Regional election security project ready for November

Published 6:20 am Friday, October 13, 2023

The Commonwealth Regional Council’s (CRC) Election Security Improvement Project is now complete with the November election right around the corner and early voting already underway. 

Started in September 2020, the Election Security Improvement Project’s goal was to focus on cyber security improvements for the election systems in Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg and Prince Edward counties. This project was funded by a State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) grant through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).

To make this work, CRC retained Assura Inc., a cybersecurity firm that specializes in election security based out of Richmond, to assist the local registrars with security measures outlined in the grant. They assisted local registrars in six of the seven counties to undertake election security improvements mandated by House Bill 2178, which was signed into law by Governor Northam in 2019. 

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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. 

“Our role in the project was to manage the grant (reporting to VDEM, submitting costs to VDEM for reimbursement) and to coordinate with the local registrars to make sure the consultant was doing what they were supposed to be doing,” said Todd Fortune, deputy director with the CRC.

Helping registrars with election security

Working with the registrar was the last part of the project to complete as they addressed new requirements for Locality Election Security Standards (LESS) and Plans of Actions and Milestones (POAM). The SHSP closed at the end of March when the consultant’s work finished.

According to Lynnette Wright, the voter registrar for Prince Edward County, the CRC’s work may be done but it is still a work in progress for the local registrars. Given that this is a security matter, Wright is unable to give specific details about the changes this project brought about.

“It’s still a work in progress but we are meeting the baseline and where we are supposed to be,” she said. 

Part of the work in progress is laid out in House Bill 2178, where 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.

Since the changes are completely internal, voters won’t see any related changes on their side of the voting process.

To learn more about where you can vote early, just click here.