Lawrence native Brian McClendon has spent a lifetime as an electrical engineer developing software, and it’s that familiarity with computers that makes him a believer in paper ballots.
The Democratic nominee for Secretary of State said in comments Monday at the Hays Rotary Club that paper ballots as a backup to electronic voting plays an important role in improving election security in Kansas.
“Paper ballots can allow us to do audits and to do recounts accurately,” McClendon told the Rotary members gathered for lunch at the Hadley Center, noting most counties in Kansas have a paper trail now. “Without a paper ballot, if a machine were compromised, you couldn’t detect it. If you can detect it, you can stop it. So the first step would be paper ballots.”
McClendon also advocated for a better voting machine, even though Kansas hasn’t yet been hacked, with a more secure operating system to ensure it can’t be hacked.
Equally important, however, is training for precinct election workers and election office staff on how to spot phishing and other scams designed to steal election passwords, which allows infiltration and alteration of a county’s registered voter database.
“The biggest risk is really around people, having people give out their password information, which allows a hacker to get in and portray themselves as one of our own employees,” McClendon said. “So I would make sure with training that people don’t fall for these phishing techniques that steal identity and steal login information … Having really good training systems is something the Secretary of State should be doing that I’ve talked to many county clerks and they’re not happy. They don’t feel the Secretary of State is training them on the basics, let alone security.”
McClendon, a co-founder of the software company that later became Google Earth, made the comments after talking to Rotary members about his experience helping create mapping tools.
Noting he’s a graduate of Kansas public schools, including the University of Kansas, McClendon said his 1981 fascination with the popular Pac-Man arcade game led to his 30-year career in California as a software developer.
“I was inspired,” he said. “I was impressed by what computers could do.”
Even though McClendon returned to Kansas a couple years ago, he’s still developing software.
He spent the past year working on a cell phone voter registration app with Blueprint Kansas, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that says it exists to foster voter representation in Kansas.
The app, www.ksvotes.org, uses the federal voter registration form, which has never required proof of U.S. citizenship, as was previously required in Kansas. That Kansas law, pushed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was struck down in June as unconstitutional by a federal judge.
“Give it a try,” McClendon said of the app. “Type ksvotes.org into your web browser on your phone. You can register to vote, or change your registration, it takes under three minutes and it emails the form to the county clerk.”
The site has thus far registered more than 6,000 Kansans, he said, including a thousand on the registration deadline two weeks ago for the primary election August 7. “We hope to get more registered in the run-up to November.”
During his talk, asked whether he supports some kind of voter ID, McClendon said only if it’s free, easy to access and the state supplies it to everyone.
Kobach’s handling of voter ID was poorly managed, he said, noting that he failed to prove widespread voter fraud.
“Thirty-five thousand people tried to register with the state of Kansas, but could not produce their birth certificate, so they couldn’t vote,” McClendon said. “That’s 35,000 citizens disempowered for one apparently guilty immigrant, and I think that is a terrible ratio and against everything the United States stands for.”
During the past year, working on voter registration taught McClendon that the election process could be greatly improved by better software and more efficient computer systems.
“If you look at all the Secretary of State’s responsibilities, almost all of them revolve around technology and data,” he said. “I think we need better computer systems and right now the state struggles with technology purchases. …I think there’s an opportunity to make the state more efficient, to reduce the cost of technology and get twice as much out of it.”