ELECTION 2020

Iowa's top election official lays out security plan for Election Day

'You can't hack a paper ballot,' Secretary of State Paul Pate says

Iowa Secretary of Paul Pate on Thursday outlines the state's plans for a safe, secure Election Day next Tuesday. Pate, s
Iowa Secretary of Paul Pate on Thursday outlines the state’s plans for a safe, secure Election Day next Tuesday. Pate, speaking at a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, said the state and law enforcement agencies are committing “vast resources” to make sure every vote counts. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

JOHNSTON — Iowa’s top elections official, joined by state and federal law enforcement and emergency management leaders, wants Iowans to feel confident in their ability to vote safely and securely in this election.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate delivered that message of reassurance to Iowa voters at a Thursday news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Dodge.

“We’re working with these state and federal partners to strengthen Iowa’s election security and infrastructure, and to prepare for any kind of situation that might arise on Election Day,” Pate said. “We’re ready for next Tuesday. That’s the message, and we want to make sure everybody is comfortable and confident.”

With early voting underway and Tuesday’s election less than a week away, election-related concerns range from hacking attempts and disinformation campaigns by hostile foreign countries to the avalanche of absentee ballots cast before Election Day.

Pate said his office has been working with myriad state and federal officials, as well as the auditors in Iowa’s 99 counties to ensure a safe and secure election.

“I can’t emphasize this enough: The integrity of the vote and the safety of the voters are my top priorities,” Pate said. “The sanctity of the vote must be protected. And we are committing vast resources to ensure that happens. So you can go out there and make your voice is heard and make sure that you’re a voter.”

Pate was joined at Thursday’s news conference by leaders with the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the Iowa National Guard, the federal Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

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Pate said many of those agencies will have staff at the State Emergency Operations Center throughout Election Day, ready to respond to any issues across the state.

“It makes me sleep better at night because I know I’ve got this whole team backing up what we’re going to be doing on Election Day,” Pate said.

The Secretary of State’s Office has invested $2 million in federal funds on cybersecurity upgrades since 2018, and is providing $1 million more in cybersecurity grants to county auditors, a spokesman said.

At the news conference, agency leaders described the preparations they have been making — including responding to a cyberattack — to ensure a smooth Election Day.

Pate said Iowa voters should be comforted by knowing they cast paper ballots.

“You can’t hack a paper ballot,” Pate said. “Somebody sitting in Moscow or Beijing is not going to be able to do that.”

Pate said he views disinformation, most commonly spread on social media, as the biggest challenge his office faces to ensuring voters’ trust in elections.

He encouraged Iowans to be careful about what they read and share on social media.

“That’s the goal of these bad agents, is to create doubt in the minds of our voters and our citizens. And if that happens, we have a real problem,” Pate said. “Because that’s the foundation of our entire democracy.

“So (if hostile entities) can create the doubt in your mind, and feed that to the point to where people just say, ‘That’s not my senator, that’s not my governor, or whatever the elected post is, then we lose.

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“And I’m asking Iowans to not let that happen, to stand with us and make sure that they understand when people put things out on social media, they need to find out from a trusted source.”

Pate said he believes county auditors are equipped to handle the surge of early ballots cast in this election.

As of Thursday, more than 851,000 absentee ballots had been returned, well ahead of the 653,000 early ballots cast four years ago, according to state figures.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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