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Crook County Clerk, Elections Deputy attend event to work on keeping elections safe from outside interference

The 2020 election cycle is still several months away, but work has already begun among Crook County and other counties statewide to keep elections secure.

County Clerk Cheryl Seely and Elections Deputy Barb Pennington joined election officials and IT staff from counties throughout Oregon last week in La Grande to participate in an election security exercise organized by the Elections Division of the Oregon Secretary of State's Office, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

The four-hour exercise was designed to increase the preparedness of Oregon's elections offices to successfully deal with physical and cybersecurity threats during the 2020 election cycle. All 36 Oregon counties belong to the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC), which promotes threat information sharing through all levels of government.

The topics of the training included improving password strength, identifying phishing attempts, and a number of scenarios related to election security. These scenarios gave county officials an opportunity to think of and plan ahead for issues that may arise during the 2020 election cycle.

"This was something that some of us had asked about at previous conferences," Seely said of the exercise. "It was very interesting. We learned a lot. I have pages of notes."

It was noted that Oregon's vote by mail system makes elections more secure because it allows the state and counties to focus their security resources on the 36 county election offices, rather than having to secure thousands of voting booths across the state. Each of those 36 locations has secured rooms where ballots are tallied, and which are equipped with video surveillance. The tallying systems are not connected to the internet and there is a paper backup.

"I am very confident that our elections are secure," Seely said, "but not knowing what's ahead for the upcoming 2020 election cycle with all of the cyberattacks…we are just trying to prepare for that."

Seely went on to note that the election tabulation process is "very secure and not hackable because it is not connected to anything" on the internet. She did, however, point out that the Clerk's Office staff manually uploads results to both the county and Secretary of State's websites and that process is potentially vulnerable to hacking.

"The Secretary of State's Office did provide us this year with Chromebooks, so we can use those to upload results," she said, adding that the Chromebooks' memory is wiped clean each time they are turned off.

Seely went on to say that they learned a lot of things during the exercise that they could take back to the county's IT department to help make the county network more secure.

"We are in a stronger position now than we were for the 2016 and 2018 elections, even though we successfully secured both of those elections," said Secretary of State Bev Clarno. "The biggest threat to elections is misinformation. That was the biggest problem in 2016 and we expect more of the same in 2020. Just because you read something on social media or online doesn't mean it's true. Much of the election information you find online is not accurate."

"There is a lot of misinformation online saying that non-citizens are being registered to vote. That is simply not true," said Elections Director Steve Trout. "Only those who have provided proof of citizenship when they go to DMV are automatically registered to vote. There is also a lot of information online saying that our elections were hacked in 2016 and will be hacked again. Do not believe it. Oregon continues to be a leader in secure elections and innovative voter protections, and voters can have confidence that their ballots will be counted as they were intended."

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