Election secretary sees 'no specific threats' related to state runoff

A voting machine stands ready Tuesday at Oak Avenue Baptist Church. Election officials at the location described the turnout as “steady.” While election security has been in the news lately, Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said there were “no specific threats” related to Oklahoma’s runoff elections Tuesday.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Even as federal officials wrangle with better securing the nation’s ballot boxes, officials here say there’s no reason for Oklahoma voters to be concerned.

While election security has been in the news lately, Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said there were “no specific threats” related to Oklahoma’s runoff elections Tuesday.

He said state officials have been working “day and night to protect the integrity and security of elections.” State officials are coordinating with federal agencies to identify potential threats and taking necessary steps to protect elections and prevent cyber attacks.

“Although we can’t get into specifics for obvious security reasons, we can say that in the last 18 months, we have significantly strengthened the security of the election system in Oklahoma at both the State Election Board and our county election boards,” he said.

In 2018, Congress allocated $380 million in election security grants to help states upgrade election systems. Oklahoma received about $5 million of that, said elections spokesman Bryan Dean.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said he has authored the Secure Elections Act that seeks to streamline information-sharing and help provide infrastructure for state election cybersecurity.

In a joint editorial with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Lankford noted that in 2016, “Russia attacked the United States.”

“Not with bombs or guns, but with a sophisticated well-funded cyberattack and information warfare directed by President Vladimir Putin designed to undermine the values we hold most dear. Russian entities launched cyber attacks against at least 21 states and attacked U.S. voting system software companies.”

Lankford has said that “while it is clear that the Russian government tried to interfere in the 2016 elections,” Iran, North Korea, China and other “hacktivist” groups also want to access the nation’s infrastructure.

He also noted that Facebook, Google and Twitter have removed hundreds of pages and accounts from Iranians and Russians trying to influence elections.

Ziriax said Tuesday that Oklahoma has one of the most accurate and reliable voting systems in the world. Every precinct uses the same unified system, which relies on paper ballots hand-marked by voters and counted using the same standards.

Those paper ballots can then be recounted manually if necessary.

And while there is no indication any elections have been compromised, Ziriax said “there are bad actors out there.”

“They want to interfere with elections in Oklahoma and across this country,” he said. “We take those threats very seriously. Now in my opinion, the biggest threat that we face is from those who are trying to undermine the public’s faith in our election system and across the country.”

Shelley Zumwalt, a spokeswoman with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said officials have been meeting for months ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Due to the confidentiality of security measures, Zumwalt said she couldn’t reveal specifics on actions taken. However, she said voter data is secure and that every ballot cast will be counted.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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