2018-06-07 / Community

State to see voting system updates

LANSING – As local clerks finalize ballots for the statewide primary, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson recently detailed how new voting equipment, $11 million in new federal security grants and the extensive preparations her office has made will better protect Michigan’s elections system for the 2018 election cycle.

“Most importantly, every voter across Michigan still will use a good, old-fashioned paper ballot to mark their choices,” Johnson said three weeks before the August primary ballots will be sent out. “Then they’ll feed the ballot into a new next-generation voting machine designed with security in mind. But buying all new election equipment isn’t all we’ve done to safeguard our election system.”

The Aug. 7 primary will be the first statewide election in which every city and township will use all new voting equipment that includes optical-scan ballot tabulators, accessible voting devices for voters with disabilities, and election-management and reporting software.

New upgrades include:

-Next-generation voting equipment that offers added security features over the older systems, including stronger multi-factor access controls, advanced data encryption and better physical security of tabulator access points with locks and seals. Tabulators are not connected to the internet. The state paid for the equipment with $10 million that Johnson pushed the Legislature to approve and $30 million in federal money that Johnson and her predecessor saved for more than a decade. Cities and townships have had no upfront costs for the new equipment. Michigan was one of the only states that saved a substantial amount of federal funds to assist with the purchase of the nextgeneration voting systems, and one of the only states able to implement new voting systems statewide for use in the 2018 election cycle.

-$11.2 million in election security grants that Michigan will receive this year to upgrade elections systems. Bureau of Elections staff is finalizing how the money will be spent, but the plan will include a strong focus on security assessment – including comprehensive tests and other cybersecurity measures at the state, county and local level.

-An upgraded Qualified Voter File system used by the Bureau of Elections and local clerks to maintain the state’s registered voter list and other election-related data. Besides being an improved, modern system that will help clerks perform their work more efficiently and effectively, the new system features enhanced security built in from the ground up over its 20-year-old predecessor.

-Strengthened relations with state and federal law-enforcement and homeland-security agencies. The Bureau of Elections can report any suspicious activity it detects — cyber or otherwise — with the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center, which shares threat information among local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI, Michigan State Police, Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Department of State has a staff person who participates with center. Additionally, Homeland Security officials now regularly share pertinent information, tools and services with state elections officials to assist them in thoroughly assessing and securing all aspects of their systems. Secretary of State staff have also participated in briefings for election administrators from federal homeland security officials.

-Expanded cybersecurity training for local election officials. Bureau of Elections staff are now also implementing a continuous multi-course training curriculum for clerks on cybersecurity best practices.

-Post-election audits that now include ballot validation. Bureau of Elections and county clerks now include ballot validation in the post-election audit process. After this November’s general election, ballot tabulation validation will be completed for the first time for a statewide election, involving every county with some randomly selected precincts. This process will verify that the voting machines properly tabulated ballots. The previous process, in place since 2013, already verified the successful completion of appropriate preelection programming and testing steps. Post-election audits, which were started by Johnson, verify local election workers are performing their duties correctly and help target training programs to better assist election workers.

In addition to the new equipment and initiatives, Michigan elections will continue to feature long-standing accuracy and integrity practices.

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