State and federal officials talked election security last week, and Klamath County Clerk Rochelle Long made the trip to the capital for a symposium on the issue last Wednesday.
While she works to ensure the county’s election process is secure, Long said the biggest battle on the public front is combating disinformation that runs rampant on social media and through email scams. This includes claims of things like people’s voter registrations being cancelled.
The best thing people can do if they are concerned about their voter registration or any suspicious claims is call the Clerk’s Office at 541-883-5134 or come into the office at the Klamath County Government Building at 305 Main Street so staff can check on voter information.
Oregon Director of Elections Steve Trout touted the state’s vote by mail system at a press conference in Salem Tuesday morning, just days after the chaos at the Iowa Caucuses where a smartphone app used to report results crashed.
Long said in her position, the vote by mail system “helps me sleep a little easier” because she doesn’t have to deal a system like that in Iowa.
Instead, she explained the system in Klamath County she and her staff uses on election nights. A tally machine sits in a locked room where officials scan the ballots into a system not connected to the internet, therefore not vulnerable to web-based hacking. Long is the only one with the key, she said, although people can sit outside of the room and watch officials scan the ballots on a monitor.
She invited the public to come and watch the process because she said it can make people trust it more after witnessing it, although Long asked anyone wishing to come watch let the Elections Office know ahead of time because the space can only accommodate so many people.
After the votes are tallied on that machine, the results are downloaded to another secure system to send to the state. Officials also have different passwords for the tally system and state system so that if a password is compromised, it is only valid for one platform.
Long said her office is on high alert for cyber security threats and that Trout’s office sends out email phishing schemes to county officials to see if they fall for the scam. It’s gotten to the point that Long said they’re “afraid to open anything.”
Although Oregon’s mail ballot system may be more secure than other state’s internet-based systems, Long said threats to our area’s elections are always evolving and that her office is in constant communication with the I.T. department and other elections authorities.
FBI Special Agent in charge of Oregon Renn Cannon emphasized that county officials partnering with state and federal officials will ensure that threats are caught and communicated as early as possible.
“What really is new is the growing sophistication of the threats. So both the cyber threats, those ransomwear attacks, business email compromise, cyber hacking those are becoming increasingly complex and sophisticated over the years,” Cannon said. “The days of an email that has obvious misspellings and a ridiculous premise, that’s not what happens these days. What happens is now is a very sophisticated, very difficult to detect link or come on specifically designed to individuals to get them to click on the link.”
Long stressed that not all misinformation is malicious in nature, sometimes it can just be people sharing rumors. Still, rumors can be harmful in eroding public trust in the election process.
“There’s a lot of information out there at our fingertips,” Long said. “Whether it’s true is the hard part.”
Although the Election Security Symposium was geared toward candidates, Long felt some of the material would even be good information for the public. The symposium featured speakers and trainings, including Oregon’s Secretary of State, officials from the FBI, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon and an official from Facebook.
Oregon was the first state to adopt vote by mail and now four other states have followed Oregon’s lead.
“There’s definitely a growing interest out there and more people looking at that compared to even just five or six years ago,” Trout said. “So that’s encouraging, and I think we continue to show that this is a very voter-centric way of voting that focuses on the voters and gives them the most flexibility of voting as possible.”