The State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement is putting $10.9 million in federal money toward projects that will beef up North Carolina’s election security — a major undertaking as foreign threats to U.S. elections become increasingly real.
The bulk will go toward a major overhaul of the state’s election management system, a product that sounds arcane but actually controls all of North Carolina’s gears of democracy.
The rest will be used for a grab-bag of security measures. North Carolina could also end up hiring a Chief Information Security Officer for the elections board.
Most of the money — $10.4 million of it — comes from a pool of $380 million designated in the big spending bill approved by Congress earlier this year1. The rest is the required state match.
The election system overhaul is the elections board’s biggest IT project in two decades.
This system is more than just a voter database. It covers voter registration, candidate filing, election event management, voting site management and election night reporting.
The $10.4 million will fund migration from hardware in North Carolina to the cloud. Right now, the state has a decentralized system with special servers and software set up in each of 100 counties.
The new Statewide Elections Information Management System, as it is called, will use Microsoft Cloud for Government2.
The big project that won’t get money: Getting rid of electronic voting systems.
By 2019, all counties in North Carolina will be required to use paper ballots under a state law passed a few years ago. Money is needed to replace some of the electronic machines currently in use in counties like Mecklenburg.
This $10.9 million won’t go toward the project, however. “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,” the state board says. The General Assembly will likely have to include more money for this in its next budget.
Need more background? These are the voting machines currently approved for use. On Election Day, 76 counties use the top paper ballot counter, and 24 counties use the bottom electronic voting booth, according to the North Carolina Center for County Research.
While the iVotronic machine does create a physical paper trail, it doesn’t count as a paper ballot. The security measures here are as much about making sure voters pick the person they really want to vote for as they are about data backups.
The bad news is that the first machine isn’t being manufactured anymore, and the bottom machine isn’t going to be allowed.
The Brennan Center estimates it will take North Carolina between $5 million and $7.7 million to replace all the iVotronic machines.
Good at data security? Prepare your resume.
The rest of the federal money will primarily go toward hiring security people. In a letter to General Assembly members, state elections board executive director Kim Westbrook Strach asked for funding for a Chief Information Security Officer.
Here are some other possibilities for the new money, per the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement:
- Hiring cybersecurity personnel to focus on election security.
- Training state and county elections workers on how to detect, prevent and respond to cyber attacks.
- Improving the security of the current elections servers in each county.
- Expanding the board’s post-election audit program.