West Virginia Approves $6.5M in Federal Election Security Grants

The money will be used to upgrade or replace voting systems, upgrade cybersecurity and improve physical security for areas where voting machines are stored across the state’s 41 counties.

by Phil Kabler, The Charleston Gazette / September 12, 2018
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(TNS) — West Virginia Election Commissioners Tuesday approved federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grants totaling $6.53 million to 41 counties.

Donald Kersey, Election Division director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the funds will be used to upgrade or replace voting systems, upgrade cybersecurity and improve physical security for areas where voting machines are stored.

“Physical security, right now, I think is the most vulnerable,” Kersey told the commission. “Our [voting] systems don’t touch the internet.”

Since the voting systems are not online, the only potential risk for vote rigging would be through tampering with voting machines prior to Election Day, he noted.

Of the 41 counties receiving grants, 17 will use all or part of the funding to improve physical security through a variety of methods, including installing limited-access keycard systems, adding security cameras, and putting bars on windows and installing steel doors to rooms where voting machines are stored.

Jackson County, for instance, will be installing a locked chain-link fence in the portion of the county warehouse where the voting machines are stored.

Additionally, 24 counties will be upgrading cybersecurity systems, while 26 counties will be upgrading voting systems.

The upgrades to the voting systems, Kersey said, account for the “vast majority” of grant funds.

A five-person panel, including Kersey, two county clerks, an advocate for the disabled and a representative from the governor’s office, reviewed the grant applications.

“I think it was a very fair process,” Kersey said. “The grants board considered counties’ actual needs and perceived needs.”

The panel rejected a number of grant application requests for items including furniture, printers, generators and employee reimbursements.

He said the panel also approved only a limited number of requests for funding for electronic poll books, to replace the traditional paper books in certain precincts, given the comparatively high cost of the technology.

Security improvements funded through the grants should be in place for the November elections, Kersey said.

“The purpose is to get the money to the counties as quickly as possible to use as soon as possible for the 2018 elections,” he said.

New or upgraded voting systems funded through the grants will be ready for the 2020 election cycle, he said, adding that county clerks are generally reluctant to change voting systems between the primary and general elections in the same election year.

Locally, grants approved Tuesday include:

  • Kanawha County, $58,721 for precinct ballot scanners/vote tabulators, and for carts to securely transport ExpressVote touchscreen voting systems.
  • Putnam County, $373,353 for future payments for voting machine purchases.
  • Cabell County, $667,724 for ExpressVote touchscreen voting systems.
  • Jackson County, $316,736 for ExpressVote systems, and for physical security improvements.
  • Boone County, $213,021 for ExpressVote systems.
  • Lincoln County, $209,516 for ExpressVote systems, and physical security improvements.
  • Fayette County, $52,735 for precinct ballot scanners/vote tabulators, and physical security improvements.
  • Roane County, $24,175 for physical security improvements.
  • Raleigh County, $16,246 for computer upgrades.
  • Clay County, $7,543 for software upgrades and for physical security improvements.

©2018 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.