Senate Republicans blocked an effort by Democrats to unanimously pass three election security-related bills Tuesday, marking the latest attempt to clear legislation ahead of the November elections. Democrats tried to get consent to pass two bills that require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission (FEC) about foreign offers of assistance, as well as legislation to provide more election funding and ban voting machines from being connected to the internet. But Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) opposed each of the requests. Under the Senate’s rules, any one senator can ask for unanimous consent to pass a bill, but any one senator can object and block their requests. Blackburn accused Democrats of trying to move the bills knowing that GOP lawmakers would block them and giving them fodder for fundraising efforts. “They are attempting to bypass this body’s Rules Committee on behalf of various bills that will seize control over elections from the states and take it from the states and where do they want to put it? They want it to rest in the hands of Washington, D.C., bureaucrats,” she said.
The government’s top cybersecurity agency will focus on four key objectives to secure this year’s elections from hacking and other interference: protecting election infrastructure, assisting political campaigns, increasing public awareness about foreign intrusion, and facilitating the flow of information on vulnerabilities and potential threats between the public and private sectors. That’s according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s #Protect2020 Strategic Plan, issued by the Homeland Security Department on Friday. The blueprint follows a Government Accountability Office report that said the agency would struggle to execute a nationwide strategy without a finalized agenda. The strategic plan describes the agency’s plans to work with federal law enforcement and state and local election officials on a “whole-of-nation effort” to defend electoral systems. “If we learned anything through 2016 and the Russian interference with our elections, it’s [that] no single organization, no single state, no locality can go at this problem alone,” CISA Director Christopher Krebs said in the report.
National: White House Budget Gives Election Assistance Commission More Funding, But Expert Says It’s Not Enough | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive
Amid growing concern about the integrity of the nation’s election systems, President Trump gave the federal agency charged with coordinating efforts to ensure accurate and secure voting a slight funding increase as part of his fiscal 2021 budget request to Congress, but one expert says it would not be nearly enough. On Monday, the White House sent Congress a $4.8 trillion budget request for fiscal 2021 that would increase military spending by 0.3% and decrease non-defense spending by 5%. For the bipartisan and independent Election Assistance Commission, the plan proposed allocating a little over $13 million, of which $1.5 million would be transferred to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This would represent a $300,000 increase over fiscal 2020 enacted levels, after subtracting a one-time allocation for relocation expenses from the 2020 total. While some election security experts applauded the slight funding boost in Trump’s proposal, others say more is needed for the agency that certifies voting systems and serves as an information clearinghouse for best practices in election administration.
National: As Targets, States Need to Be Prepared for the 2020 Election | Tom Guarente/StateTech Magazine
With the first 2020 election primaries upon us, state government leaders are faced with the critical question of whether their election systems are prepared for looming cybersecurity threats. Foreign threat actors have shown again and again their interest in undermining one of the most sacred rights Americans hold: the vote. In Florida, it’s been reported, Russian interference in voter roll systems had the potential to alter results during the 2016 midterm elections. In Illinois, media reports show, there’s evidence that hackers working for Russian military intelligence installed malware on the network of a voter registration technology vendor. In fact, all 50 states’ election systems were targeted by Russia in 2016, according to a July 2019 report from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Cyber-enabled election threats did not end in 2016. In the 2018 midterm elections, FireEye identified multiple social media accounts impersonating congressional candidates and spreading pro-Iran messages.
The fiasco caused by an app that failed to properly transmit votes in the Iowa caucuses is worrying the mobile voting industry, which hoped 2020 would be a banner year. Companies — and proponents of incorporating more technology into elections — are trying to avoid being lumped in with the hastily made app used in Iowa. They’re saying its failure proves serious investment in user-friendly, secure election technology is more critical than ever. “We need to ensure that every new idea is tested, transparent and secure — just like the eight successful mobile voting pilots conducted to date,” Bradley Tusk, the founder and CEO of Tusk Philanthropies, said in a statement. “Enough is enough. 2016 should have been enough of a wake-up call. Iowa just confirmed it.” Tusk Philanthropies has funded pilots for mobile voting across the country, launched in a push to increase participation in elections. Unlike the app used in Iowa, which was developed to relay vote counts, the pilots use technologies that allow voters to easily vote from their mobile phones. So far, the pilots have largely been limited to eligible uniformed and overseas voters and voters with disabilities. But any expansion is sure to fall under an even more critical spotlight. Any malfunction — or hack — of an app used directly for voting in 2020 could have far greater impact in undermining public faith in the Democratic process than one Democratic caucus gone wrong.
Editorials: Americans Were Already Primed To Distrust Elections. Then Came Iowa. | Maggie Koerth/FiveThirtyEight
When the Iowa caucuses went to hell in a handbasket last week, they probably took some of Americans’ last morsels of trust in the political system down too. But when I asked political scientists and psychologists about the impact of the bungled caucuses on overall political cynicism, they, by and large, weren’t particularly concerned. The vast majority of voters probably won’t care all that much, they said; instead, these experts are more worried about the indirect effects. Long after the shoddy apps have been forgotten, mistrust and bitterness could still be trickling down from political elites to everyone else. We’re already primed to think something’s wrong with our voting system. Even before the caucuses, more than 40 percent of Americans felt the country wasn’t prepared to keep the November elections secure, and 45 percent thought it was likely that not all votes were going to be counted. Partisans of a losing candidate are less likely to believe their vote was counted correctly, while winners get a boost in electoral confidence that can last for months.
Editorials: Foreign interference in elections is unacceptable. Congress must make it illegal. | Jeffrey H. Smith and John B. Bellinger III/The Washington Post
The Senate, by a nearly straight party-line vote, has now acquitted President Trump of the charges in the articles of impeachment brought by the House. The president had insisted that his dealings with Ukraine over military aid and a possible investigation of Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president Joe Biden, were “perfect.” However, even as Republican senators acquitted him, several disagreed, saying his actions were wrong but did not break any law. In response, the House impeachment managers argued that the constitutional grounds “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” for impeachment did not require violation of a specific federal criminal statute. Whether one views the president’s actions as justifying removal from office or not, we believe that the prospect of foreign interference in U.S. elections is today so grave — whether initiated by a foreign power or invited by a candidate — that Congress must make such activity illegal. Doing so would be consistent with history. For example, after the Vietnam War and President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation over Watergate, Congress enacted a series of laws to rein in executive power. These included the establishment of intelligence oversight committees in Congress, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the War Powers Resolution, and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (which the Government Accountability Office concluded Trump had violated).
Voting integrity is worth $120 million to Georgia taxpayers but seemingly much less to state election officials. Georgians just made a huge investment in our elections with the purchase and implementation of a new election system. The most valuable improvement, without question, is the ability to verify results by hand recount using printed ballot backups. The State Election Board is threatening to turn the entire overhaul into a nine-figure waste of money. Chaired by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, himself a supposed champion of the “physical recount,” the State Election Board is considering a rule that would leave the counting to the computer. In the event of a recount, the backup ballots would be run through the counting machine a second time rather than be physically reviewed and counted by local election officials. The move is preposterous on several levels. Let’s focus on the most obvious. Coming off a 2018 midterm election where voting integrity was the dominant theme, Raffensperger and company are stoking the simmering doubts of the electorate. To call this proposed rule tone deaf is to insult all those who can’t carry a tune.
Iowa: How Acronym Pitched Itself to Potential Investors: “We Don’t Do Hyperbole. We Call BS.” | Ali Breland/Mother Jones
The letter was sent to prospective investors not long ago, the prose so redolent of disruptomatic DC consultant patter that lanyards practically hang from every word. “We don’t do hyperbole,” it reads. “We call BS. We say when our programs work. We say when they don’t because being dishonest or evasive tells us you have something to hide.” It goes on a little later: “Just don’t measure our success by how many Politico articles we’re mentioned in. You’ll be disappointed.” The letter, obtained by Mother Jones, was likely sent in 2018 on behalf of a nonprofit called Acronym, which today is infamous for having launched the tech company that launched the app that launched the Iowa Democratic caucuses into a days-long spectacle of incompetence. In the days since the caucuses went sideways in part because of its undertested app, Acronym has been evasive, if not dishonest. It has been mentioned in at least a dozen Politico articles, and indeed no one has taken the media attention as a measure of Acronym’s success.
Louisiana: Hacks on Louisiana Parishes Hint at Nightmare Election Scenario | Kartikay Mehrotra/Bloomberg
James Wroten called the clerk of court in Vernon Parish, Louisiana last November with an urgent message. The timing wasn’t convenient. The clerk, Jeffrey Skidmore, was relaxing on his back porch and hoping to soak in some final moments of quiet before state and local elections. Skidmore let the call go to voicemail. But Wroten, whose company manages IT services for small companies and local governments, persisted until Skidmore finally picked up. “He told me we’d been infected by ransomware and to ask all 14 of my employees not to go into the office or try to access any of their files,” said Skidmore. “I was stunned. We had an election in six days.” That call, Wroten later recalled, was the start of one of the worst weeks of his life. Hackers had infiltrated Wroten’s company, Need Computer Help. From there, the attackers used the connections Wroten’s employees need to do their job in order to breach the networks of Vernon Parish and six other local parishes, the Louisiana equivalent of counties. The attacks highlight how vulnerable local jurisdictions remain despite four years of efforts to shore up defenses in preparation for the 2020 presidential election.
Maryland: Board of Elections halts wireless networks after glitch | Steve Thompson /The Washington Post
Maryland election officials have removed a requirement that some counties use an expanded wireless network during this year’s elections, after the network caused slowdowns during the special primary election last week. Opponents of the cellular networking system are pointing to delays during the special election in Maryland’s 7th congressional district as vindication of their concerns about cost and security risks. The primary was a day after technical problems threw Iowa’s Democratic caucus results under a cloud of uncertainty. State Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) says the networking equipment is costly, unnecessary and vulnerable to hackers. She is sponsoring emergency legislation to ease deadlines under which local officials must tally votes, a move intended to remove the justification given by state election officials for using the new network. “If these wireless devices malfunctioned when only 60,000 voters came out for a special election, how can you rely on them when we’re expecting roughly one and a half million voters on primary election day?” Kagan said this week.
New Hampshire: Windsor’s Oak Voting Machine Still Works After Only 130 Years (Eat Your Heart Out Iowa) | Paula Tracy/InDepthNH
There “ain’t no app” to mess up voting in this town of 122 registered voters. Just an oak ballot box that since 1892 has been collecting the paper ballots on election day with a hand crank. Yup, it’s still used today. Then the ballots are counted by hand. On the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire Primary, Secretary of State William Gardner stopped by in the tiny town of Windsor to see the box, with its hand-cut dovetail corners. It dings happily as Pat Hines, election moderator, feeds each ballot into the antique box, still with its original hardware intact. By noon, 18 of the town’s 122 registered voters had come by and added two new ones in same-day voting. Perhaps some of the success for the primary and its 100 years has to do with flinty, thrifty Yankee towns like Windsor who decided the wood box and paper did not need to be updated and have stuck with the tried and true.
New Hampshire’s election system is decidedly old school: paper ballots hand-marked by voters. That’s mostly a good thing, election technology experts told NBC News. After Iowa’s caucuses were thrown off in part due to a faulty smartphone app, election technology is now the focus of national scrutiny. But like any election system, New Hampshire’s isn’t bulletproof. Aging equipment and a few tweaks to its system for 2020 still present opportunities for confusion or disruption for Tuesday’s vote. When asked about his state’s election security during a meeting of the state’s Ballot Law Commission before the 2018 midterms, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner held up a pencil. “Want me to give it to you and see if you can hack this pencil?” Gardner said. “We have this pencil. This is how people vote in this state. And you can’t hack this pencil.” The biggest immediate difference between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary is in the format itself. Iowa uses a caucus system in which people physically and publicly line up and go through rounds of “realignment” depending on which candidates receive enough support. New Hampshire, like most other states, uses a primary, in which voters largely cast secret paper ballots, as in the general election.
There will be no app malfunctions during the New Hampshire primary for one simple reason: There will be no apps. In the troubled aftermath of the Iowa caucuses, officials in charge of the state’s elections on Tuesday are touting their stubbornly analog approach to voting. Rather than overhauling polling places with mobile apps and voting machines, the Granite State has long opted to stick with democracy’s old faithfuls: pencils and paper ballots. According to officials, not only does the state’s electoral Luddism result in fewer glitches, but it also acts as an old-school cybersecurity measure. “You can’t hack a pencil” has become something of a catchphrase for New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner in the run-up to the primary. Most polling places in New Hampshire use printed voting registration lists, instead of tablets and laptops, to check people in (poll workers in North Carolina, in contrast, recently had trouble with getting poll books to function on laptops). People then receive a paper ballot, though voters with disabilities can use voting machines, as is required by federal law. The machines, however, ultimately mark a physical ballot. The ballots then go through optical scanners that have all their external ports except for the one for power disabled, and which are programmed by computers disconnected from the internet.
Nevada: Democrats lay out new plan for caucuses, trying to alleviate growing concerns about the process | Holly Bailey and Isaac Stanley-Becker/The Washington Post
After scrapping a pair of apps similar to the one that caused chaos in Iowa, the Nevada State Democratic Party said it would use paper ballots and an online check-in process in its presidential caucuses, a plan unlikely to end growing concerns about the coming vote. In a memo distributed to representatives of the 2020 campaigns on Monday night, party officials outlined several new procedures for early caucusing, set to begin Saturday. Among them was the use of an online Google check-in form designed to help party officials “track participants and streamline data collection” and the assignment of a numeric “voter PIN” and separate identification number tied to state voter registration to help route a participant’s ballot to their home precinct. The plan comes a week after Nevada Democrats were forced to rip up their caucus plans in the aftermath of Iowa’s disastrous caucus result. The party had been set to use two specially designed apps developed by political technology firm Shadow, the same company that designed the vote-recording app blamed for reporting issues in Iowa. But experts warned that this new proposal would leave the caucuses vulnerable to big security threats. They said, too, that they were puzzled by how the plan would work.
Nevada: Democrats to use scannable ballot for early voting, iPad with Google Forms for check in | Megan Messerly/Nevada Independent
Nevada Democrats will replace their app-based early voting process for the caucus with a scannable paper ballot, the first concrete details to emerge about the new process the party is designing in the wake of Iowa’s problem-plagued contest last week. Under the new system, early voters will fill out paper ballots that will be scanned at the end of each day, like a Scantron, at designated processing hubs monitored by the state party. Those paper ballots will be linked to voters’ unique secretary of state ID numbers — which will ensure their votes will flow to their home precinct to be counted alongside their neighbors’ on Caucus Day — through use of a check-in form, via Google Forms, as well as a paper back-up voter card. The Nevada State Democratic Party released the new details to the presidential campaigns Monday evening in a memo, which the party later provided to The Nevada Independent . The party’s executive director Alana Mounce and caucus director Shelby Wiltz also joined calls with individual campaigns to discuss the memo.
Tennessee: Shelby County leaders scrambling for Plan B after surprise announcement on purchase of new voting machines | Brad Broders/WATN
After a surprise announcement Monday night that they’ll be no new voting machines in Shelby County this fall as expected, people are annoyed. Now, county commissioners must figure out when to put a question on how to buy new machines on an upcoming voter referendum. The Shelby County Election Commission will meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss the next steps. For supporters of new voter machines, the shocking development left them frustrated after years of problems with the current touch screen devices. “It really puts Shelby County and our elections in a little bit of a tailspin,” Shelby County Commission Chairman Mark Billingsley said. Billingsley was still reeling from the bombshell announcement Monday night, that there’d be no new voting machines for the November presidential election. “I was hoping with the new voter machines and a new process, we could regain some voter confidence in Shelby County,” Billingsley said.
Washington: Seattle-area election will use smartphone voting system that worries some experts | Jay Greene /The Washington Post
As it became clear that a technical mishap would delay results from the Iowa caucuses last week, Sheila Nix raced to prepare a chart illustrating how the glitch was isolated. Nix is president of Tusk Philanthropies, an organization that’s working to boost turnout through mobile-voting projects and was not involved in the Iowa caucuses. But she has been working on a Seattle-area election that culminates Tuesday to elect a seat on the board of the King Conservation District, which promotes sustainable uses of natural resources. It is one of Tusk’s most high-profile efforts. Nix didn’t want the Iowa debacle to discourage potential voters from using their mobile phones to cast their ballots. The chart Nix’s team created, posted on the King Conservation District’s website, noted that the technology used in Iowa, unlike Tusk’s partners, was “untested, and created in secrecy,” and that Iowa didn’t have a backup plan in the event there was a problem. But she said she also recognizes that the fiasco in Iowa was a setback for everyone working on digital elections. “We know we have an additional level of education that must be done,” Nix said. ‘It kind of failed us’: With eyes of the world on Iowa, another hiccup in American democracy.
Washington: We voted with a smartphone in a Seattle-area election, and this is what we discovered | Monica Nickelsburg/GeekWire
Mobile voting is fast, convenient, and vulnerable. Those were my takeaways testing out the mobile voting pilot available to all voters in the greater Seattle region Tuesday. More than 1.2 million Seattle-area voters have the option to cast their ballots online in a little-known election for the Board of Supervisors of the King Conservation District, a resource-management organization operating under state authority. To cast my ballot online, I visited the King Conservation District website on my smartphone. The first page explained my options for voting, including casting my ballot online. It also included an infographic detailing how this mobile voting pilot is different from the app that malfunctioned during the Iowa Democratic caucuses last week. Clicking “Vote Now” led to a series of prompts within the web browser on my phone. First I reviewed the sample ballot provided. Then it was time for the main event. … The speed and convenience of mobile voting is undeniable. … But there will always be folks who sit small, local elections out. My husband, for example, probably won’t vote in this one. Could that become an opportunity for fraud? I decided to find out.