Linn County Auditor Joel Miller describes it as the “Achilles’ heel” of election cybersecurity, but the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office said it’s an integral part of same-day voter registration.
The voter registration database, called I-Voters, allows a county auditor to move a voter’s registration from one county into another.
Miller said that while that feature was once an asset, a single-party’s ability to move a voter’s registration now is a flaw, which could potentially allow one person to move masses of voters to another place.
“That is the system that could do the most damage to elections in Iowa, if someone were successful in putting malware into it or somehow manipulating the voter records to the detriment of the voters,” Miller said. “It would very quickly undermine the integrity of whatever election was occurring at the time, if a large number of people of a sudden were not registered in their home precincts.”
While Election Day registration is available to anyone whose registration might be wrongfully removed, it takes time and particular documents — both a proof of identification like a driver’s license and a proof of residence like a utility bill or lease.
Miller suggests instituting a two-person authentication process for moving a voter’s registration.
NOT a SECURITY ISSUE
But Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Pate’s Secretary of State Office, said that procedure would effectively end Election Day registration in Iowa, which is required by law.
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If the state had two-party verification on Election Day, a voter would have to wait at the polling place while that county’s auditor contacted the previous county’s auditor for approval to move a registration.
“We have to have the ability to make an immediate registration update to allow same-day voter registration,” Hall said. “If he (Miller) wants to change that, then he should go through the proper steps to change that. But don’t attack the state of Iowa’s voter registration system on a policy issue and claim that it’s a security issue because it’s not.”
Russian hackers attempted to infiltrate Iowa’s election system in 2016 but were unsuccessful.
The I-Voters database is 14 years old and will not be updated before the 2020 elections. Replacing the system will cost $7 million, payable in installments.
Miller said his concern is based on how much money the Secretary of State’s Office has received for the I-Voters system. “Where did you spend it? And how did that benefit the taxpayers and, specifically, what did that do to enhance I-Voters?”
Hall said I-Voters costs about $900,000 per year to maintain and update, with yearly installments coming from the state’s Technology Reinvestment Fund.
Most of the money needed to replace the I-Voters system has not been received, Hall said.
About $200,000 was spent in fiscal year 2019, he said, on programming changes that allow 17-year-olds to register to vote ahead of their 18th birthday and on the merger of city and school elections for the first time this year, Hall said.
Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended an additional $2.1 million be directed to the Technology Reinvestment Fund in fiscal year 2020 and another $1.4 million in fiscal year 2021, for replacement of the I-Voters system.
Hall said a number of safeguards are in place for I-Voters, including “Vote Shield,” which monitors registration updates and detects anomalies. Officials receive weekly reports, and data is reviewed by a University of Iowa expert.
Auditors also can run daily reports to see voter registration changes for their county, Hall said.
A replacement system “is not something that can or should be rushed into blindly. We owe it to the voters of Iowa to build the system responsibly with the future of elections and security in mind,” Pate wrote in a guest column.
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