Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose Tours Belmont County Board Of Elections Office

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose views some of the older records at the Belmont County Board of Elections office during his visit Thursday.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose visited Belmont County’s Board of Elections Thursday as part of a tour of all 88 county sites to discuss the upcoming elections and compliance with security upgrade directives his office issued in June.

The full election board of Michael Shaheen, Frankie Lee Carnes, Robert Quirk and Lois Doneson were present, along with Director Kelly McCabe and Deputy Director Aaron Moore, met at their new location, a building on National Road formerly belonging to The Health Plan.

Board members said they were about 24 percent compliant, which puts them at about the same level as the other counties. Afterward, McCabe said they are seeking bids for new equipment. Quirk said LaRose’s information technology personnel will continue to assist them in preparing for elections.

“Most of our counties are well on their way, and I am confident that we will have that list completely finished by the end of January, and at that point we’ll be able to say Ohio’s the best-prepared state in the nation as it relates to the security and the integrity of our elections,” LaRose said, adding that Ohio will likely prove a swing state once again in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election.

“Next year the eyes of the world are going to be on Ohio. No question about that,” he said. “We need to be ready to shine when that happens.”

He said directives are aimed at issues such as cyber security, poll worker training, and keeping accurate voter lists. LaRose emphasized the value of personnel training and attention to detail.

LaRose said while no Ohio election infrastructure has been the victim of a successful cyber attack, he said attacks on other government systems are most often due to human error.

“Somebody that had a weak password, somebody that clicked on a link they shouldn’t have clicked on, opened an attachment they shouldn’t have opened … there’s always a human component to this. That’s why that training is so important,” he said. “It’s as fundamental today in 2019 as locking your door.

LaRose also called Ohio’s boards of elections a success story, saying that while much of the country is locked in disfunction between parties, the Republican and Democrat members of boards of elections work together in the complex, demanding and vital task of conducting accurate elections.

“The only reason that works … is because of the patriotism of the people involved,” he said. “Our focus is running fair, honest elections. …That’s the dedication that I see when I visit 88 boards of elections.”

Afterward Quirk, a Democrat, and Carnes, a Republican, said the key was mutual respect and a shared dedication to fulfilling their duties in conducting elections.

“We leave politics at the door. We do our job and we follow the law,” Quirk said.

“If we don’t agree, we find a compromise, and rarely do we not agree,” Carnes said.

McCabe and Moore then took LaRose on a tour of the facilities, pointing out the server, voting machines, and sites where the votes will be counted. During the tour, LaRose pointed out the vote counting machines, which like the voting machines themselves are never connected to the internet.

He said he was impressed by what he has seen in Belmont County and in the more than 50 other county boards of elections he has visited so far.

“The county boards of elections were given a tall order by me in June, which will be completed January. June 11 we sent out a directive which is now being sort of considered that national example for other states to follow for cyber security and for physical security also,” he said. “This is kind of like rebuilding an aircraft in flight, because they’re busy conducting an election and conducting daily work, but at the same time they’re making these big upgrades that I’ve directed them to make. There’s a little bit of trepidation about getting that done on time, but I’m confident that they will.”

Before leaving, LaRose thanked the employees for their dedication.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us in 2020,” he said.

The next board of elections meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Sept. 17.

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