Montpelier City Clerk John Odum launched a run Monday for Vermont secretary of state, a position in which he hopes to protect the integrity of Vermont’s election process through his experience in cybersecurity.
Odum, a native of Kentucky, moved to Vermont in 1996 to attend Goddard College in Plainfield and stayed to work on political campaigns and in the nonprofit sector, most recently as clerk in the state capital for the last 10 years.
Odum is a certified ethical hacker, which means he has expertise in testing how easy it is for bad actors to gain access to computer systems. It's a credential that could come in handy if he succeeds in winning election to the statewide office, which handles professional regulation, local and state elections, business services and other administrative duties.
Odum noted that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in 2019 that Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states in the 2016 election.
“We’re talking about foreign threats to our democracy,” he said.
Odum doesn't have a bachelor's degree; he left college before graduating in order to take a job with the Vermont Democratic Party, and he remains a Democrat. He noted he has a certificate in election management from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and an array of IT certifications, including certified network defense architect. He’s also a board member at the Cyber Policy Initiative at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.
“The computer stuff is fun, it’s challenging, it’s endlessly interesting, and it feels like a very important skill to have if I’m eyeing the secretary of state’s office,” Odum said.
Secretary of State Jim Condos announced last month that he won’t seek reelection. Odum’s only declared rival so far is Deputy Secretary of State Christopher Winters. Both Condos and Winters are Dems.
Odum is also passionate about the cause of noncitizen voting, which Montpelier allowed for the first time this year. He’s named in a lawsuit that the Republican National Committee filed against Montpelier and Winooski for allowing noncitizens the right to vote on local issues. A Washington County judge is due to hear the Montpelier case on March 31.
“They pay taxes, they have their kids in school, and they deserve a right to have a say in the decisions their local communities make,” Odum said. He’d like to direct attention to that issue if he’s elected.
“The secretary of state’s office doesn’t need to sit on the sidelines,” he said. “I think we could get actively involved in being a resource for communities that want to go this route. Why don’t we expand the franchise in other ways?”
The secretary of state’s office can’t open up voting on local issues to more Vermonters; communities make those decisions themselves.
“But the secretary of state’s office can support and help communities who want to make this happen,”Odum said. “That’s something I would be proud to do.”
Odum is married to Cary Brown, the director of the Vermont Commission on Women.