An audit of the Secretary of State’s office suggests improvements can be made to secure the state’s elections, including hiring a security manager position that’s been vacant for multiple years.
Lawmakers on the State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Committee were briefed on the audit Thursday morning, just days before Election Day. The Legislative Audit Division completed the report in August.
Amanda Sayler, with the audit division, presented the findings, which noted that Montana has not employed an Information Security Manager to oversee election security since 2017.
"Currently, election security is shared among several staff, yet best practices and state guidelines require this to be one independent position."
Secretary of State Cory Stapleton wrote in response that the security analyst duties have been split between three employees. He agreed to hire a new manager, and the job is currently posted.
Stapleton agreed to all five recommendations outlined in the audit, which included implementing a system to help county elections departments update voter statuses, and improvements the office’s management of grant dollars.
The audit says that since 2018, the Secretary of State has received $6.1 million in federal grant money to help counties pay for election technology and security.
"We were unable to measure and evaluate whether the grant spending was meeting the objectives and milestones of the grant," Sayler said.
The audit also notes that 25 of Montana’s 56 counties did not take part in a free, grant-funded security awareness training offered by the National Guard, meaning those election officials may not be aware of "risks facing elections today." Lawmakers discussed the possibility of proposing legislation to require such training.
Lawmakers also suggested that the next Secretary of State should be briefed on the audit shortly after taking office in January. Stapleton lost the Republican party primary for the U.S. House and is not running for a second term.