With another major election around the corner and continued threats of Russian hacking, state and local election officials in Texas are focused on making voter registration databases in the state more secure.
“Where there could potentially be vulnerabilities is in the voter registration database – which is connected to the internet,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
Taylor said the state isn’t as worried about the actual voting machines, because they aren’t connected to the internet.
He said the Secretary of State’s office asked cybersecurity experts for advice when it was told Texas would be getting federal money to secure voting systems. The state received a $23 million grant from the Help America Vote Act.
“What we heard is that we need to secure it all the way down to the county level," Taylor said, "and make sure that there is no back door into the state voter registration database or into any of the county voter registration databases to alter voter registration rolls, or things like that.”
While most of the state’s efforts are in the early stages, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said her department has been working on securing the county’s database for a while now.
“Travis County started taking things seriously from the first moment we heard about Russian interference,” she said. “And we are fortunate here that our IT people listened to me. They paid attention themselves. They are competent themselves – and we are way ahead of the game.”
DeBeauvoir said her office beefed up firewalls and is monitoring emails gaining access to the database, among other things. She said the database is more secure than ever.
But, DeBeauvoir said, her fear is that not all counties have the resources to do all of this on their own. She said larger counties like Travis County can be more independent and can rely less on help from the state.
“Smaller counties have to really depend on the state to provide that updated information back and forth for them,” she said. “So it depends on where your resources are and how impoverished your county is.”
There are 254 counties in the state, which she said makes this more complicated.
Taylor says the Texas Secretary of State is up for the task of helping all those counties.
The state agency plans to use that federal money to help counties get the training and resources they need. And, Taylor said, the state is monitoring evolving threats to see if it has to spend more money – or spend money on other vulnerabilities.
“But this does a lot for the state of Texas and all 254 counties to shore up the cybersecurity defenses of their voter registration database,” he said.
Taylor said the federal money likely won’t all be spent by November, but he expects it will be spent by the 2020 election.