Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Matt Crane (center) was cast as the state elections director on his team during a cyber-security exercise at the EIPC meeting Sept. 5. Crane showed great leadership qualities, being decisive, yet careful in dealing with the cascading critical events thrown at him as DHS official David Stern looks over his shoulder. Photo by Freda Miklin
BY FREDA MIKLIN
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen talks about election security to election officials from throughout Colorado.
Sec. of State Wayne Williams organized election disaster training for 300 county clerk employees.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams has achieved a national reputation as being ahead of the curve on election security. He proudly told the Arapahoe County Republican Breakfast Club at its Sept. 5 meeting that The Washington Post had named Colorado the safest state in which to vote.
Williams shared some of the actions he has taken to achieve that distinction since being elected to his current position in 2014. He first installed a new system that creates paper ballots to back up every vote. Then he adopted a risk-limiting audit procedure in which a random selection of paper ballots as compared to votes cast. That audit was recently performed, with excellent results. Williams also worked with the legislature to tie voter’s registration in with the issuance of driver’s licenses, resulting in Colorado having the highest percentage of registered voters, compared to other states. Finally, Williams increased the availability of 24/7 drop-boxes across the state to make the act of voting easier.
So as to help county clerks and their staffs be well-prepared for the Nov. 6 election, Williams’ office held a unique training exercise Sept. 6 at the Hilton Inverness Hotel in Englewood, called “Election Preparedness for Infrastructure and Cybersecurity (EPIC).”
300 election officials from nearly every Colorado county, along with the secretaries of state of New Jersey and New Mexico and the executive director of the National Association of Secretaries of State, participated in a half-day of realistic disaster exercises involving hacking, rumors and various cyber-threats, designed to test officials’ abilities to anticipate and deal with real and perceived emergencies that could occur on Election Day.
Election staff members from different counties were assigned to teams with other staff members they didn’t know, and jobs were assigned differently from employees’ regular duties. Teams had to work together to tackle continuously reported emergencies, real and rumored.
Moderating the groups were cybersecurity experts and Homeland Security (DHS) officials, including David Stern, a member of the state, local, tribal, and territorial exercise team that travels across the country, working with state and local election officials on procedures to guard against cyber-attacks. To make it more realistic, organizers used staff to portray concerned citizens and demanding journalists, badgering state and county election officials about what was happening and what they were going to do about it.
The keynote lunchtime speaker was kept under wraps, so it was a surprise when DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was introduced and entered from a side door. She emphasized that her department is constantly focused on potential threats to U.S. elections, and claimed there is no evidence of cybersecurity threats at the level that was seen in 2016. She reminded local officials that DHS offers in-depth vulnerability assessments. She complimented Colorado’s use of a statewide risk audit and its overall excellent voter security, saying “Colorado is one of our most engaged partners.” Williams asked Nielsen what she saw as the future model of elections. She named hyper-connectivity and E-Government, saying that people would vote from their smart-phones, once the security risks could be resolved.
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