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Opinion: N.C. Election Systems Need More Funding — Now

Due to an unprecedented number of threats to election integrity, North Carolina must recognize the importance of year-round security improvements. State legislators are the key to funding these advancements.

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Shutterstock/Eileen Salazar
(TNS) — As Republican and Democratic county election board members, we are pleased to report that North Carolina voters should have confidence in our election systems. But maintaining secure election systems requires a concerted year-round effort in today’s world — and we need continued support from voters and public officials to accomplish that task.

Across North Carolina new voters are registering daily and their data must be protected, along with yours. New voting machines are being tested, purchased and retested. Old software and backup systems are being replaced with modern systems that resist cyber attacks. Our operations must be continually audited to detect vulnerabilities.

Fortunately, federal funds under the bipartisan 2020 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) have already been sent to North Carolina to finance this effort. But those funds must be released (appropriated) in the state budget that legislators are now debating.

As county election officials, we understand the importance of releasing this money because it has a tangible impact, in small and big ways, on our ability to do our job — to protect voters and to maintain a fair, accessible and secure voting system. Given the attention election integrity has received nationally, it would be tragic to withhold these funds.

All N.C. counties use a unified state computer system called SEIMS to process voter records, including registration changes, identity and address verifications, list cleaning mailings, and voter participation history files. The core of that system is more than 20 years old and it holds sensitive, protected information about nearly every adult in the state. The State Board of Elections has begun a costly overhaul of SEIMS to meet new security and technological standards, but that modernization cannot continue without the HAVA funds.

Also, counties with limited staff and resources greatly benefit from an expert assigned by the State Board of Elections to our region. Eight of these traveling security and support technicians (SSTs) help the 100 counties audit and upgrade every aspect of their operations, from email security protocols to vote-counting machinery. The SSTs are funded by last year’s appropriation of the HAVA funds and that money is running out.

By appropriating HAVA funds, state legislators will provide money for projects they’ve requested. For example, $500,000 will allow North Carolina to join a majority of other states in a national list maintenance system to remove ineligible voters and improve the integrity of registration files. Another $275,000 would establish an online portal that allows voters to securely request ballots and helps voters with disabilities.

The threats to our election system from foreign agents and domestic hackers are real and well documented. We can’t afford to wait another year to address challenges.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of thousands of election workers and extra funding we ran a secure election last year, with record turnout, despite the pandemic and international interference. We need N.C. legislators to release the HAVA funds already in the bank for protecting and upgrading our voting systems.

©2021 The Charlotte Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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