(TNS) — Millions of dollars in new Butler County voting machines that must be operational by November are arriving this week, and the board of elections now also has a six-month deadline to implement comprehensive security measures.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued an edict last week that includes criminal background checks on all full-time county board of elections employees and any vendors who work with the voting systems, cybersecurity training, changing email domain names and performing various security checks on their systems, among other items.
"Although the list of tasks that we've given them looks intimidating initially, once you start working through them in many cases they'll find they've already complied," LaRose told the Journal-News. "We're confident they're going to be able to work through this, we'll be there to support them every step of the way."
Background checks that are required for elections board members, directors and assistant directors, including vendors and contractors, is an important piece of this directive, according to LaRose.
"One of the most aggressive things we've done -- but I would argue the most necessary -- is to extend that to vendors as well," LaRose said, adding many BOEs use vendors and contractors for IT and other support.
"When these vendors have access to critical elections systems, we need to know that they're trustworthy, without a doubt."
Butler County BOE Director Diane Noonan said she isn't sure what impact the new directive will have on her operation, but she has already hired five part-time people to help prepare the new voting machines for the November election.
The county commissioners bought the $7.5 million voting machine system last month, and Noonan said the first shipment of equipment is set to arrive this week. It will take time not only to get the system running but staff trained on the new iPad-like machines.
"None of our voting machines are ever hooked up in any way to the Internet," she said. "This is mostly for infractions to the infrastructure of our systems. We have to get new computers and make sure they are all Windows 10 and we have to make sure the firewalls are done and set up as a .gov (domain) now. Those are the kinds of things we have to have done."
LaRose is providing $50,000 grants to counties for things like the mandated new computers, software upgrades and other items associated with the mandate. The federal government provided $380 million in grants to states to secure elections systems in March 2018. The security directive must be implemented by the end of January.
Noonan said it is impossible to know if the grant will cover all the costs associated with the enhanced security, but said over the next few months time-wise "we'll be stretched."
Noonan has enlisted the aid of the central IT department and its director Eric Fletcher. He said this effort doesn't suggest there are issues with voting in the state, it's more of an insurance policy.
"This is more of a reminder of, I think, best practices and things they need to address and make sure they are paying attention to," he said. "A lot of these we already have in place."
Miami County was one of three pilot counties for the security project, and the BOE Director, Laura Bruns, said the focus isn't necessarily on voter fraud because none of the voting machines or tabulating systems are ever connected to the internet, but keeping personal information safe.
"The main thing with this directive is concerning more of the voter registration databases and protecting the information that we have there," she said. "We have that information on every single voter, dates of birth, social security numbers and things like that we need to protect from outside intrusion."
©2019 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.