Congress

Officials push for more election security dollars

digital vote (MaxxiGo/Shutterstock.com) 

The federal government allocated $380 million to protect and improve election system security. In a June 24 House Oversight Committee hearing, officials and House Democrats made the case for a few dollars more.

Thomas Hicks, commissioner of the Election Assistance Commission, confirmed that $335 million of the $380 million in the omnibus spending bill passed in March earmarked for election security assistance has been dispersed to states and that 100 percent of the funds have been requested. The remaining $45 million is expected to be distributed by next month.

In line with congressional guidance, Hicks said those grants were largely used by states to purchase new voting systems, update voter registration systems and implement post-election audits.

New Mexico Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver rejected the notion that the $380 million dispersed through the 2018 omnibus was sufficient, noting that none of the states that rely in whole or in part on paperless voting machines received enough money to replace them. An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year largely corroborates that sentiment.

"Speaking on behalf of myself and my state, yes, I do strongly believe that ongoing funding is necessary and that there's a consistent source of funding," said Oliver. "Election security is not a one-time issue."

Christopher Krebs, undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate and the top cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security concurred with that assessment, though he did not take a position on whether that additional money should come from Congress or states.

"There is a requirement to update systems across the board. That is going to take money, said Krebs. "Whether that comes from the state or the federal government, I don't have an official opinion on that. It is going to take money, we are going to have to identify where the risk is and we're going to have to focus money on that risk."

Krebs told lawmakers that DHS was preparing for the prospect of facing similar cyber-focused campaigns targeting the 2018 mid-term elections from Russia and other countries, even as he repeated a previous claim that internal assessments indicate "there does not appear to be an effort at the same scope and scale" as the one in 2016.

Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and other Republicans spent much of their time fighting off charges from their Democratic colleagues that Congress has done little to address cybersecurity threats to the U.S. election system as the 2018 mid-term elections loom.

"The reality that all of us are actually victims" of the alleged 2016 influence campaign by Russia and that "some were impacted more than others, but the target is America," Gowdy said. "Those who seek to do us harm will be back at it again in 2018, perhaps with a different target, so we must take every precaution to safeguard our electoral process."

However, ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) repeated told Gowdy "it's not enough" and that "words are cheap."

Cummings pointed to what he called a lack of action from congressional Republicans on election security legislation following the 2016 election, as well as moves last week to remove additional grant funding in appropriations legislation for states to replace old, paperless voting machines and implement a range of other protections to election infrastructure.

In addition to Cummings, several other Democrats pleaded with their Republican colleagues to restore the grant funding, citing the urgent need to protect election infrastructure from future cyberattacks.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at djohnson@fcw.com, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


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