Following the 2016 federal elections, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated elections systems as “critical infrastructure,” thereby joining American elections systems with other sectors such as energy systems, financial services, healthcare and transportation. Acknowledging the increased focus on election security and an emerging threat from foreign actors, preparations for the 2018 midterms began immediately upon Secretary Warner’s inauguration as Secretary of State in 2017.
Beginning in January of 2017, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office surveyed local election officials and assessed their cyber and physical security needs, amended state law to authorize county grants for election systems and security upgrades, and repurposed existing state resources to maximize election security. These comprehensive assessment efforts have allowed the state and counties to focus our resources and prioritize upgrades to election security infrastructure and procedures.
The links and information below expand upon the specific upgrades to West Virginia’s elections procedures, systems, cybersecurity, and physical security.
The Future of West Virginia’s Election Security
The move away from federal funding for maintenance of the SVRS and increasing our funding priorities to include election security has put the state-level systems in a position to have a long-term and stable funding source for cybersecurity. We fully understand that any cyber system is only as good as the weakest link. West Virginia will continue to stay dedicated to increasing our protections, bolstering our detection capabilities, and staying prepared for corrective action if and when an attack occurs.
Auditable paper records of votes cast are the strengths of West Virginia’s election systems that allow for a fail-safe option of recreating election results in the extremely unlikely event of tabulation errors occurring. The WVSOS is currently studying advanced audits that will limit any risks of electronic tabulation used in other states for feasibility in West Virginia.
While West Virginia has leveraged every resource possible from existing funds and new funds to the County Grant and Loan Fund, we estimate that local election officials' efforts will result in only half of all registered voters having access to new or upgraded election systems by the 2020 elections. I find the most important financial need moving forward is to replace local voting equipment with new, more secure equipment.
West Virginia’s economic situation since the first round of HAVA in 2002 has deteriorated and many less-populated counties simply do not have resources to prioritize funding election systems over debts that continue to rise, such as increasing jail bills and underfunded road maintenance. Even with the matching opportunities for voting equipment and cyber upgrades that we will offer, local funding opportunities are proving difficult as West Virginia is just now beginning to recover from the economic storm of recent years.
Funds to acquire HAVA mandated machines that come with the latest and greatest technology and protections simply do not exist in many counties. HAVA 2 funds are greatly appreciated and helpful to local election officials, but I am hopeful that our local election officials’ needs remain in consideration when Congressional funding discussions resume.