New secretary of state to examine election system warnings
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Secretary of State-elect Shemia Fagan, a Democrat, said she will examine the “critical warnings” that the state's former elections director voiced before he was fired last week by the incumbent secretary of state.
In a blunt memo to Fagan and her Republican challenger on the eve of the 2020 election, Oregon Elections Director Stephen Trout said some of the state's election systems are running on an operating system that Microsoft stopped supporting last January, pointed out an absence of multifactor authentication to access those election systems and raised other issues.
He said the current state of technology and lack of support in the agency made his job impossible.
“Oregon’s former Elections Director, Steve Trout raised critical warnings that concern me as Oregon’s next Secretary of State,” Fagan tweeted late Tuesday. “I spoke with Mr. Trout personally this week and we plan to speak later this week and go through his memo together, line by line.”
Trout also said the secretary of state's office used federal funds inappropriately used and may need to be returned after an audit. It is unclear who would do an audit if it comes to that with no conflict of interest, since the secretary of state's office runs the audits division, besides being in charge of elections.
Andrea Chiapella, a spokeswoman for current Secretary of State Bev Clarno, a Republican, has denied there was any wrongdoing.
Rob Bovett, the lawyer and lobbyist for the Oregon Association of County Clerks, wrote to Fagan on Monday on behalf of the group, directing her attention to Trout’s letter. Bovett said the clerks are “very concerned” about the Oregon Centralized Voter Registration system.
“It’s the primary weak point of our current election system, and is in desperate need of replacement,” Bovett wrote.
The secretary of state’s office was going to take bids — known as a request for proposal, or RFP — in October for a new system. But Trout said Clarno paused it without consulting with him or the county clerks.
Chiapella said the project management team raised red flags that required the agency to slow down. She did not specify what the issues were.
Harney County Clerk Derrin “Dag” Robinson, who was from one of five counties that helped develop the RFP process, said Clarno should have kept the county clerks updated.
“We had a goal set to where if we got a new system, we would implement that in an off year so that we’re not implementing a new system in an even year, which would be a primary or a general election," Robinson said in an interview. “So that really has set us back another year if we didn’t get started on it now."
Trout said the delay was apparently caused because the purchasing team could not meet a timeline even though the team had been provided with funds for a full-time employee to work exclusively on the request for proposal.
"Federal funds were inappropriately used and may need to be returned after an audit,” Trout said.
Fagan said she had a budget briefing from the business services team and will be meeting with Clarno later this week.
“Oregonians put their trust in me to protect the nation’s most successful vote-by-mail system, and that is exactly what I intend to do,” Fagan tweeted.
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