At a Glance
The Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago deployed a new voting system days before the primaries supported by a Verizon redundant circuit network. Despite a global pandemic, the elections remained secure and the voting turnout in Chicago was 9 percentage points higher than the state average.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Coronavirus a global pandemic, just six days away from Chicago’s scheduled presidential primary. Having to plan for the health and safety of voters and poll workers in such a short amount of time was a hurdle in and of itself. Add to this the debut of a brand new voting system for over 2,000 precincts across 230 squares miles, the bar became that much higher.
To help achieve network security and vote integrity, the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago ("Board") needed to ensure the data from the voting equipment could be transmitted on a completely private network due to their security requirements, in addition to ensuring their electronic poll books—devices used to electronically sign-in the voters—were on a separate, VPN-protected network.
In the wake of the 2020 Iowa primaries, where a new technology platform was not properly tested, which caused massive delays in voter results, the Board wanted to ensure that the voting platform they implemented would not fail. “With the new voting equipment, the size of the data file has increased tremendously,” begins Matt Lin, IT Manager, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, “so to prevent the potential data bottleneck, we needed to increase to a higher-bandwidth circuit.” The Board’s election network structure at the time used a dual-carrier model as a redundancy failover, but, as Lin says, “only Verizon could provide us with the bandwidth we needed. So we decided to switch to an all-Verizon redundant circuit model.”
Chicago used/is using a secure network provided by Verizon to address this/these challenge(s).
Once the decision to migrate to a single provider solution was made, the next step was to redesign the various networks that support their polling sites. In the Board’s case, they segment their traffic into three distinct data groups:
• Touchscreens and scanners—where the actual votes are stored
• Electronic poll books—where voter registration data is stored and validated
• Employee communication—where employees can access their normal network data, such as emails and intranets
The critical requirements for the Board with these networks was that they remain separate from each other. With the new era of cybersecurity threats, election equipment can be particularly vulnerable to attacks like DDoS and unauthorized users attempting access. Having an end-to-end private network solution that can segment different types of traffic can mitigate those threats. In particular, the Board required that the voting equipment and electronic poll book data be on completely separate, private, networks with no access points to or from the public internet.
To this end, Verizon provided a number of wired and wireless solutions to meet the Board’s requirements:
• 2,200 activations of 4G LTE Modems
• 1 Private wireless gateway
• 2 Geo diverse 1-Gig burstable IP circuits
• 1 Dedicated VPN circuit
• Partner-based, secured routers & firewalls
For added security, the Board also ensures that, during the day when all the voting equipment is in use, their connectivity is physically turned off. It is only at the end of the day, when the polls close, that they turn on modems to transmit the scanned images of the ballots and results, a process which, thanks to robust bandwidth, now only takes 5-10 minutes. “With Verizon’s solution, we are not touching the internet at all,” begins Rahul Patel, Elections Information Security Officer, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, “…so a lot of those boundaries that we had to historically protect are completely eliminated now.”
- In response to the pandemic, successfully moved 188 polling places 4 days before the primaries
- By 11:00 pm on election night, 90% of precincts were reporting, with the remaining 10% completed in subsequent days as polling place equipment and records were verified
- Despite lower voter turnout state-wide as a result of the pandemic, the voting turnout in Chicago was 9 percentage points higher than the state average
- Due to safety concerns, the decision was made to shift from onsite support to a remote model where Verizon wireless and wireline teams remotely monitored the network to ensure great results.
The Board’s next challenge will be the 2020 general elections in November, which, due to expected increase in voter turnout for a general election, will test their on-site election security and pandemic preparations even more than the primaries.
Who Should Consider?
Any state or local election agency desiring to implement secured election networks with a trusted partner.