SALEM, Ore. — Oregon’s centralized voter registration system is a weak point in the state’s election system, county clerks told the secretary of state-elect, days after the incumbent fired the state elections director after he raised similar concerns.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno fired Election Director Stephen Trout on Thursday after he pointed out “major technology challenges ahead in elections.” Clarno’s action shocked county clerks, who are responsible for running elections in their respective counties and sending results to the state.
Trout’s concerns were outlined in a letter, a copy of which The Associated Press obtained, that he sent on the eve of the election to Democratic candidate Shemia Fagan and Republican candidate Kim Thatcher. Fagan won by a 7% margin. Both are state senators.
Trout had pointed out that some of the election systems are running on Windows Server 2008 that Microsoft stopped supporting last January; a lack of multifactor authentication for officials accessing election systems that can create opportunities for hacking; and that public-facing websites are threaded through one power supply with only one internet connection, with no redundancy.
Rob Bovett, the lawyer and lobbyist for the Oregon Association of County Clerks, wrote to Fagan on Monday on behalf of the group, directing her attention to Trout’s letter. Bovett said the clerks are “very concerned” about the Oregon Centralized Voter Registration system.
“It’s the primary weak point of our current election system, and is in desperate need of replacement,” Bovett wrote.
Under the state’s pioneering “motor voter” program, Oregonians 18 and older are automatically registered to vote when they deal with the DMV and other government offices. It has increased the number of registered voters to almost 3 million.
It “should be the envy of every state, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Bovett wrote.
Linn County Clerk Steve Druckenmiller said in an interview that the most critical security issue of the centralized voter registration system is its “vulnerability of running on software that is no longer even supported. I wouldn’t do that even on my home laptop, and multifactor identification is a no brainer.”
The secretary of state’s office was going to take bids – known as a request for proposal, or RFP – in October for a new system. But Trout said Clarno paused it without consulting with him or the county clerks.
Chiapella said the project management team raised red flags that required the agency to slow down. She did not specify what the issues were.
Harney County Clerk Derrin “Dag” Robinson, who was from one of five counties that helped develop the RFP process, said the secretary of state should have kept the county clerks updated.
“I think at this level, the county are stakeholders in that,” Robinson said in an interview. “We had a goal set to where if we got a new system, we would implement that in an off year so that we’re not implementing a new system in an even year, which would be a primary or a general election.”
“So that really has set us back another year if we didn’t get started on it now,” Robinson added.
Trout had told Fagan and Thatcher that he was interviewing for new jobs “because I cannot succeed with the current state of technology and lack of support in the agency.” But he said in an email to AP that he never wanted to leave this soon.
“I would not abandon my staff or the counties before the election is over, especially since I was the only one at the SOS office with a security clearance that could be notified of any election attacks during this certification process,” Trout said.
County clerks have noted that the frequent turnover in the secretary of state office, the second highest in the state, has not helped the situation.
Clarno, a Republican, was appointed to her position, replacing Republican Dennis Richardson, who died last year of cancer, by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.
Brown herself was secretary of state and left the office early to assume the governorship when then-Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned in 2015 amid an influence peddling scandal. Jeanne Atkins filled out the remains of Brown’s term and did not run for a full term in 2016.
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