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G-OpEd™: West Virginia Leading the Country in Election Security and Preparation

The Free Press WV

While there is considerable banter about election security throughout the United States, West Virginia voters can be proud of steps taken by election officials in the Mountain State to lead the nation in security and the integrity of our election system.  West Virginia now has the best-trained election officials in the country, was the first state to imbed a cybersecurity officer with Top Secret clearance from the National Guard to monitor activity for bad actors, has four staff with Department of Homeland Security (DHS ) sponsored security clearances, and taken many preventative measures to bolster West Virginia’s cyber profile well in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.

West Virginia has a great story on elections security that is rooted in response to the 2016 elections, which caught election officials nationwide flat footed.  While certain institutions wrung their hands on how to start, West Virginia relied on our pioneer spirit and plotted our own course into unchartered territory.  We insisted on security clearances, sought assistance from our National Guard, attended conferences at Harvard, and inspected polling places and elections storage facilities.  We sent field representatives to every county and began working closely with all 55 county clerks.  As knowledge of the threat became known, our staff helped write the protocols on how to defend against the threats, how to counter the threats, and how to respond to attacks. “Protect, detect, correct” became our motto, and when federal officials told states nationwide that it wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when” attacks would occur, “speed of recovery” became our objective.

When the federal government recently presented assistance in the form of financial aid for election security, West Virginia was the first state to present its plan on how best to spend that money – by way of a cost-sharing initiative with our counties, using county clerks and county commissions as the means to determine their specific needs on a case-by-case basis.  Meanwhile, West Virginia’s election officials gathered last week to hold the state’s first ever Elections Security and Preparations Training Conference.  This conference had two objectives:  1) to train the clerks on cybersecurity; and 2) to begin the application and allocation process for distribution of federal funds for election security.

West Virginia’s lead in election security garnered national media attention with CNN, Washington Post, HBO and BuzzFeed all in attendance to cover the conference.  In describing the event, HBO’s Vice News headline read, “2 days of the most advanced election security training just went down – at a West Virginia Holiday Inn.”  DHS cybersecurity expert, Matt Masterton, also came to the conference and addressed the group as the keynote speaker.  Masterton took lessons learned from West Virginia to share with other states.

Attendees at the conference participated in a day-long mock election preparation and Election Day scenario that gave attendees practical experience on issues that could pop up unexpectedly.  Clerks were extremely well pleased with the quality of the training, as well as the opportunity to obtain federal funding for local elections.  The training experience—using the most advanced training techniques available by the nation’s leading experts in elections—now has our county clerks as the best trained election officials in the country in the field of election security.

As for election security, we already have in place a voter verified paper trail that is mandated on all voting equipment. Pre-election logic and accuracy tests of every tabulation device is performed publically before every election. Post-election audits are performed randomly in each county to ensure the paper records match the electronic results.

As Secretary of State, I have taken an active role in improving specific cybersecurity measures. Our office management team became charter members of Harvard’s “Defending Digital Democracy Program” that has produced cutting-edge cybersecurity playbooks for government officials and candidates nationwide. West Virginia was the first state to distribute these materials to county clerks and all 582 West Virginia candidates registered to run for office in 2018. Also, we are now members of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, another communication channel to prevent cybersecurity threats against protected systems. When DHS named elections as Critical Infrastructure (CI), I became one of a handful of Secretaries of State who served on the Government Coordinating Council to draft the protocols for this new CI sector.

Almost one year ago today, Major General James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) and I forged an advanced partnership that has since resulted in a full-time Guard member with Top Secret clearance to monitor state-level cyber activity and give my office election security recommendations. Our West Virginia National Guard conducted vulnerability testing on election systems prior to the 2018 midterm primary at no additional expense to either agency. This advanced partnership is the first instance in the country to imbed a National Guard member in the elections arena as a cyber-expert, and our approach is serving as a model for other states as they increase their election security posture.

I have also made it a priority to make additional funds available to county clerks and local election officials to improve voting technology.  My office is currently working to distribute $6.5 million in federal funding to counties to upgrade voting technology including voting machines, security for voting equipment and cybersecurity upgrades.  We intend to have the money distributed quickly so counties can increase security prior to the General Election in November.

We also have funds available to help address ADA needs for polling locations. The funding is West Virginia’s portion of money allocated by Congress through the “Help America Vote Act” (HAVA), which helps address election needs at the local level.

A website containing information on how West Virginia is leading the nation to protect elections can be found at www.secureelectionswv.com.

I will do everything in my power to secure, defend and protect the foundation of American democracy—our republic depends on secure elections.

WV Secretary of State Mac Warner is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the WVU College of Law.  Prior to being elected Secretary of State, he served 23 years in the United States Army retiring as Lt. Colonel.

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