It’s not (quite) an emergency, but Pa. has new election-day digs at state command center
State election officials on Tuesday said they have moved their election-day operations to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, based in Harrisburg.
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency is equipped to handle disasters from tornadoes to terrorism. Now, it’s also the headquarters for a seemingly less violent event: elections.
State election officials on Tuesday said they have moved their election day operations to the agency, based in Harrisburg. The announcement — coinciding with the primary election — comes as states across the country, including Pennsylvania, are mulling how to best guard against cyber attacks and other voting-day problems.
“There is a government consensus out there that there are people who want to undermine our democracy,” said Marcus Brown, Pennsylvania’s director of homeland security.
The change, he added, “will give us immediate access to our local and federal partners to ensure we have a unified, coordinated response to any election-related issue that might arise.”
Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar echoed that sentiment, and noted that as of late Tuesday morning, there were no major election security issues reported to the state.
Before the change, agencies involved in elections operations worked from offices scattered across Harrisburg and communicated through conference calls and email, said Wanda Murren, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State. Moving workers to PEMA did not cost the state any additional money, she said.
In response to election hacking concerns during the 2016 presidential election, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration pushed for every county in Pennsylvania to purchase before next year’s election voting machines that produce a paper trail that can be audited.
In 2017, Pedro Cortes, then Pennsylvania’s top election official, said he believed Russian hackers targeted the state’s voter registration data ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Information given to the state by federal officials indicated that the hackers tried to “scan” the system to figure out if they could access it, but authorities said they found no evidence of a breach.
As of Tuesday, Boockvar said, only nine of the state’s 67 counties, primarily in rural areas, are using these machines. In some counties, machines store votes electronically without a paper vote receipt, making them more susceptible to potential hacking, officials said.
The Pennsylvania National Guard’s Defensive Cyber Operations Element and its director of domestic operations, Col. Frank Montgomery, will be on hand at PEMA to deal with any cyber attacks.
“Just as our soldiers and airmen are ready to support during floods and winter storms, we are prepared and ready to support in the event of an attack on our democratic process and protect every citizen’s right to have their vote heard,” Montgomery said.