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Monroe Legacy

Iowa Secretary of State's office upgrades election cybersecurity

Secretary Pate to visit Newton next month

Increased election security will help Iowans make their votes count this November. In a news release issued by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office last week, Secretary of State Paul Pate outlined how changes to the state’s voting system, including beefing up cybersecurity, will prevent election tampering.

Funding for the upgrades will come from a $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Almost 60 percent of Iowa’s HAVA Iowa funds will be committed to benefiting counties, Pate said.

“First in the nation in voting demands, first in the nation security, and that is what we are implementing in Iowa,” Pate said. “We are building a human firewall that will be every bit as robust as the technological one.”

In order to help voters across the state understand the changes being implemented, Pate plans to meet with as many county auditors as he can before the November elections. Pate’s spokesman, Kevin Hall, said the Secretary of State will host a roundtable at 2 p.m. Sept 18 in Newton.

Pate has partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to conduct different assessments, including Risk and Vulnerability, Cyber Resilience Review, External Dependency Management, Infrastructure Survey and Phishing Campaign studies. By working closely with DHS officials, Pate said the Secretary of State’s office would be able to improve election security.

Most of the changes will be invisible to voters when they cast their ballots this November.

“The average voter should not notice a thing,” Hall said. “These are things we’re doing behind the scenes.”

In an effort to increase the security of that system, Pate said Iowa will now require two-party authentication for state and local employees who access the I-Voters system. Two party authentication adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to carry an encoding device in addition to supplying their username and password when they log on to the system. Iowa’s election night reporting system will also switch over to two-factor authentication.

To bolster its cybersecurity team, Pate’s office also plans to hire additional staff, including hiring an Information Security Officer and Cyber Navigator.

“We are building a human firewall that will be every bit as robust as the technological one,” Pate said. “Working with all 99 counties, as well as state and federal entities, we will protect Iowa’s elections on every level. Iowans can rest assured we are doing everything we can to ensure the sanctity of the vote.”

Kevin Hall, Communications Director for the Secretary of State’s office said hackers have never penetrated I-Voters, the state’s online database of registered voters. Just because hackers haven’t found their way in doesn’t mean they aren’t trying, Hall said.

“There is no evidence of any unauthorized intrusion in Iowa’s election system,” Hall said. “There are hundreds of thousands of bots, or bad actors trying to look at the state of Iowa’s system. They’re looking for vulnerabilities, trying to steal information. There are constant attempts.”

While hackers may have the state under siege online, Hall said the state’s voting process is virtually tamper proof. In Iowa, voters use paper ballots to record their votes.

“We vote on paper ballots, it’s kind of hard to tamper with our system,” Hall said.

Completed ballots are scanned by a machine and the ballots are stored in case there’s a need for a manual recount. Hall said the scanners are tested constantly. Without a connection to the internet, there’s little risk that they could be tampered with. For the first time following the November election, the state will hand audit a small percentage of the state’s polling places.

“We are taking a holistic approach to election integrity, security and participation,” Pate said. “There is not a silver bullet that will solve every security issue that might arise. Cybersecurity requires a team effort from every elections official in the state and country. It’s a race without a finish line, but I am determined that Iowa will lead that race.”

Contact David Dolmage at
641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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