Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

A federal agency has told rural counties and small towns how to safeguard their elections, but not all can afford the fixes

By 37ci3 Mar6,2024

The federal agency tasked with protecting the nation’s elections, has advised rural counties and small towns on how to protect their computers and vote-count sites, but some of those communities say they don’t have the money to make the fixes ahead of November’s elections. .

Jen Easterly, director Cyber ​​Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)Overseeing federal election security efforts After the 2022 midterm elections his agency heard from rural areas that they needed more help with election security. He said that CISA, established in 2018, is committed to ensuring this.

“States have pretty good resources and capabilities to deal with all the threats up to this point,” Easterly said. “But at the local level, towns, municipalities, districts, we have a problem with resources. Therefore, we have focused our attention on this place.”

But NBC News spoke with 17 election officials from small jurisdictions in eight states who expressed concern that communities like theirs aren’t getting the money they need from their counties, states or Washington to make much-needed safety improvements.

Officials were concerned about physical threats to polling stations and poll workers, not manipulation of voting results. Several secretaries told NBC News that their jobs have changed dramatically in recent years due to threats from people who believe misinformation online about Donald Trump winning the 2020 election and showing up at the polls.

In Jackson County, Oregon, County Clerk Chris Walker recalls a threat his staff received in 2020 right after the presidential election, which Trump and many of his supporters said was rigged. In the parking lot across the street, someone wrote in big letters, “Sound doesn’t work, next time a bullet.”

“I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you I’m losing sleep,” Walker said. “The business … has completely changed.”

A security consultant from CISA visited Jackson County 11 months before the incident and suggested improvements to the CCTV system and exterior lighting, but Walker could not afford to add cameras in the parking lot across the street where the hazard was painted.

“We received recommendations to better protect our facility. But it is a work in progress. You can never do everything at once,” Walker said.

Across the state, Harney County, Oregon, County Clerk Doug Robinson has similar fears about threats against election workers. In November, his small staff will count votes at the county courthouse, whose parking lot was used as a staging area by the militia that took over the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.

“It was 41 days of hell for everyone who worked in that building,” Robinson said.

Harney County Clerk Doug Robinson
Harney County Clerk Doug Robinson says he once brought in armed guards from another county to protect the counting workers.NBC News

During the recall election after the occupation, Robinson brought in armed guards from a neighboring county to protect the workers counting the ballots. But he won’t be able to borrow those guards during the general election if they are used by his own county.

CISA also sent him recommendations, such as securing power sources, arming the gates, and building a barrier between the observers and the vote counters, but he was unable to afford them.

“They’ve identified the issues that we need to address and they’ve given us some ways to help with that, but they’re not really offering any funding for it,” Robinson said.

Across the country, city worker Grace Bannash in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, worries about the weather or anything that could mess up her computer and power system because the city doesn’t have an IT department.

He remembers the night before last year’s local elections, where he greased his arm to reach behind an antique desk to find a backup power source. He was thankful he did, because he lost his power briefly during the election the next day. Having a generator on site or an IT department on call would help ease his worries, but the city can’t afford it.

Bannasch said he accepts that the federal government has deliberately limited its involvement in the election to instill confidence that there is no interference, but he thinks it could play a bigger role.

“I think the technology aspect is a place that the federal government can absolutely step in and support without having the ability to interfere in elections,” Bannasch said.

CISA’s Easterly said his agency guides local jurisdictions on where they can seek grant funding at the state and federal level.

Brianna Lennon, who manages elections as a clerk in Boone County, Missouri, said the process of seeking money can be quite expensive. Some cities and counties do not have the staff to submit grant applications and ensure their eligibility.

Easterly encouraged states to invest more in voter security for their cities and counties. Easterly said, “States need to pay attention to this issue as well, especially as we enter this presidential election year.”

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By 37ci3

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