Santa Clara Co. Supervisor Joe Simitian Wants More Focus on Election Security Ahead of 2020

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will hear a proposal to have regular cybersecurity updates about the local voting system as part of an ongoing effort to prepare for the 2020 elections.

“It’s very clear that the Russians are coming,” Supervisor Joe Simitian quipped about his plan, which comes up for consideration at Tuesday’s board meeting. “The security of the 2020 election will largely rest on the security of local systems and their level of preparedness to address any potential attacks.”

Simitian’s latest proposal comes about six months after his office convened a conference on election security in the 21st century, which featured Secretary of State Alex Padilla as keynote speaker and six months ahead of the March 2020 primary.

The county supervisor said one of his biggest takeaways from the event this past spring was that public officials need more than just good policies and the latest, greatest technology to protect our elections—they need to maintain the public’s trust.

“American democracy is built upon the idea that our elections fairly and accurately reflect the will of our voters,” Simitian said in a memo about his proposal. “It is our job to communicate with the public and help them to understand what we are doing to make that idea a reality.”

In that spirit, he said, he’s urging his colleagues to order regular updates about election security efforts, starting at the Oct. 22 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. He said the updates should be prepared by various county departments, including, of course, that of Registrar of Voters (ROV) Shannon Bushey.

“These reports involve sensitive subjects, and we should certainly not compromise our security efforts through excessive disclosure,” Simitian wrote. “However, there is quite a lot of information that could be of use to the public that is not confidential.”

And once the county drafts a document detailing its best practices, the supervisor said, he would like to present that as a model for other jurisdictions.

The county’s efforts come as Secretary of State Padilla prepares to scrutinize the cybersecurity of its new voting technology, which will be deliberately disconnected from the internet to avoid risks of remote hacking. State officials will test the system’s vulnerability by staging “break-ins” to pinpoint anything that needs fixing.

After all, Simitian said, foreign interference in national elections in 2016 is a cautionary tale for local governments as they prepare for 2020.

“Foreign governments attacked out elections in 2016,” he wrote in his memo. “According to assessments by the United States intelligence community (including the CIA, FBI and others), malicious actors sponsored by the Russian government obtained access to the systems of multiple state and local election boards. They breached the election systems in Arizona and stole the information of 76,000 voters in Illinois, and it is likely that they engaged in other behavior that we will never know about.”

Experts say there’s little doubt that foreign interests will try again in the coming year.

“Anyone who thinks that Vladimir Putin will just look around and leave when he enters our voter registration databases the next time—you better think again,” Stanford University political science Professor Larry Diamond said at a forum in Sunnyvale last week. “As political scientists, we have taken free and fair elections for granted.”

But the federal government has failed to act with the urgency the matter deserves, Diamond continued. Even though many leaders within President Donald Trump’s own party agree there’s a problem.

“Behind closed doors, even Republicans will tell you that the evidence is incontrovertible—a foreign country has tried to hack our elections,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) said at the same panel event where Diamond addressed the issue.

Nationally, Khanna and Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Republican colleague from Texas, are spearheading legislation that would fortify the US government’s cybersecurity strongholds. The bipartisan Advancing Cybersecurity Diagnostics and Mitigation Act would boost the defenses of election systems on the federal, state and local level.

That’s welcome news for Simitian, who said counties are the first line of defense.

“We buy the voting machines, implement security measures, count the votes, and ensure those counts are accurate,” he said in his memo. “Here in Santa Clara County, employees across many departments are hard at work on these problems every day.”

By way of example, he said, the county ROV has been making sure that its new voting machines comply with state safety, security and integrity benchmarks.

Meanwhile, the county’s security team actively ensures that the system is safe from hackers and its attorneys make sure that the confidential information citizens share as part of the process is kept as safe as possible.

“If done right,” Simitian went on to write, “election day goes off smoothly and the public goes about its business, never giving this difficult task a second thought.”

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meets at 9:30am Tuesday at 70 W. Hedding St. in San Jose. Click here to read the agenda. 

Nicholas Chan is a journalist who covers politics, culture and current events in Silicon Valley. Follow him on Twitter at @nicholaschanhk.

5 Comments

  1. Surely the Russians would not want Carrasco as County Supervisor. Hmm, why would the Russians get involved with Magdalena.? She never engaged in voter fraud. Well, Kevin the LEGO Man, might have arranged for thousands of campaign funds, but that is not from a Russian oligarch, DeLeon is connected with sleazy millionaires, but his buddies represent the Ukraine at Mercury Public Affairs, not Russia.

  2. > “These reports involve sensitive subjects, and we should certainly not compromise our security efforts through excessive disclosure,”

    BWHAAHAAHAAAHAAA!

    The new Voter’s Choice Act universal “mail-in ballot” system with third party “ballot harvesting” is an EIGHT LANE HIGHWAY to voter fraud.

    OF COURSE THE INCUMBENT POLITICAL ELITES DON’T WANT THE VOTING PUBLIC TO KNOW ABOUT IT.

    The results of the 2020 election are already known. Democrat incumbents win. California might as well cancel the election and save some money for retired government employee pensions.

    If the results of the 2016 election are a guide, California election authorities will mail out 20 million vote-by-mail ballots to “registered voters” (who promise that they are U.S. citizens). Eight or nine million ballots will be voted by the “registered voters”. Eleven or twelve million ballots will end up in trash cans or dumpsters.

    Homeless foragers will gratefully retrieve the unvoted ballots for twenty-five cents per. That’s FIVE TIMES MORE than the deposit on an aluminum can. KA-CHING!!

    Vladimir Putin does not have to spend zillions of rubles on spies and hackers and honey-pots to steal an election. He can just buy a fews tens of thousands of California ballots here or there and decide any California election he wants.

    All he has to do is get a nice, smiley-faced volunteer from the League of Women Voters to collect and deliver his completed ballots to a conveniently located “Vote Collection Center.”

    They’re conveniently located, don’t you know, because California election officials REALLY, REALLY want to increase voter participation in elections.

    Probably, locating the Vote Collection Centers near the Russian, Chinese, or North Korean consulates in San Francisco would do a marvelous job of goosing voter participation.

  3. Supervisor Joe Smitian is now a master at FAKE news. Mr. Smitian, and his colleagues Dave Cortese, Cindy Hendrickson and Susan Ellenberg know the county has credible information that Santa Clara County’s DA office employees including; Terry Harman, Kasey Halcon, Jeff Rosen, Luis Ramos, DDA Medved and DDA Cindy Hendrickson were just subject to California’s Public Records Act and produced emails that show county employees unlawfully provided county resources to assist in the Recall of Judge Aaron Persky and the re-election of DA Jeff Rosen. But let’s pretend it is the Russians and go chasing windmills, much easier narrative that way.

    We don’t need Hilary Clinton’s emails- we have Jeff Rosen’s .

    Come on SJI , work past the press release!

  4. Understand Dauber has enlisted Bill James to block the formation of Democratic club. How legends like the late Madge Overhouse would be ashamed.

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