Counties Complete Security Directive, Prep for Primary

WARREN, Ohio – The Trumbull County Board of Elections should have final upgrades completed today that will bring it into compliance with an election security directive issued last summer by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose as the state prepares for the March 17 presidential primary.

Trumbull was one of only eight Ohio counties that did not meet a Jan. 31 deadline to fully comply with the directive, and one of the seven that only needed “minor additional action” to comply. It was among three counties that experienced difficulties related to their vendors that required additional work with the secretary of state’s office to come into compliance. 

In advance of this year’s presidential election, LaRose issued Directive 2019-08, a comprehensive security strategy for local boards of elections that provides the redundancy required of the election system infrastructure, according to the Secretary of State’s office. 

The issues for Trumbull County involved its new desktop computers and applying requirements of the security directive to them, including strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. 

 “We adhered to every part of the security directive that we had direct control over,” says Ron Massullo, deputy director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections. “We expect to have this wrapped up on Monday.”

Mahoning County and Columbiana County were fully compliant by the deadline. 

At the Columbiana County Board of Elections, director Kim Fusco says a new firewall was installed, new monitoring equipment was put in place and staff got new computers. Most importantly, her office is again connected with the county’s information technology department, which assisted with completing the IT component of the directive. 

Columbiana County used state funds to purchase new computers, install the firewall and acquire a new Albert sensor for digital-intrusion detection, Fusco says.

Now, having complied with the state directive or preparing to complete those requirements, local election boards are preparing for the Feb. 19 start of early voting ahead of the March 17 primary. 

This planning also comes in the wake of the botched Democratic Iowa caucuses a week ago, where issues with a new app and long hold-times via phone delayed the release of full results.

Neither Massullo nor Fusco report any significant concerns expressed by voters calling into their respective offices about the upcoming primary. 

Caucuses are conducted by nonelection officials, mostly volunteers, Fusco says. In Ohio, primaries are conducted by trained elections officials who follow a manual.  

 “I feel very secure and confident that the cybersecurity was a must and we accomplished it,” she says. “I feel very happy about that.” 

The Trumbull County elections’ offices have had “very little activity,” Massullo says.  

“We always encourage participation,” he says. “Lack of activity in the political arena has given the voters the lack of awareness of an upcoming election. Nonetheless, we still need to be prepared.”  

Part of that preparation is making sure the counties have sufficient ballots. During the 2016 primary, Mahoning and Trumbull counties – traditionally Democratic counties – saw higher demand for Republican ballots because of voters who requested GOP ballots to cast votes for Donald Trump as the nominee.

“We’re prepared on both sides of the ballot,” Massullo says. The board has increased the number of Democratic ballots it has ordered to accommodate voters who might have requested Republican ballots last time. There could be increased demand for GOP ballots because of the contest for the party’s nomination for the 13th fistrict congressional seat, 32nd state senate district and county commissioner. 

Trumbull County also has acquired three new on-demand ballot printers, according to Massullo.

Even with the heavy GOP tilt of Columbiana County, the board of elections ordered 15% more primary ballots for both Republicans and Democrats to accommodate potential crossovers or individuals who normally take a nonpartisan issues ballot who want to vote in the primary. 

“We made sure we’re definitely not running out of ballots,” Fusco says. 

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.