Ohio Elections Still Compliant with 2005 Security Standards

Ohio's certifying election system critical infrastructure appears to be set to a 2005 security standard baseline, according to Marcell Strbich, an Ohio citizen and a 20-year retired Air Force intelligence officer. That means the security test baseline in Ohio's election security infrastructure was set two years before the first iPhone. Strbich is experienced in supply chain risk management and threat analysis for leading Air Force weapons systems. He and others have formed the Ohio Election Integrity Network (OEIN) group. 

Strbich volunteers as the leading legislative contributor and statewide citizen advocate for H.B. 472 (House Version) and S.B. 274 (Senate Version). If adopted, the legislation would address critical transparency gaps and voting system vulnerabilities. They have also outlined a seven-point plan for voter verification that is separate from the legislation. 

Strbich contacted UncoverDC in response to our recent coverage of Ohio's voter roll initiative to remove non-citizen voters from the State's rolls. UncoverDC's May 15, 2024, article spoke of Secretary of State Frank LaRose's efforts to remove inaccurate voting records, specifically non-citizen voters, an effort that was widely applauded. However, Strbich is not convinced LaRose is doing everything he can to clean up Ohio's elections. He and his group believe LaRose can do more to ensure free and fair elections in Ohio with the tools he already has and better election laws.

In addition, Strbich believes LaRose has not exhibited the urgency needed concerning the voter registration records. He told UncoverDC that "LaRose had not published the results of his annual (non-citizen) audit since 2022" and, as a result, effectively " ignored [ed] 2 years of data given to his staff by constituents of hundreds of thousands of voter record errors."

The legislation OEIN proposes would bring Ohio's voting system into compliance with solid best practices, with a heavy focus on cybersecurity standards. Citing reports by Secretary of State Blinken and two intelligence reports, one a 2018 U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report and the other a 2019 report by the Brennan Center, Strbich confirms high vulnerability to intrusions by outside actors in Ohio's voting systems as they currently operate. Strbich states his concerns in a letter to state legislators:

"Recently, during an interview, Sec of State Blinken noted evidence of Chinese attempts to influence and interfere with our 2024 elections. This claim is preceded by the FBI Director, who briefed Congress and our State's own Butler County Sheriff that threat streams not seen since 9/11 are in play for 2024. With no ability to independently verify voting system design, developer security practices, and supply chain foreign ownership control and influence, it is not possible to assess the degree of vulnerability of our election systems nor assert an acceptable risk posture for our upcoming elections."

Strbich also believes the voting system approval process is "entrenched and corrupt." To support his belief, Strbich provided a letter from the SoS's previous Chief Counsel, Mandi Grandjean, who is now President of NASED in D.C. Right now, he says, the limited number of voting machine vendors and a poorly functioning EAC set poor standards for election security standards and voter registration processes. This small group of vendors and agents "have a monopoly on the process and oversight," and their interests are arguably somewhat self-serving. Strbich believes the NASED letter bolsters the need for independent 3rd party oversight is sorely needed in elections:

"In this letter, you will find NASED members formally petitioning the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to help them avoid litigation at the State level by delaying the enhanced security standard certification guidelines VVSG 2.0 until Nov 2023. It appears the EAC moved the goalposts to help the OH SoS, in part because, as you'll see from the Certified PDF attached, all the major voting systems came forward just one week before the deadline (Nov. 1, 2023), certifying their voting systems to a 2005 (VVSG 1.0) security standard.

The OH SoS is ignoring this fact and would prefer it not be discussed because his Board of Voting Machine Examiners (Non-Cyber credentialed elections officials he appoints) approved this farce and worked to accommodate vendors. If OH SoS's General Counsel at the time had not done this and the EAC had not obliged, Ohio's Law would have required any voting machine, marker, and tabulator to be certified to the most up-to-date EAC standard, which was VVSG 2.0 (2021) Section 3506.05 - Ohio Revised Code | Ohio Laws. Any above-board vendor would have chosen a stronger standard and simply waited past November to certify to VVSG 2.0. This instance proves why independent 3rd party oversight is needed." 


Strbich wants Ohio to use "the standard applied to critical infrastructure systems, which is a designation supported by the Biden administration referenced in Executive Order 14O28. I would impose that as the standard that the vendor has to meet. They would have to disclose all of their systems and turn over for penetration testing and cybersecurity testing their voting systems to an independent reviewer. That reviewer should be the Ohio Cyber Reserve, which is under the National Guard, the adjutant general to take over the supervision and responsibility."


Ohio's HB472 Would Address Gaps in Election and Voter Registration Standards

The legislation proposed, HB472, The Ohio Votes Count Act, would address gaps in "long-standing election shortfalls." HB472 was introduced in April 2023 by Ohio State Representatives Bob Peterson and Bernie Willis. An election integrity website dedicated to The Ohio Votes Count Act features several reports written by Jim Rigano on the State of Ohio's voter rolls, showing a picture that is far from rosy if his data are interpreted accurately.

For example, the Sept. 21, 2022 report alleges in its principle findings that "861 registered voters are either over 113 years old or have invalid birth dates," among other things. The complete list of findings is pictured below. 

In response to the poorly maintained voter rolls and other election system issues, the "big picture issues" presented in Strbich's Executive Summary of HB472 recognize that:

  • Election officials are not computer geniuses, and elections "rely heavily on computer technology."
  • Even when known to be ineligible, a 4-year wait is required to remove a voter registration record.
  • Voting systems in the State are built and certified to outdated 2005 certification standards.
  • According to Strbich, Ohio elections lack safeguards to prevent 267,000 + non-citizens from registering and voting.

HB472 claims to fix the five main areas of election system vulnerabilities, including "Voter Registration Data Validation, Independent Auditing of Voter Registration Databases, Identity and Citizenship Verification, Enhanced Vendor Cybersecurity Standards, Election Administration and the County Voting System Backup." The issues and the solutions proposed are shown below in the bill's summary document, provided by Strbich in the Tweet below:


7-Point Action Plan for Robust Voter Verification
OEIN and others have identified voter verification gaps that set the stage for non-citizen voting. The "7-point action plan the SoS can take to implement critical voter registration review and data validation safeguards prior to November without legislation next week," said Strbich. With this plan, he hopes "only eligible Americans have a voice" in future elections.

According to the 7-point Voter Verification Proposal document, "The seven (7) critical issues identified are components of HB472 and HB552 that must be implemented for the November 2024 election, by directive or law, to help ensure only eligible Americans have a voice in the upcoming November 2024 presidential election and beyond. The critical issues described herein are not a substitute for the entire HB472 bill. "A portion of the Voter Verification document listing the seven critical issues is featured below. Included are some of the voter verification issues OEIN has uncovered:

OEIN believes LaRose can easily do more to prevent non-citizens from voting. Incredibly, the State uses an "honor system" that Strbich says has "bled into non-citizen registrations." This honor system may explain why LaRose only found 137 non-citizen records.

About this honor system, Strbich explained, "Like many States, Ohio's law ORC Sec 3503.152, applies an "honor system" whereby a non-citizen has to submit documentation on two separate occasions to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) in a "self-identifying" process after they have registered to vote in order to be identified in the SoS annual (non-citizen) audit." All the while, through public record requests, the Ohio Department of Public Safety "reported up to 236,000 driver's licenses and State I.D.s were circulated in the State in April 2024," according to Strbich. 

Strbich clarified, "In each instance and issuance the BMV and state agencies are required to offer the non-citizen an opportunity to fill out a voter registration form. So, while 137 non-citizens were honest in Ohio in self-reporting after registering to vote, how many of the 236,000 are not? And how many of those remain on Ohio's voter registration databases undetected between now and November when the SOS is not slated to take additional actions to identify non-citizens at a time of intense voter registration drives?"

UncoverDC also spoke with Allison Nicolai about Ohio's voter rolls and LaRose's initiatives. Nicolai is a volunteer OEIN researcher who leads a statewide team across counties for accurate voter clean-up. Nicolai has deep knowledge of Ohio's procedures and process deficiencies that make the State's rolls less than pristine. Referencing LaRose's efforts to correct inaccurate voter roll registrations, Nicolai expressed the following, citing ORC 3503.02 Section H as the standard referenced:

"I am not clear that LaRose is taking advantage of the resources he already has when he asks for records. Boards of elections hands are currently tied because they cannot flag registrations as provisional voters ONLY. LaRose's directives ONLY allow provisional status designation to items returned as undeliverable to the BOEs. Our group brings documented proof that a voter has moved out of the State and voted in their new State. BOEs CANNOT FLAG as provisional or remove those records under current directives."

In Ohio, "three elements qualify an elector," according to Nicolai. "Voter must be over 18. The voter must be a citizen of the U.S. and must be an Ohio resident for at least 30 days before the election." Nicolai further explains that "asking for and receiving surrendered license reports every 30 days would have prevented his prosecution of 600 double voters in the last five years." To better understand how it might have prevented prosecution, Nicolai highlights current deficits in the system and describes LaRose's reluctance to remove individuals from the rolls:

"We know he's worried about being "sued" for unlawful removal from the rolls. NCOA is a "flag" or notice but in itself is NOT ACTIONABLE. A report from the BMV showing/documenting surrendered of the Ohio license would be ACTIONABLE (and documented by BMV) as the intent was demonstrated when the voter applied for/paid the fees to get/ and surrendered their Ohio credential."

Nicolai is correct about the difficulty some politicians face when asked to clean voter rolls. Many politicians and Secretaries of State are loathe to take decisive action when they see Left-leaning groups crying about alleged "civil rights" violations and then turning their cries into brutal lawsuits. However, she believes OEIN's proposed solution is pragmatic and would help LaRose overcome his reservations about inaccurate voter record removals.

To be clear, the duplicate voters she references "voted in the same election in multiple states BECAUSE they were on two states' voter rolls- that VOTING is illegal, not the double registration. The fact that the updated information did not exist to PREVENT THIS is what we are addressing. Determining which State they should have voted in can be avoided if we know that their registration in Ohio is no longer valid. Make them demonstrate Ohio residency by forcing a PROVISIONAL vote until we can get them removed. They won't be able to do that if they surrender their Ohio license. Asking for and receiving surrendered license reports every 30 days is the unspoken side benefit of access to the surrendered license report."

According to Nicolai, "Two pieces of information exist at the BMV that the SoS can request for solving the problem of duplicate voting. They are: 1) Reporting monthly the non-citizen drivers licenses and state I.D.s currently valid in the State. These can be run against the current voter rolls MONTHLY, not annually, and 2) Surrendered driver's license reports—most folks don't know that you cannot have driver's licenses in more than one State—they have to and should surrender their Ohio driver's license.

Concerning HB472, Nicolai shared her thoughts on the development of the bill: 

"Our HB472 was not created to cause hardships to any boards of elections. It was structured around capabilities and resources that ALREADY EXIST that no one is acknowledging using for the validation of voter records. The INTENT is to make voter rolls accurate and not carry invalid registrations for YEARS. HB472 is a proactive approach that would 1.) prevent the need to prosecute non-citizens on the voter rolls (the Ohio annual non-citizen audit of the voter rolls) by ensuring they don't get on them in the first place. And 2.) It would solve the issue of folks who are multiple voting across state lines because they moved, yet still get to request an absentee ballot in their former State. All of this happens because we have no current means at the board level to validate if the license has been transferred out of State (rendering their former Ohio residency invalid)."
OEIN works with the Secretary of State's office because the group sincerely wants to set a cooperative tone. These volunteers understand the competing interests that might arise from suggesting new legislation or changes in rules. In that spirit, their task and purpose is to design practical solutions through legislation and processes that will create allies—not enemies— within the various counties, the state legislature, and the Secretary of State. 

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