Harvard’s “D3P” group checks out Colorado’s elections

A Harvard group exploring elections and security issues toured the Colorado Secretary of State’s office and Denver Elections on Friday. Defending Digital Democracy, an initiative of the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center project, aims to deliver a publicly available resource that provides solutions and best practices to help close or mitigate digital security gaps.

Members of a much-ballyhooed project from Harvard’s Belfer Center that is aimed at helping election administrators and others protect democratic processes from cyber and information attacks were in Denver Friday to soak up Colorado’s elections process.

Election officials from as far away as La Plata and Mesa counties participated.

“The visit was phenomenal for all of us,” said Jen Nam, an Army reservist with  expertise in intelligence. “It was an eye-opening experience for how advanced and complex the elections process can be.”

Nam’s a student at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, which in July launched the “Defending Digital Democracy” Project. The initiative received plenty of attention because it is co-led led by the former campaign managers for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, Robby Mook and Matt Rhoades respectively, along with experts from the national security and technology communities.

Members of the D3P project, from left to right, are Zara Perumal, Daniel Perumal, Daniel Bartlett, Rachel Neasham, Jennifer Nam, Alexander Krey, Michael Specter, Kunal Kothari, Caitlin Conley and Matt Chandler. (SOS photo)

“It was valuable for the counties to provide input on what tools would be helpful to counties that vary in size, complexity and risk,” said Denver Elections Director Amber McReynolds. “We had a meaningful conversation about funding elections, how many systems are involved in the election process beyond simply the voter registrations system and the voting system.”

The Defending Digital Democracy project — known as D3P — is conducting field observations at the state, local and individual polling site level to gather information about the varying election processes, their corresponding security vulnerabilities, and other election specific considerations, according to information from the project.

Members of the Belfer group and Judd Choate with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office discuss risk-limiting audits and other issues during a working lunch at the SOS. Jen Nam, on the right and closest to the camera, said the experience in Colorado was “phenomonal.”

“In the end, D3P aims to deliver a publicly available resource that provides solutions and best practices to help close or mitigate digital security gaps,” the project reported.

The Belfer team has visited two other states, Virginia and New Jersey, and plans to visit more.

“We are honored to help Harvard create a best practices report for elections cyber security,” said Judd Choate, elections director for the Colorado Secretary of State.  “It shows what the nation’s elections community thinks of our model that Harvard’s team would make a special trip to Colorado.”

Other Colorado county election administrators who met with the Belfer group were:  Erin Hutchins of La Plata; Amanda Polson of Mesa; Jennifer Morrell of Arapahoe; Christi Colburn of Adams; and Justine Vigil-Tapia and Diane Malone of Boulder.