Election Security Preparation for the 2018 Midterms

June 28, 2018

Under the leadership its new chairman Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Ranking Member Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the Senate Rules and Administration Committee hosted a hearing this past week, “Election Security Preparation: A State and Local Perspective.” This is the first hearing since the 2016 election in Senate Rules, the committee with jurisdiction over federal election issues. This hearing was a long-overdue opportunity for state and local election officials and Congress to talk about how they can work together to improve our nation’s election integrity, following the attempts made in 2016 to interfere in the last Presidential election.

In the March 2018 omnibus spending package, states got a boost to help them in these efforts. The omnibus provided $380 million in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds that states can use for election security improvements. Specifically, legislative report language outlined key categories to help guide state spending activity. “Consistent with the requirements of HAVA, states may use this funding to:

  1. Replace voting equipment that only records a voter’s intent electronically with equipment that utilizes a voter-verified paper record;
  2. Implement a post-election audit system that provides a high-level of confidence in the accuracy of the final vote tally;
  3. Upgrade election-related computer systems to address cyber vulnerabilities identified through DHS or similar scans or assessments of existing election systems;
  4. Facilitate cybersecurity training for the state chief election official’s office and local election officials;
  5. Implement established cybersecurity best practices for election systems; and
  6. Fund other activities that will improve the security of elections for federal office.”

These resources are critically important given the evidence noted by the Senate Intelligence Committee and other cybersecurity experts about the foreign attacks on our election infrastructure during the 2016 election. According to the EAC, 66 percent of the funds have been requested as of June 19, and the witnesses testified that the Commission worked very quickly to disburse funds to the states. This is a good start, but there is a need for all states to get in the game. There’s also a good practice to provide greater information about how they will use the funds, and to identify how their actions will create greater security for the 2018 election. For example, Ohio recently outlined the steps the state is taking to build confidence in the system. And several Democracy Fund grantees have resources outlining best practices in cybersecurity for election professionals. The Defending Digital Democracy Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has its State and Local Election Cybersecurity Playbook and “tabletop exercise” workshops, and the Center for Data and Technology is partnering with the Center for Technology and Civic Life to deliver online cybersecurity trainings for election officials this July.

Beyond 2018, the hearing was a reminder that election officials are constantly planning and looking ahead. As all the witnesses testified, the complexity of threats to our election infrastructure requires ongoing support from the federal government to aid the states—a challenge that Congress should take seriously if they want voters to have confidence and trust in our election system.

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