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State elections board updating ballot security


By Julie Havlak
Carolina Journal News Service

Friday, July 6, 2018

RALEIGH — North Carolina will spend $10.9 million to modernize election systems and tighten the security of voters’ information.

Under the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2018, the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement received $10.4 million from the federal government and $519,000 from a state match to improve election security and technology.

The board could use the money to replace equipment that only records votes electronically, a spokesman said, but it won’t buy new machines because most counties already use paper ballots and the rest use touch-screen machines that leave a verifiable paper trail.

“We do not believe spreading this money thinly over 100 counties to help them purchase new voting equipment would be an effective use of these one-time dollars,” Patrick Gannon said in an emailed statement. “We are hopeful the General Assembly will provide funding to assist counties in purchasing new voting systems.”

The board will channel most of the money into updating the Statewide Elections Information Management System, which manages voter registration, candidate filing, and election night reporting, among other functions. The improvements will move SEIMS onto Microsoft Cloud for Government.

“SEIMS is at the core of everything we do with elections in North Carolina,” Gannon said. “This system is utilized by all 100 of our county boards of elections. The current system is more than a decade old and is decentralized, requiring hardware and infrastructure maintenance in all 100 counties.”

The move would centralize North Carolina’s records and streamline the system. The central database will modernize election night reporting tools, expand access to data without needing new equipment, and automatically remove felons and dead voters from the system.

“This is the largest IT project conducted by the state board in nearly two decades,” Gannon said. “It will result in significant improvements to SEIMS functionality and the overall security of the state’s elections systems.”

The overhaul follows 2016’s improvements, which tightened the security of voter data after two other states were successfully hacked. The board had planned modernizing SEIMS before the hacking, but it proved the need to update the system, Gannon said.

The U.S. Department of Justice found Russian meddling in a “Charlotte Against Trump” rally and in various Facebook advertisements in North Carolina, according to February’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for trying to influence voters in 2016.

Russian-based operatives also attempted a two-part hack of VR Systems, a voting systems vendor that served multiple states and 21 N.C. counties in 2016, according to a leaked intelligence report.

The intelligence report was “inconclusive,” and the board is “not in a position” to know whether it compromised the system in North Carolina. VA systems is no longer certified to operate in the 2018 elections, said Gannon.

There is no evidence Russian hacks directly targeted North Carolina or changed any vote tallies, Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach said. She also said the Department of Homeland Security hadn’t told the board of any vulnerabilities that could compromise SEIMS.

All North Carolina counties will use paper ballots by 2019, and the modernized SEIMS will be live for the 2020 presidential elections — or sooner if the board receives an additional $5 million in funding.

Carolina Journal News Service is provided by The John Locke Foundation of Raleigh.