As long-serving Democratic and Republican members of the Catawba County Board of Elections, we are pleased to report that North Carolina voters should have confidence in our election systems. But maintaining secure election systems requires a concerted year-round effort in today’s world — and we need continued support from voters and public officials to accomplish this task.
Across our state, new voters are registering every day, and their data must be protected along with yours. New machines are being tested, purchased and retested. Old software and backup systems are being replaced with modern systems that resist cyberattacks. Our operations must be continually audited to detect vulnerabilities.
Fortunately, federal funds under the bipartisan 2020 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) have already been sent to North Carolina to finance this effort. But those funds must be released — appropriated — in the state budget that legislators in the General Assembly are now debating.
As county election officials, we understand the importance of releasing this money because it has a tangible impact, in small and big ways, on our ability to do our job — to protect voters and to maintain a fair, accessible and secure voting system. Indeed, given the attention election integrity has received nationally, it would be tragic to withhold these funds.
Like other counties with limited staff and resources, our elections board greatly benefits from an expert assigned by the State Board of Elections to our region.
Eight of these traveling Security & Support Technicians (SSTs) help the 100 counties audit and upgrade every aspect of their operations, from email security protocols to vote-counting machinery. The SSTs are funded by last year’s appropriation of the HAVA funds, and that money is running out.
All the counties use a unified state system called SEIMS to process our voter records, including registration changes, identity and address verifications, list cleaning mailings, and voter participation history files.
The core of that computer system is more than 20 years old — and it holds sensitive, protected information about nearly every adult in North Carolina. The State Board of Elections has begun a total and costly overhaul of SEIMS to meet new security and technological standards, but that modernization cannot continue without the HAVA funds.
By appropriating HAVA funds this year, state legislators will also provide money for projects they have requested. For example, $500,000 will allow North Carolina to join a majority of other states in a national list maintenance system called ERIC so we can receive sensitive data to match and remove ineligible voters and improve the integrity of our registration files.
Another $275,000 will fully implement the Democracy Live online portal that allows voters to securely request ballots and offers additional features for voters with disabilities.
The threats to our election system are real and well documented, both from foreign agents and domestic hackers.
The federal Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says election agencies are “Critical Infrastructure … vital to the national interest” whose “assets, systems, and networks” must be protected.
We can’t afford to take chances or wait another year to address challenges that we can overcome together. Thanks to the heroic efforts of thousands of election workers and extra state, federal and local funding, we ran a secure election last year, with a record turnout, despite the pandemic and international interference.
We need our state legislators to again act wisely and release the HAVA funds already in the bank for protecting and upgrading our voting systems.
Democrat Barry Cheney and Republican David Hood have served on the Catawba County Board of Elections for a combined 35 years. They are joined in writing this column by board members from a dozen other counties, including Republican John Shallcross and Democrat Chip Futrell, executive officers of the Election Boards Association of NC.