House Bill 1421 by Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), which became effective Sept. 1, 2019, requires county election officials to request annual cybersecurity training and a cybersecurity assessment of their county’s election system from the Texas Secretary of State. The deadline to request the cybersecurity training has passed but counties have until Dec. 31, 2019 to initiate an Election Security Assessment (ESA).
In August 2019, the Secretary of State issued Election Advisory No. 2019-12 which provided additional details and logistics regarding the implementation requirements of HB 1421. TAC reported this information in the August 2019 TAC Legislative County Issues e-newsletter titled HB 1421 & SOS Election Advisory.
The Secretary of State is coordinating with the Department of Information Resources (DIR) to utilize a list of qualified vendors to perform the ESA for each county. Texas has received funding from the 2018 Help America Vote Act "HAVA" Security Fund Grants that will be used to pay for the assessment and should alleviate any financial burden to counties for conducting the assessment. It is anticipated that counties will be able to use the HAVA funding to help with remediating identified security concerns that come to light in the course of the ESA.
DIR emphasized the need for an ESA by highlighting the current threat environment. "Texas counties and municipalities have not been immune to the rash of ransomware incidents affecting governments across the country. While election systems are generally not connected to the internet, important parts of your processes may be," DIR stated. DIR noted that an ESA “will reduce the chance your county and your elections are affected by one of these devastating attacks."
The Office of the Secretary of State has hired two election security trainers to help meet the demands of the new legislation and assist counties with accessing remediation resources. To date, 51 counties have been assessed, eight assessments are in progress, and 98 are in the queue or are in the process of finalizing logistics to conduct an assessment. It is anticipated that the majority of Texas counties will have completed their assessment by the summer of 2020. The SOS has indicated the new program has been well received by those counties who have participated.
For any questions concerning the implementation of HB 1421, the SOS election advisory opinion, or how to schedule an ESA, please contact the Secretary of State, Elections Division, at (800) 252-8683 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a county official with outstanding concerns regarding the contract, or contact terms, please contact your county or district attorney. For questions related to this article or elections in general, contact TAC Legislative Manager Nanette Forbes at 800-456-5974 for assistance.