Adding fuel to the fire of the widespread voting and ballot controversy across the nation, Oregon’s director of elections was abruptly fired after he drafted a memo criticizing leadership from the Secretary Of State and archaic computer systems that Oregon runs on.
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Steve Trout says he was fired Thursday. Days earlier, he sharply criticized the secretary of state’s office for a “lack of vision and leadership.”
Oregon’s state elections director is out of the job, less than a week after a record-breaking general election that has yet to be certified.
Steve Trout, who was tapped for a second stint managing Oregon elections in 2017, served his last day on Friday, according to the secretary of state’s office. Trout’s former deputy, Michelle Teed, is serving as acting elections director, according to Andrea Chiapella, chief of staff for Secretary of State Bev Clarno.
“Steve gave us notice that he would be leaving the agency and in order to ensure a smooth transition, his last day was Friday,” Chiapella said Saturday evening. “We appreciate all of his great work as elections director and we are lucky to have had such a knowledgeable advocate for the democratic process on our team.”
Trout said Monday he was actually fired via text message last Thursday, after raising serious concerns about the office and informing Clarno he was seeking other work. He said he had committed to staying on with the secretary of state’s office until December 15, in order to complete duties associated with the election.
“I would not abandon my staff or the counties before the election is over, especially since I was the only one at the SOS office with a security clearance that could be notified of any election attacks during this certification process,” Trout wrote in an email. “There is no resignation letter because I didn’t resign. I was laid off via text message late Thursday.”
A memo Trout sent last week to secretary of state candidates provides more context to his dismissal. In the damning letter to Secretary of State-elect Shemia Fagan and her opponent, state Sen. Kim Thatcher, Trout laid out a litany of challenges faced by the elections division.
He said that the secretary of state’s office, which has been run by four people since 2015, suffered from “a lack of strategic vision and plans for the agency, and staff are not focused due to that lack of vision and leadership.” Part of that, Trout wrote in the letter sent on the eve of the election, was due to former Secretary of State Dennis Richardson dying of cancer in 2019, which, he noted, “was no one’s fault.”
While Trout touted strong partnerships with federal agencies in addressing threats and disinformation in Oregon elections, he said the elections division has been denied resources. He laid out 12 specific upgrades he’d requested for state election systems that had not been funded — projects such as a replacement for the state’s ORESTAR website, security upgrades and fixing dozens of bugs within elections systems.
“Some of our election systems are running on Windows Server 2008,” Trout wrote. “End-of-life mainstream support from Microsoft ended back on January 13, 2015, and all support ended on January 14, 2020. Our public facing websites are single threaded through one power supply on the capitol mall and one internet connection. There is no redundancy or resiliency or plan to provide either.”
In a related story, county clerks also shared their concerns with Oregon’s voting system, via The Oregonian:
Oregon’s centralized voter registration system is a weak point in the state’s election system, county clerks told the secretary of state-elect, days after the incumbent fired the state elections director after he raised similar concerns.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno fired Election Director Stephen Trout on Thursday after he pointed out “major technology challenges ahead in elections.” Clarno’s action shocked county clerks, who are responsible for running elections in their counties and sending results to the state.
Linn County Clerk Steve Druckenmiller said in an interview that the most critical security issue of the centralized voter registration system is its “vulnerability of running on software that is no longer even supported. I wouldn’t do that even on my home laptop, and multifactor identification is a no brainer.”
The secretary of state’s office was going to take bids — known as a request for proposal, or RFP — in October for a new system. But Trout said Clarno paused it without consulting with him or the county clerks.
County clerks have noted that the frequent turnover in the secretary of state office, the second highest in the state, has not helped the situation.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno was far left governor Kate Brown’s hand picked choice to succeed Dennis Richardson, who had died in office.
Earlier this year we brought you the story of thousands of Oregon voters who claimed their party affiliation had been switched to non-affiliated without their knowledge or permission. Many officials cited the state’s recent motor voter law, problems with the DMV, and simple ignorance of the voters as sources for the controversy. We’ve also written about the myriad of problems that Oregon has encountered in recent years due to the antiquated computer systems, with some parts being from the 1980’s. The state received $86 Million in 2009 to upgrade the computers, but never got around to actually updating the computers.
And this is what Oregon’s vote-by-mail and voter-registers system rely on, which many across the country say should be held as an example of success.