IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Congressional Panel Praises Illinois Election Upgrades

Lake County, Ill., received high marks from panelists and the chair of the Committee on Homeland Security, which talked to local, state and federal officials about potential threats to the Illinois elections system.

(TNS) — The congressional Committee on Homeland Security was in Gurnee, Ill., Tuesday morning to talk to local, state and federal officials about potential threats to the Illinois elections system.

Lake County, Ill., received high marks from panelists and the chair of the committee, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, who explained he had ties to the Chicago area because he went there to work in the summer while attending college close to home.

“It paid better wages than in my home state,” he said.

Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, who serves parts of northeastern and central Lake County, attended as vice chairwoman of the committee, and Rep. Sean Thomas Casten, D-Downers Grove, who serves many of Chicago’s western suburbs including Barrington, also sat on the panel.

Testimony was taken from Steve Sandvoss, executive director with the Illinois Board of Elections; Lake County Clerk Robin O’Connor; Matt Masterson, senior cybersecurity advisor with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and Elizabeth Howard, counsel of the Democracy Program at The Brennan Center for Justice.

Thompson said states like Illinois are on the forefront of having effective partnerships between the state and local election officials.

“From improvements to the Illinois Century Network to the Cyber Navigator Program, the state has made smart investments in election security capabilities that make it harder for adversaries to meddle in the 2020 election,” he said.

U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states, including in Illinois, where the voter information of 76,000 individuals was accessed. Since 2016, the federal government has provided $380 million in resources and technical assistance to vulnerable states to assist with election security, with Illinois receiving $13.2 million of those funds.

According to Sandvoss, the state elections board found a design flaw that allowed a hacker to get in through a portal.

“We discovered what happened pretty quickly, and immediately corrected it,” he said, adding all individuals affected were notified of the breach, which was required by law.

Other improvements included cyber navigators that can help local officials with problems and run tests on their systems. Some counties and some states do not have any kind of paper ballot and are deemed more susceptible to attack, Sandvoss said.

O’Connor said Lake County participated in the Illinois Elections Cyber Navigators Risk Assessment and the county’s internet technology department “had already implemented some of the recommendations, and we are working at implementing the others,” she told the panel.

“A common concern is pairing of information between voter registration and election tabulation as well as connectivity. Both systems are separate and not connected here in Lake County,” she said, adding the voter registration system will soon be on the Illinois Century Network, which the state created with some of its grant money.

“We pride ourselves in being proactive and prepared for risks and threats,” she said.

Thompson said it was quite clear that Lake County system was a model for other systems.

“I compliment you for it,” he said.

Underwood asked O’Connor if she felt the county was prepared.

“I’m very confident. We want the voters to be comfortable in our system, and I think they are,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor also said that the cerk’s office deals with disinformation and misinformation by combating it online.

“We’re very involved in social media. We have a Facebook page, and if someone asks a question, we answer it publicly right away and correct them if it’s wrong,” she said.

Thompson said that the U.S. House passed two bills after a task force ended in 2018 with 10 recommendations, and introduced legislation, the Election Security Act and For the People Act.

In January, the House passed Underwood-backed legislation, H.R. 1, which would help protect U.S. elections by improving voting system security. The legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to maintain election systems as critical infrastructure, require regular testing of voting systems, and upgrade legacy election systems.

“Unfortunately, the Senate has yet to act on that or any other meaningful election security legislation,” he said. He gave Lake County another compliment at the end of the hearing.

“You are absolutely heading in the right direction. You’re doing the kind of work that the rest of the country should do,” he said.

©2019 the Lake County News-Sun (Lake County, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.