather than wait on the state’s working group, Pate should enact immediate, required updates to the I-Voters system.

Miller’s letter focuses on the use of I-Voters by Iowa’s 99 counties to transfer voter registration information. If a voter moves to a new county and registers to vote, an authorized county official will pull the individual’s registration out of the former county and relocate it in the new county of residence.

Miller said his concern is that an individual potentially could hack or use the system to move a large number of voters from one county to another to complicate the election process.

If that were to happen, a voter showing up on Election Day would be told he or she is not registered to vote in that county, Miller said.

“That would be very catastrophic to us if it occurred,” Miller told The Gazette.

Miller recommended that such registration transfers require approval from the former county to ensure that it’s valid. He also requested Securing the Human training for all I-Voters users and a requirement that all counties meet minimum security standards or be monitored by the State Chief Information Officer’s security operation center.

In a response to Miller’s letter, Ken Kline, the state’s deputy commissioner of elections, said the proposed changes would “require significant reprogramming of I-Voters” that could not be implemented by the November election.

Kline also noted that would require a “fundamental policy change” to the operation of I-Voters, necessitate the buy-in from the great majority of counties and potentially could cause a delay and inconvenience for voters.

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As a potential solution, Kline suggested that county auditors run a standard report to see how many transfers have taken place.

“Running this report on a regular basis would provide a warning of possible improper transfers,” Kline said.

Kline added that the office has been working to provide Secure the Human training across the state, but Miller argued such training should be mandatory.

“It’s all voluntary, there are no standards,” Miller said.

Hall also noted that the state office is looking into the possibility of adding steps to the I-Voters login process that would add a second item — such as a texted code — in addition to a user name and password.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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