As the time for citizens to cast ballots draws near, Volusia County is poised to receive a six-figure federal grant to bolster security and ensure the integrity of the voting process.
In the wake of numerous published reports of foreign interference in or tampering with elections, the county’s Department of Elections will receive $378,124 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to pay for extra precautions and safeguards for the democratic process.
“Elections are now under Homeland Security,” Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis said. “The county does not have to match these funds.”
Volusia, like other counties in Florida and across the country, is getting extra federal help in advance of the Nov. 6 general election.
Lewis added there is some grassroots concern about attempts by hackers in Russia or elsewhere to throw an election one way or the other.
“I had a couple of callers ask about it,” she added, when asked about the effects of media reports about Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
How will Lewis and her staff spend the coming federal dollars?
One item on Lewis’ list of priorities is acquiring and installing more security cameras in and around her department’s workplace.
“I do have cameras. I just want additional ones,” she said.
More surveillance is needed, Lewis explained, in her offices in the Historic Courthouse in DeLand, including the downstairs space and around the outside of the building.
In addition, Lewis proposes to protect her staff and their work area by separating them from visitors in the public areas, much like banks put up barriers between their tellers and customers.
“A glass partition will be placed on top of the counters, so that nobody can just jump over,” she said.
Security doors for staffers to go into and out of their space behind the public-contact counters will be installed, as well.
Other security measures may be added later, notably protecting Lewis’ agency’s computers from unauthorized access. This may present an ever-changing series of threats and defenses against them, as people, businesses and agencies seek to stay a step — or several steps — ahead of cyber intruders and malefactors. Measure begets countermeasure, and countermeasure drives miscreants to devise ways to go around, over, under or through the protective barriers and lines of defense.
Lewis acknowledges the constantly changing types of threats and vulnerabilities of information-storage systems.
“You lock your doors, and you put bars over your windows, and you may install an alarm system,” Lewis said, comparing one’s home to a business or government agency that needs protection.
In terms of voter registration and the voter rolls, Lewis said her staff already check the name of each person registering to vote with other databases to verify U.S. citizenship and eligibility to vote.
“We have to key it in with the driver’s licenses, vital statistics and Social Security,” she noted.
As for ballot security, there are procedures already in place. Ballots, once they arrive from the printer, are stored in a special vault until delivery to the polling places.
“We’ve always had to have two people to get into the vault,” Lewis explained. “One person with their badge cannot get into the vault or where the election program is stored. It takes two badges. Everyone has their own four-digit pass code. No one person has access to the ballots or the election program.”
The ballots are also bundled and sealed before they are moved to the precincts, and the poll workers at each precinct must verify that the seal is unbroken, Lewis pointed out.
To allay fears of tampering with the vote totals, she said, the ballot-counting machines at the polling places are equipped with modems that “are on a secure server not accessible by the internet.”
“The modems leave site encrypted, and then whenever they come over to us, the encryption must match the encryption we have on the server to collect the numbers,” Lewis said, noting there is even an extra measure of electronic security: “The encryption changes with each election.”
And as if that is not enough to assure voters of the integrity of the democratic process, Lewis said, election results can be ensured and verified by tabulating the paper ballots.
“One good thing about Florida is that we have paper ballots, and we always recount the ballots. If anything happens to a tabulation,” she noted.
The extra steps and precautions are all necessary, Lewis said, to make certain the voices and will of the citizenry do indeed count.
“You take part in our democracy. There’s always going to be a winner and a loser,” she concluded.