Idaho Secretary of State bolsters voting security with Idaho firm

Sharon Fisher//May 22, 2020

Idaho Secretary of State bolsters voting security with Idaho firm

Sharon Fisher//May 22, 2020

photo of ada county elections office
Voting machines, such as these in Ada County, are kept under lock and key until called upon for election days. Photo by Sharon Fisher

In an attempt to improve election security, the Idaho Secretary of State’s office is using software from a Boise company, PlexTrac.

“The PlexTrac platform will allow the Idaho SOS cybersecurity team to collaborate effectively across all counties for reporting and tracking of security-related issues,” the company said in a statement.

Security is of particular concern this election season because, in addition to electing a President, members of Congress and the entire Idaho Legislature, the COVID-19 coronavirus is making it difficult to hold elections in the customary way. Idaho’s primary elections are being held by mail only, and a number of states, including Michigan, have already said they will mail absentee ballots to all voters for the fall. Idaho officials have not said how they will conduct fall voting.

Election security

photo of foster cronyn
Foster Cronyn

Foster Cronyn, deputy secretary of state, noted that the Idaho elections systems are considered ‘critical infrastructure’ by the federal and the state government.

“As such, we take the safekeeping of these systems and the voter registration data they contain very seriously,” he said in an email message. “To bolster security, the Secretary of State’s office has implemented several tools that monitor and report on our technical and non-technical security position. PlexTrac consolidates this information into an organized, actionable report for our analysts.”

PlexTrac’s Idaho location offers an additional advantage by providing local customer service, Cronyn said, “which has been extremely valuable in setting the system up for maximum efficiency.”

Until now, the PlexTrac software has primarily been implemented in the corporate environment, Cronyn said.

“However, the company’s leadership, some of whom are ex-military, wanted to directly benefit the people of Idaho,” he said. “Providing their product to the Secretary’s office allows them that opportunity to give back.”

PlexTrac offered the software to the Secretary of State’s office at a deep discount, Cronyn said. Help America Vote Act federal grant funds also were critical.

“This service is being provided for under $10,000 annually, with no state-appropriated taxpayer funds being expended,” Cronyn said

The software is being used in this year’s primary election and all the ones following, he said.

Increasing security

The acquisition of the software is just one of several moves that the Secretary of State’s office, headed by former Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney, has made in recent years to improve security in the office.

The department rolled out new voter registration software earlier this year that offered improved authentication, including the ability to require multifactor authentication, or a requirement to present more than one way to sign into a system, such as both a password and a software token on a smartphone.

The process began when the department issued the request for proposal for the software in June 2018. At the same time, the department got an additional $3.2 million from HAVA when it was ascertained that some funds still remained in the federal account.

The new voter registration software also meant that county voting offices would be required to have at least one PC running Windows 10 to communicate with that application.

In addition, in January 2019, the office conducted a cybersecurity simulation attended by county clerks from all over the state to determine how they would respond to a cybersecurity incident. That year, the Secretary of State’s office also hired a dedicated cybersecurity staffer, as well as a communications staffer, initially also paid for by HAVA funds.

PlexTrac, which was recently named by Tech Tribune to its list of the 10 Best Startups in Idaho, was the first company to receive funding from StageDotO, a Seattle-based investment company that moved its headquarters to Boise last summer. The company created a $50 million investment fund specifically to invest in Idaho startups, starting with $1 million for PlexTrac, which at the time was located in Eagle.