Region’s Election Security Improvement Project is almost done

Published 2:35 am Friday, January 6, 2023

FARMVILLE – In 2020, the Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) started a project to improve election security across this region. After more than two years of planning and funding, the Election Security Improvement Project is almost complete. 

The project got started in September 2020, when the CRC received a State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) grant. They used the money to focus on cyber security improvements for the election systems in Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg and Prince Edward counties. 

At the beginning of the process, the project faced a nine month delay of getting the CRC under contract for the grant, pushing the grant agreement to July 2021. Now, the Election Security Improvement Project is expected to be completed by the end of the month. 

“The main task left for the consultant (Assura Inc.) is to work with the local registrars and develop plans to address new requirements for Locality Election Security Standards (LESS) and Plans of Actions and Milestones (POAM),” said Todd Fortune, deputy director of the CRC.

The CRC retained Assura Inc. to assist the local registrars with security measures outlined in the grant. Assura Inc. is a cybersecurity firm that specializes in election security and is based out of Richmond. According to Fortune, the new LESS and POAM requirements were released by the Virginia Department of Elections in early December. Once the consultant completes their work, the CRC will close out the SHSP grant, which closes on March 31.  

What is the Election Security Improvement Project?

The idea was to update each county’s election systems in order to bring them into compliance with Virginia House Bill (HB) 2178. Signed into law by former Gov. Ralph Northam in 2019, the bill requires counties to update their election security technology and develop security plans and procedures.

If a city or county doesn’t keep up to date with all three, the Virginia Department of Elections would be authorized to limit their access to the Commonwealth’s voter registration system. Knowing that each of the communities in this region were smaller and therefore didn’t have a big staff to implement these changes, the CRC helped with the work in each case. 

Local election boards are required to develop and update annually written plans and procedures to ensure the safety and integrity of the supporting technologies. They are also required to report annually to the Department of Elections on their security plans and procedures.

“Per HB 2178, the requirements are broken out into 21 different areas,” said Fortune. “The localities covered under our grant had addressed some of those areas, and this grant (helps) them address other areas.”

According to Shawn Howard, I.T. director for Cumberland County, the changes being done will not affect the voter’s experience when many will go back to the polls for the 2024 election. 

“These updates are just to protect the data and make sure everything is secure,” Howard said.