REASONS FOR RECOMMENDATION
Foreign governments attacked our elections in 2016. 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.
They tried again (albeit on a smaller scale) in 2018, and it is the widely-accepted opinion of the intelligence community and experts across the political spectrum that our elections will be attacked again in 2020. And we are now six short months away from the California primary elections in March of 2020.
Counties are the first line of defense in protecting American democracy against these sorts of attacks. We buy the voting machines, implement security measures, count the votes, and ensure those counts are accurate.
Here in Santa Clara County, employees across many departments are hard at work on these problems every day. To pick just a few examples, our Registrar of Voters ensures that the voting machines that we procure and the protocols that we implement comply with the California’s safety, security, and integrity requirements. Our information security team keeps our systems safe from hackers, and, alongside our County Counsel and privacy teams, make sure that we protect the precious information with which our constituents trust us.
If done right, election day goes off smoothly and the public goes about its business, never giving this difficult task a second thought.
In March of this year, my office put together a conference entitled Protecting the Front Line: County Election Security in the 21st Century. We were joined by experts on both the policy and technology of securing elections, and Secretary of State Alex Padilla served as our keynote speaker.
One of the most important lessons that we learned from this event is that as much as we need good laws, policies, and technology to secure our elections, we also need to spend at least as much effort safeguarding the public trust in the process. American democracy is built upon the idea that our elections fairly and accurately reflect the will of our voters. It is our job to communicate with the public and help them to understand what we are doing to make that idea a reality.
Therefore, I request that Administration and County Counsel, in collaboration with our Registrar of Voters, Privacy Office, Information Security Office, Technology Services and Solutions, and any other relevant departments, provide regular monthly updates to the Board on the status of our election security and integrity efforts beginning at the October 22 Board meeting. These reports involve sensitive subjects, and we should certainly not compromise our security efforts through excessive disclosure. However, there is quite a lot of information that could be of use to the public that is not confidential.
Additionally, I request that the relevant departments work together to draft a document designed to be shared with other counties detailing the best practices and lessons learned on these issues. This document should be presented to the Board as part of the general report on October 22.
Our elections belong to the people of Santa Clara County. We are obligated to tell them how we are protecting this most important American tradition.