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Illinois Official Highlights Election Integrity Problems, Solutions

Committee on House Administration, Majority via Youtube
Christian County Clerk Michael Gianasi at a Congressional hearing Jan. 9

A central-Illinois election official told a Congressional panel Thursday some of the voting machines Illinoisans used in the last election are still susceptible to tampering. But he said efforts are underway to prevent it from happening again.

In 2016, Russian military hackers targeted Illinois’ statewide voter database. The State Board of Elections addressed the vulnerability by using more than $13 million in federal money to promote cybersecurity among smaller election authorities. But there are still significant needs among small communities.

Election administration is decentralized in Illinois. The 108 separate jurisdictions range in size from the city of Chicago to counties of just a few thousand people.

Christian County Clerk Michael Gianasi told members of Congress voting hardware in his jurisdiction is outdated. That county has just over 21,000 registered voters.

“Those machines, although doing well up through and including the most recent elections, have seen better days,” Gianasi said.

He said he’s leasing new machines, which have yet to be delivered, at a significant cost for his small county — $322,000 over six years.

State officials have said replacing outdated equipment across Illinois would cost $175 million.

U.S. Representative Rodney Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, invited Gianasi to testify before the Congressional Committee on House Administration. The county clerk explained how the county also has no official IT staff and outsources the labor to private contractors.

To make up for the lack of resources in rural places like Christian County, the state introduced the Cyber Navigator program to provide tech experts to address election machine problems at the local level. There are nine such experts distributed statewide.

Gianasi has said having an expert on hand has been helpful.

"[It's] beneficial to all local authorities...in particular those that do not have the resources to maintain any IT staff or those that have an inability to continue to monitor all of the problems that are coming down the line."

Several security organizations email Gianasi multiple times a day, giving him an enhanced awareness of any issues that may arise. He is confident that field experts and the new voting machines will help maintain election integrity.

"...The Christian County Clerk’s office is making every effort to secure the election and protect the integrity of the process and the results," he said.

Mike Smith is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.
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