Ohio Takes Steps to Ensure Cyber Security at the Polls

Nov 25, 2019

We’re less than a year away from the 2020 presidential election, and concern about Russian interference in the 2016 election persists. Have states, including Ohio, done everything they need to ensure that the vote next time will be safe and secure?

We spoke with Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. She says the state is in pretty good shape, but there’s still work to be done.

  

Ahead of the curve on cybersecurity

Miller says in terms of security, Ohio already has a pretty good system that's “well ahead of other states.” Ohio’s voting machines are not hooked up to the internet, so they can’t be hacked.

But Miller advises it’s important to be ready for what comes next. She points to Sec. of State Frank LaRose, who worked with the Ohio Senate to craft Senate Bill 52. Gov. Mike DeWine signed this cybersecurity into law.

According to Miller, the law gives the secretary of state a seat on the Homeland Security Council.

"Clearly, elections are critical infrastructure," she said.

The law also creates a cyber-information officer seat within the secretary of state’s office, and it would codify postelection audits, Miller said. On that last point, Miller says that’s something the League of Women Voters secured from a lawsuit following the 2004 election.

Finally, SB 52 creates a cyber-reserve of academic and corporate experts that the state can draw on in times when the secretary of state, county board of elections or local officials need help.

The legislation ensures continuity from one secretary of state to the next.

Certifying voter registration systems

There’s another bill that Miller says the League of Women Voters is very excited about. It’s Senate Bill 194, which has passed the Senate.

According to Miller, the bill requires voter registration systems to be certified. Currently voting machines are certified, meaning that counties can only select from certified vendors, and cybersecurity is taken into consideration. Under the bill, voter registration systems would face the same rigors.

Miller calls the bill “a common sense next step” and is hopeful it will soon pass the House.

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters in Ohio.
Credit Andrew Meyer / WKSU

  

88 Counties, 88 Board of Elections

Every county in Ohio has its own board of elections, which makes sense to Miller as she says local decisions are better made at this level.

But it also means that the registration system is decentralized, with every county having its own system and processes for registering voters, which she believes is problematic.

Miller says the oversight of voting should be kept at the county level, but for registration, that should be centralized because it would be more accurate and more secure.

More secure, but not necessarily easier

Miller believes the idea that voting can be more secure, and at the same time, can be achieved. One of the most confusing things currently is voter registration in Ohio. She’s a proponent of automatic voter registration.

“When you interact with a government agency, it would automatically update your address,” she said.

Senate Bill 186 would require that when you get a new license or ID at the BMV, you would automatically be registered to vote. If you’re already registered, your information would be updated. 

“That would make our rolls more secure and more accurate and, at the same time, easier to vote,” she said.

Easier registration could help get more people to the voting booth.
Credit Andrew Meyer / WKSU

A partner in the secretary of state’s office

Miller believes LaRose is a good partner in making voting easier. She points to his military service and calls him a "patriot.” She says LaRose cares about everyone voting.

Although Miller is not aware of any suppression effort at the state level, she said state policies do disproportionately affect “students, communities of color and low-income individuals, and that’s where we can improve security, while at the same time, improve access with things like automatic voter registration or same-day registration.”