Elections

Can election security be fixed in time for the 2018 vote?

Electronic voting 

With cybersecurity, disinformation and foreign interference all having played a part in the 2016 elections, the clock is ticking for government to shore up security by Election Day 2018.

But there are some efforts to better secure the digital aspects of elections underway from the Federal Election Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and on Capitol Hill, even as primary election dates draw near.

At the 2018 State of the Net conference on Jan. 29, FEC Vice Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said her "famously gridlocked" agency unanimously voted open the rulemaking process to update the 2006 rules governing political ad disclosure in time for the 2018 elections.

"I believe we are going to be able to move this rulemaking forward in this election cycle," she said. "We should be able to move quickly enough to get the new rules in place to at least require the information available about where the... ads are coming from."

Even though the bipartisan Honest Ads Act hasn't received a vote in either chamber, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have publicly stated they're undertaking efforts to publicly provide more information about paid advertisements that run on their sites.

Katie Harbath, Facebook's U.S. politics and government outreach manager, said that "regardless of legislation," the social media site would be taking some "small steps" to make advertising more transparent, including making advertiser verify their identities, as well as labeling political ads and archiving them for four years.

Meanwhile, Candice Hoke, who co-directs the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law's Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection, said that election systems themselves are at risk of digital interference.

DHS revealed in June 2017 that Russia tried to hack at least 21 states' election systems in 2016. In response, a group of Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Jan. 29 asked committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) subpoena DHS for records relating to the attempted breaches.

"We have large segments of the population voting on equipment that's not secure," Hoke said. "It's poorly designed equipment for the modern age... Yet election systems are some of the most poorly funded governmental operations."

Several senators are pushing to help increase that funding at DHS. The Secure Elections Act -- co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- proposes $386 million in funding for DHS' electoral cybersecurity efforts.

While these efforts deal with more direct channels for influencing an election, there's still the electoral threat of the dissemination of fake information.

On this front, Weintraub said the best course of action is transparency and disclosure, "to empower citizens to make smart choices about what they're going to share and what they're going to read."

Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications at the National Protection and Programs Directorate Jeanette Manfra said that DHS, which designated election systems as critical infrastructure and is working with states to provide cybersecurity aid, is also working with industry, including social media companies, about what they need to do secure their networks.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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