State election officials grapple with paper shortages, harassment and insider threats

MADISON, Wis. – Election officials from 33 states, meeting for a tightly-secured conference, have warned that upcoming election cycles will be affected by paper shortages and the potential for threats from inside election offices.

The meeting of the National Association of State Election Officers last week was held under strict security precautions, given the continued threats and harassment faced by election officials across the country since the elections in 2020.

Organizers did not publicly share the location of the meeting, and attendees were asked to keep name badges visible inside conference rooms, but not to wear them outside of the hotel.

NASED Executive Director Amy Cohen said the group coordinated with federal, state and local law enforcement for the event to protect attendees who faced serious security concerns.

“Not all of our members face the same level of concern, but when you’re all together it doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s the transitive property of risk.”

Cohen said she was working closely with a physical security adviser from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a federal agency that also sent representatives to the conference to brief election officials on the resources they have to help them secure their election. systems.

Internal threats

Inside the meeting, however, election officials spent more time on the potential for internal threats within their offices than on risks from outside.

Colorado State Chief Electoral Officer Judd Choate explained how his state legislature took action to prevent future insider threats after Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters coordinated a scheme to copy election software to prove the 2020 election was stolen.

“We spent 2017, 2018 and 2019 preparing for the Russians and the Chinese,” he said. “We were more focused on the international threat. Turns out we had some work to do on insider threats.

Following the incident, the Colorado Legislature passed two bills containing four provisions designed to target potential insider threats, including creating new criminal penalties for tampering with or unauthorized access to voting equipment and knowingly sharing passwords related to a voting system.

“When someone does it from now on, it’s a very, very serious crime,” Choate said.

Both laws also place restrictions on unauthorized copying of ballot box hard drives and limit access to election materials. They also prevent people from acting as designated election officials if they have been found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to commit sedition, insurrection or treason, or to overthrow the government.

Election officials in other states have taken note. Nicholas Meyers, Louisiana’s election program administrator, said he sent Choate’s presentation slides to others in the secretary of state’s office.

“Even though there is noise on the outside, the internal threat is very real, Meyers said. “The insider threat is far more real than other perpetrated threats.”

Ohio Chief Electoral Officer Amanda Grandjean lamented that Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature does not lend itself to similar proposals. Meyers also said he wasn’t sure his Republican-controlled legislature would be open to similar reform.

“We have a very different makeup of our legislature than Colorado has,” he said.

Paper shortage

Many election officials, however, said their main concern as November’s midterm elections approach and with 2024 approaching is that supply chain issues are causing paper shortages.

During a panel discussion on supply chain disruptions, Jim Suver, co-chair of the Federal Industry Coordinating Council’s supply chain task force, explained how US and Canadian paper mills have closed over the past of the last decade. Increased demand for packaging cardboard due to increased online sales means fewer factories are producing the paper needed for ballots, ballot envelopes and even “I voted” stickers. .

The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem as states have allowed more voters to vote by mail, requiring more paper.

“We never expected this type of crisis to occur when factories were making decisions in 2020,” Suver said. He said the current paper supply is the tightest it has ever been and the problem is unlikely to be resolved before the 2024 election.

Election officials said they’re concerned it might be difficult to reprint ballots or any of the paper items that accompany a ballot at the last minute, but state election law often changes. in the months or weeks before an election, requiring reprints.

Supply chain issues are also causing shortages of election materials, said Ed Smith of the Sector Coordinating Council. He recommended that states and localities order their supplies early and anticipate delays.