State elections officials struggle with paper shortages, harassment, insider threats
A Lancaster County voter returns her request card for an early voting ballot. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
MADISON, Wis. — Elections officials from 33 states, gathered for a conference under tight security, warned that the next few election cycles will be affected by paper shortages and the potential for threats from inside elections offices.
The meeting of the National Association of State Elections Directors this week was held with stringent security precautions, given the ongoing threats and harassment faced by elections officials across the country in the years since the 2020 election. Nebraska election officials were among those attending, the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office confirmed on Friday.
Organizers didn’t publicly share the location of the meeting, and attendees were instructed to keep name badges visible inside the conference rooms, but not to wear them outside the hotel.
NASED executive director Amy Cohen said the group coordinated with federal, state and local law enforcement for the event to protect the attendees who are dealing with serious security concerns.
“Not every one of our members is dealing with 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 worked closely with a physical security adviser for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a federal agency which also sent representatives to the conference to give a presentation for election officials on the resources available to help them ensure the security of their election systems.
Inside the meeting, however, election officials focused more time on the potential for insider threats within their offices than the risks from the outside.
Judd Choate, the state election director for Colorado, discussed how his state legislature took action to prevent future insider threats after Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters coordinated a scheme to copy election software with the goal of proving that 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 the insider” threats.
Following the incident, Colorado’s legislature passed two bills containing four provisions designed to target potential insider threats, including the creation of new criminal penalties for tampering with or gaining unauthorized access to voting equipment and knowingly sharing passwords related to a voting system.
“When someone does it from here on out, it’s a very, very serious crime,” Choate said.
The two laws also place restrictions on the unauthorized copying of ballot machine hard drives and limit access to election equipment. They also prevent people from serving as designated election officials if they’ve been convicted of participating in a conspiracy to commit sedition, insurrection, treason, or to overthrow the government.
Elections officials from other states took note. Nicholas Meyers, the elections program administrator from Louisiana, said he sent Choate’s presentation slides to others in the secretary of state’s office.
“As much as there’s noise about outside, the insider threat is very real,” Meyers said. “The insider threat is way more real than other threats that are perpetrated.”
Many election officials said their primary concern heading into the November midterm election and with 2024 looming around the corner, though, is with supply chain issues causing paper shortages.
During a panel discussion on supply chain disruptions, Jim Suver, co-chair of the supply chain working group at the federal Sector Coordinating Council, explained how U.S. and Canadian paper mills have been closing over the last decade. An increased demand for packaging cardboard due to increased online sales means that fewer mills are producing the paper necessary for ballots, ballot envelopes and even “I Voted” stickers.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, as states allowed more voters to cast ballots by mail, requiring more paper.
“We never anticipated this type of crunch to happen when mills were making decisions in 2020,” Suver said. He said the current paper supply is the leanest it’s ever been, and the problem is unlikely to be solved before the 2024 election.
Election officials said they’re worried that it will be difficult to reprint ballots or any of the paper goods that accompany a ballot at the last minute, but state election law often changes in the months or weeks leading up to an election, necessitating reprints.
Nebraska elSecretary of State’s Office confirmed on Friday that state election officials attended the conference.”
In Nebraska, the Douglas County Election Commission announced Friday that postcards for early voting ballot applications will be printed on white cardstock instead of the usual green yardstick the office has used. “Even though the Douglas County Election Commission ordered its supply of green cardstock several months ago, supply chain issues have limited the availability of cardstock in all colors but white,” a news release from the agency stated.
Supply chain issues are also causing shortages of election hardware, said Ed Smith of the Sector Coordinating Council, who recommended states and localities order their supplies early and anticipate delays.
Nebraska Examiner staff contributed to this report.
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