Williamsburg works hard to ensure integrity of elections

In a report released Sept. 6, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine concluded, “Assessments by the U.S. intelligence community found that during the 2016 presidential election, America’s election infrastructure was targeted by actors sponsored by the Russian government who obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local election systems.

“The intrusions made clear the vulnerability of election infrastructure to cyberattack — a vulnerability exacerbated by aging equipment and a lack of sustained funding. Foreign state-sponsored attacks present a challenge for even the most well-resourced jurisdictions; small, under-resourced jurisdictions are at serious risk.”

The report was written by computer science and cybersecurity experts, legal and election scholars, social scientists and election officials. It recommends steps that federal, state and local governments and election administrators should take to improve the security of election infrastructure and safeguard the integrity and credibility of elections.

How well have Virginia election officials addressed these concerns? Among the recommendations:

» Elections should be conducted with human-readable paper ballots.

Each of our 133 jurisdictions in Virginia has moved to human and machine-readable paper ballots read by approved optical scanners. Williamsburg has used them since the 2008 election, along with constantly updated electronic poll books. Neither voting machines nor poll books are connected to the internet, and no election results are transmitted through a modem after polls close.

Prior to each election, registrars run test ballots of every imaginable configuration through our optical scan machines — upside down, backward the machine reads them all. After testing, seals with one-time, one-use numbers are placed on the machines. When election officers arrive at the precinct on Election Day, they check to make sure the seals are intact, assurance that the machines have not been tampered with since testing. If a ballot is spoiled by double voting or other failure to follow directions, the machine will kick it back immediately. The voter has an opportunity to try again.

Immediately following certification and newly mandated audits, the Registrars and Electoral Board store ballots and official results at the WJCC Court House in the care of the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

» Internet voting should not be used at the present time, and it should not be used until and unless very robust guarantees of secrecy, security and verifiability are developed and in place.

» Election administrators should routinely assess the integrity of voter registration databases and put in place systems that detect efforts to probe, tamper with or interfere with voter registration systems.

The General Registrar has secure access to the Virginia Department of Elections through the Virginia Election Registration Information System. This allows the registrar to cross check registrations and weed out duplicates, most often when voters have moved. Double voting is rare, but voters often move and then re-register in their new home. But voter rolls are often bloated by those who don’t ask their local registrars to remove them from voter rolls when they leave town.

Should you have concerns about your registration or voting, come directly to the Registrar’s office in the Municipal building, 401 Lafayette Street. If you receive phone calls offering voter registration assistance, these do not come from the General Registrar. The most dependable way to ascertain your registration is in person. There have been reports of calls designed to create confusion or follow-on malicious activity. Should you receive any such attempts, share them with the General Registrar.

» The ballot box is the foundation of any democracy. You, our registrars and neighbors who serve as elections officers are the hometown guardians of a sacred ritual in which we all participate to elect to office a government of, by and for the people.

See you at the polls Nov. 6.

Mainor is the secretary of the Electoral Board for the City of Williamsburg.

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