Opinion: Commentary: Protect Integrity of Elections

Opinion: Commentary: Protect Integrity of Elections

With the Nov. 5 General Election only 10 short weeks away, I don’t think it’s too early to focus on the very serious topic of election security here in the Commonwealth. The sanctity of our election results is fundamental to our democracy. You can rest assured that Virginia is committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections.

Evidence of Russian government operations began to surface in mid-2016. All states were targeted but not all were breached. In Virginia, there was a scan of our public facing systems, but our security posture at the time prevented any breaches. It was the equivalent of a home invader checking the locks on a house to see if they are vulnerable but unable to actually take any action. Our system worked. There was no manipulation of votes or data. There was no compromise of vote tallies or voting systems. Any data obtained from scans of Virginia systems was used for informational purposes only.

Nevertheless, since 2016, Virginia has made a concerted effort to improve upon our security posture. And you have to do so because technology is always improving. The Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) is making investments that will provide a more sustainable approach to improving election security in the Commonwealth. In the past General Assembly session, both the Governor and the General Assembly have pushed to make considerable investments in ELECT and our elections. Funding has been added for a variety of positions, including appropriations for training positions at the department. These positions will greatly assist in supporting local election officials and the department’s efforts to ensure uniformity in election administration across the state. It also will assist ELECT with the administration of its ongoing cybersecurity and election security training program.

Virginia is using funds from the 2018 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant to help strengthen its election infrastructure, and are currently being used for initiatives such as increasing cybersecurity training, increasing security for elections data, and establishing more robust certification standards for voting equipment (you can see a detailed outline of the plan here: https://www.eac.gov/payments-and-grants/hava-funds-state-chart-view/). The Department of Elections is required to submit progress reports to the Election Assistance Commission, and the next report is due in December of 2019.

Agencies such as the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) are assisting by providing information about best practices and security standards. The Department of Elections has also secured a project team that is drafting a security and continuity of operations plan, as well as helping manage program costs. Ongoing efforts will be rolled into existing state resources after the funds are expended. Election security is always evolving, so the Department of Elections will remain vigilant and flexible with these funds to address new and emerging threats.

Moreover, all election tabulation equipment in the Commonwealth of Virginia is required to produce a paper trail. Other than ADA compliant systems, all voters are required to vote on paper ballots which cannot be manipulated. There will always be an audit trail that will allow for the verification of the results of any election.

HB 2178, sponsored by my colleague and fellow member of the Privileges and Elections Committee, Del. Mark Sickles, was recently passed and enacted. This legislation puts Virginia on the forefront of states who are assisting localities with their cybersecurity and election security posture. It provides the state broad authority to ensure that local governments and local election offices are implementing the necessary security standards and practices to protect our election systems.

These initiatives support Virginia’s continued efforts to work with local, state, and federal partners to ensure the safety and security of our electoral process. You can rest assured that your vote will be secure and counted. Don’t forget to vote on Nov. 5!