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Guest column

Missoula County elections are secure

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A lone voter stands in a polling booth an hour before polls close at the election center at the Missoula County Fairgrounds early Tuesday evening.

The integrity of elections is upheld by transparency, scrutiny and security. In recent weeks, one of these pillars has been under attack, as noted in national headlines. The Missoula County Elections Office takes the security of our elections and these recent events seriously. There are many protective measures in place at a statewide and county level to protect voter information and the election process.

The Elections Office depends on computers to manage voter information on a daily basis. Through the Montana Secretary of State’s Office and the Missoula County Technology Department, there are many security layers in place to ensure voter information is safe and secure. For instance, the secretary of state’s voter registration system issues a secure access point to all users and activity is tracked carefully by the state. The statewide voter registration system follows the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) security guidelines.

At a local level, Missoula County follows the Center for Internet Security (CIS) top 20 critical security controls. The county also requires unique logins and passwords for every user. Passwords have a minimum complexity requirement and change on a regular basis. In addition to maintaining the latest security patches from software companies, the technology department also employs the use of an advanced next-generation firewall and monitoring system to protect the network from outside intrusion, and to catch possible infiltration if it does occur. Lastly, all county employees must undergo regular cyber security awareness training. These are just a few of the many established protections that help build a defensible wall against malicious attacks.

Pew Charitable Trusts ranks the state of Montana 12th in the nation for election processes and procedures. Part of this ranking is based on Montana’s election security and auditing process. Montana requires a paper ballot system, as the paper ballot is a record to the tabulated results. The voting equipment Missoula County owns is certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and approved by the secretary of state. At no point in time is our voting equipment ever wired or connected to the internet. This means it is impossible for our equipment to be hacked. Prior to an election, all of the machines used on Election Day are rigorously tested by Missoula County election judges representing all political parties. Following a federal election, our office is mandated to conduct a post-election audit, where election judges hand-count precincts assigned by the Secretary of State’s Office to ensure the hand counted results reflect the tabulated results. Election results are certified only after the post-election audit is conducted and after the canvass board has reviewed all of the results. In addition, Missoula County Technology provides a security surveillance camera system for all phases of the elections process.

We take the responsibility of ensuring fair and accurate elections seriously. We proactively protect Missoula County voters and the voting process on which we all rely. We’re always happy to answer questions about our processes and are grateful for additional local oversight provided the county’s Elections Advisory Committee.

Rebecca Connors is elections administrator for Missoula County. Jason Emery, director of the Missoula County Technology Department, assisted with the county-level specifics included in this opinion. 

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