National: Racing the Clock on Election Security | John Breeden II/Nextgov

Believe it or not, there are less than 100 days before the next presidential election. And in addition to picking a president, most of us are also voting for scores of federal, state and local officials as well. In addition to all of that, we have the COVID-19 pandemic which has many voters rightly concerned for the safety of both themselves and election workers. To compensate, many states are modifying the way that people are voting, both in-person and remotely. And this could open states up to new or unexpected cyber threats and physical challenges. A perfect example of a physical challenge occurred during the recent primary election in New York. The New York Daily News reports that one in five absentee ballots cast in New York City were rejected for technical reasons. That’s over 100,000 votes that didn’t get counted. On the cybersecurity side, the Wall Street Journal reports that less than 20% of election officials nationwide have anti-phishing protection on their email, and many are using personal email addresses for official election board business. While there is no direct connection between email and the voting machines themselves, it does present a window that enterprising attackers could use to try and manipulate the election.

National: House Intel Committee votes to give all members access to foreign disinformation evidence | Maggie Miller/The Hill

The House Intelligence Committee voted Wednesday to give all members of the House access to classified information that Democrats say shows evidence of “a concerted foreign interference campaign” against members of Congress ahead of November’s elections. The evidence, compiled in a “classified addendum,” was submitted to the FBI earlier this month by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.). The Democratic leaders pointed to it in requesting an immediate all-members classified briefing from the FBI on election threats. Schiff said in a statement Wednesday that the evidence, which had previously been available to view only for members of the House Intelligence Committee, was being made public for all House lawmakers in response to multiple requests. “In the absence of an FBI defensive briefing to the Congress, more than two dozen Members have requested access to the classified addendum to our July 13 letter, which addresses the concrete, specific, and alarming reporting that the congressional intelligence committees have seen regarding our elections,” Schiff said.

National: GOP sparks backlash after excluding election funds from COVID-19 bill | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Senate Republicans left out funding for mail-in and early voting during the COVID-19 pandemic in their stimulus bill rolled out Monday, prompting backlash from Democrats, election officials and advocacy groups. With less than 100 days to go before Election Day, these officials are concerned that without a new injection of federal funds, state and local officials facing budget shortfalls may struggle to carry out safe and secure elections that ensure every American can vote. The concerns come as the pandemic has upended the primary process, leading most states to postpone their contests, while results in a handful, including New York, have been delayed by a surge in mailed-in ballots. “This isn’t in anyone’s budget, no one budgeted for a pandemic, and you can see state and local budgets are cratering, they don’t have funding to put into this, and certainly it’s going to be a challenge,” Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Chairman Benjamin Hovland, who was nominated by President Trump, told The Hill Tuesday.

National: Fact checking Barr's claim that it's 'common sense' that foreign countries will counterfeit mail-in ballots | Tara Subramaniam/CNN

As coronavirus continues to spread, bipartisan officials across the country and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have supported mail-in voting as a pandemic-safe option for the upcoming election. Despite having voted by mail himself on previous occasions, President Donald Trump has frequently pushed back on the concept, claiming without evidence that it would lead to widespread voter fraud and a “rigged” election. Asked about the issue in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr said he had “no reason to think” that the upcoming election will be “rigged.” But he did say he believes that “if you have wholesale mail-in voting, it substantially increases the risk of fraud.” During the hearing, Barr was also asked about comments he made last month regarding potential foreign interference in the presidential election via counterfeit ballots. Barr acknowledged he didn’t have evidence foreign countries could successfully sway US elections with counterfeit ballots but claimed it was “common sense” that they would attempt to do so.  Facts First: More Americans than ever are expected to cast mail-in ballots this year. While that certainly presents its own challenges, historically voting by mail has not led to massive voter fraud. And nonpartisan election experts say the possibility of foreign entities printing millions of fraudulent mail-in ballots this November is highly unlikely.

National: The Trump administration's battle over mail-in voting heads to Congress | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

Attorney General William P. Barr held fast to claims that a drastic expansion of mail voting in November could undermine the election amid an often combative hearing with House lawmakers. But he provided no concrete evidence for his assertions there’s a “high risk” mail-in voting will lead to massive fraud, which have been roundly dismissed by election security experts. He said “common sense” guides his concern that U.S. adversaries might flood the election with phony ballots submitted by mail, even though election officials say safeguards such as bar codes and signature verification prevent this. It was the first time a congressional committee scrutinized Barr’s claims in person – and Democrats savaged him, contending that he and the president were spreading conspiracy theories and aiding U.S. enemies. “The FBI and our intelligence services have repeatedly warned that [U.S.] adversaries are actively trying to sow mistrust of our election system and by repeating disinformation about mail-in voting, you and the president are helping them,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), vice chair of the committee. Barr did break from the president, however, when asked if he believed the election will be rigged. “I have no reason to believe it will be,” Barr said. The mail-voting fight is playing out amid a broader partisan battle over how to run the general election.

National: As Trump demurs, an unimaginable question forms: Could the president reach for the military in a disputed election? | Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne/The Washington Post

President Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the results of the November election, paired with his penchant for plunging the military into the partisan fray, has prompted scholars and legal experts to ask a once-unthinkable question: How would the armed forces respond if pulled into a disputed election? Speculation about whether the military could be asked to play a role in events following the 2020 presidential vote has intensified in the wake of the Pentagon’s involvement in the government’s response to demonstrations against racism and police brutality. “If the president is willing to thrust the military leadership into so damaging a set of circumstances during the protests, just imagine what he would be willing to do if he wants to prevent an electoral outcome that would be damaging to him,” said Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “So yes, they should be absolutely worried about it.” As the election approaches, the president has once again declined to say he would accept its results. “I have to see,” he said during a Fox News interview this month. “I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no. And I didn’t last time either.”

National: Treasury agrees to lend Postal Service $10 billion in trade for rivals’ shipping contracts | Jacob Bogage/The Washington Post

The Treasury Department agreed to loan the U.S. Postal Service $10 billion in emergency coronavirus relief funding Wednesday in exchange for proprietary information about the mail service’s most lucrative private-sector contracts. The Postal Service, subject to confidentiality restrictions, will provide Treasury copies of its 10 largest “negotiated service agreements,” or contracts with high-volume third-party shippers such as Amazon, FedEx and UPS, and receive a crucial injection of cash that postal officials say will keep the debt-laden agency solvent for at least another year, according to a copy of the loan’s term sheet obtained by The Washington Post. The Postal Service contracts with private-sector shippers for “last-mile” delivery from distribution centers to consumers’ homes, and it offers those companies small discounts because of the volume of packages they provide. President Trump has derided the agency over those deals, which industry experts say only account for a roughly 5 percent savings. He has called the Postal Service Amazon’s “delivery boy” and falsely claimed the agreements are the reason the agency has struggled financially.

National: Democrats push for more transparency about Russian election interference | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

Top Democrats are slamming the Trump administration for not sharing enough information with the public about Russian efforts to interfere in November’s election. While intelligence officials have warned that U.S. adversaries are trying to hack into political campaigns and election systems – and cited Russia, China and Iran as the biggest threats — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) say that’s not enough to help voters gird themselves against social media disinformation or the sort of hacking and leaking campaign that upended Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. The top-line announcement that interference exists doesn’t “go nearly far enough in arming the American people with the knowledge they need about how foreign powers are seeking to influence our political process,” Schumer and Pelosi warned in a statement. “The Russians are once again trying to influence the election and divide Americans, and these efforts must be deterred, disrupted and exposed,” they continue. The statement was also signed by House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

National: With November Approaching, Election Officials Still Face Safety, Security Fears | Pam Fessler/NPR

With about 100 days left before the general election, officials are simultaneously trying to prepare for two very different types of voting, while facing two unprecedented threats to safety and security. It’s a juggling act that has voters, political parties and officials anxious about how smoothly November’s voting will go. “Doubt is our enemy,” U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said at a Senate hearing Wednesday on what Congress can do to ensure public confidence in this year’s election results. The pandemic has already caused massive disruptions. Most states greatly expanded mail-in voting in the primaries to address voters’ health concerns. Those changes are expected — for the most part — to continue this fall. But many states also want to make in-person voting widely available to avoid overloading the mail-in system in what’s expected to be a high-turnout election. Maryland is a case in point. The state sent mail-in ballots to every registered voter for its June primary and drastically cut the number of in-person polling sites. But that resulted in long lines at the few sites that were open. At the same time, there were delays and mix-ups with mail-in ballots. Gov. Larry Hogan now wants all polling sites open in November while still encouraging Marylanders to vote early or by mail if they can.

National: There’s so much unjustified hype and hope about online voting | Susan Greenhalgh and Michael Fernandez/The Fulcrum

The coronavirus pandemic has upended everyone and everything, creating a new normal: living over the internet. Members of the House who fear the health risks of coming to the Capitol have even been permitted to transmit electronically their votes for legislation. But this shouldn’t be seen as any green light for states to consider online voting in our elections. Unlike Congress, which has insisted that transparency be central to its first-ever foray into proxy voting, the American electoral system relies on the citizens’ choices remaining secret. A ballot cast over the internet could be undetectably manipulated by hackers. House members’ remote votes are public record, delivered in writing and then announced verbally during each roll call, so any attempted hacking would be easily exposed. To keep voters safe during the Covid-19 outbreak, many states are making it easier to vote by mail and thereby avoid close contact at polling places. Their plans must also include adequate accommodations for disabled voters, But any proposal that we move to online voting is contrary to the evidence. Architects of the internet and cybersecurity warn that online voting is still inherently insecure.

National: U.S. Warns Russia, China and Iran Are Trying to Interfere in the Election. Democrats Say It’s Far Worse. | David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes/The New York Times

American intelligence officials issued a public warning on Friday that China was “expanding its influence efforts” in the United States ahead of the presidential election, along with Russia and Iran, but Democrats briefed on the matter said the threat was far more urgent than what the administration described. The warning came from William R. Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, in a statement 100 days before Americans go to the polls. “We’re primarily concerned with China, Russia and Iran — although other nation-states and nonstate actors could also do harm to our electoral process,” the statement said. The warning about China came at a moment of extraordinary tension between Beijing and Washington, only days after the United States indicted two Chinese hackers on charges of stealing intellectual property, including for the country’s main intelligence service, and evicted Chinese diplomats from their consulate in Houston. The intelligence warning on Friday did not accuse the Chinese of trying to hack the vote; instead it said they were using their influence “to shape the policy environment in the United States” and to pressure politicians “it views as opposed to China’s interests.” Russia, the warning said, was continuing to “spread disinformation in the U.S. that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process,” and it described Iran as an emerging actor in election interference, seeking to spread disinformation and “recirculating anti-U.S. content.” The statement was short on details, reminiscent of the vague warnings that the director of national intelligence turned out starting in October 2016 that, in retrospect, failed to seize the attention of officials and voters before the last presidential election.

National: Senior intelligence official warns Russia, Iran, China targeting U.S. elections | Maggie Miller/The Hill

A senior intelligence official within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on Friday warned that Russia, Iran and China were attempting to sway the 2020 elections. William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, noted that the ODNI had been regularly briefing members of Congress, presidential campaigns and political committees on these foreign threats to elections “in recent months.” “Foreign nations continue to use influence measures in social and traditional media in an effort to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, to shift U.S. policies, to increase discord and to undermine confidence in our democratic process,” Evanina said in a statement on Friday. “The coronavirus pandemic and recent protests, for instance, continue to serve as fodder for foreign influence and disinformation efforts in America.” He warned that “at this time, we’re primarily concerned with China, Russia and Iran — although other nation states and non-state actors could also do harm to our electoral process. Our insights and judgments will evolve as the election season progresses.” Evanina said that China is using influence efforts to “shape the policy environment” in the United States, and was conscious that these efforts could “affect the presidential race.”

National: Election Officials Are Vulnerable to Email Attacks, Report Shows | Robert McMillan/Wall Street Journal

Many of the thousands of county and local election officials who will be administering November’s presidential election are running email systems that could leave them vulnerable to online attacks, a new report has found. Cybersecurity vendor Area 1 Security Inc. tracked more than 12,000 local officials and determined that over 1,600 used free or nonstandard email software that often lacks the configuration and management protection found with large cloud-service providers. More than half of the officials used email systems with limited protection from phishing attacks, Area 1 said. The findings underscore problems with the country’s diverse, locally administered election system that attracted the attention of state-sponsored hackers four years ago. In 2016, Russian hackers targeted dozens of election systems in the U.S. and breached two counties in Florida. And while security officials and election officials say that much has been done to improve the security of these systems, email could be another avenue of incursion, especially for attackers looking to disrupt or undermine confidence in the November election, according to Oren Falkowitz, Area 1’s chief executive. Often, all it takes for a cyber intrusion is a single software bug or misconfigured system, Mr. Falkowitz said in an interview. “When you run your own service and you don’t partner with someone to professionally manage it, it means you have to be perfect every single day,” he said. “That’s really hard.”

National: Cybersecurity Experts Caution Against Calls to Expand Online Voting | Aila Slisco/Newsweek

Calls for an expansion of online voting are being met with concern from cybersecurity experts who caution that votes could be easily manipulated if the practice is widely adopted. West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner has recently called for states to expand online voting for overseas military members and people with disabilities that prevent them from voting in person without assistance. West Virginia is one of several states that allow online and mobile voting for overseas military and this year expanded the practice to include disabled people, with 180 voting in a pilot program during the June primary, including 25 disabled people. In 2018, the state was the first to offer voting using a mobile app for service members, with 144 using the technology to vote in that year’s general election, according to a report from the Military Times. In Georgia’s DeKalb County, lawmakers last month called for online voting to become available for all voters throughout the state, according to The Champion. Similar calls have been made by officials and advocates in other states, along with prominent figures like former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who tweeted about the issue last week. However, cybersecurity experts caution that online voting could present major threats to the integrity of elections since ballots transmitted online are especially vulnerable to attacks from hackers. Limited online voting has been experimented with for years in the U.S., and used on a larger scale in a handful of other countries, but experts say that vulnerabilities are inevitably found in systems when they are examined closely.

National: Bipartisan support grows for inclusion of election funding in Senate stimulus package | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Bipartisan federal, state, and local officials on Wednesday threw support behind Congress sending states more funds to address election challenges, such as increased mail-in voting, during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a Senate Rules Committee hearing on 2020 election preparations, committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a key player in securing the funds, said he was open to looking into giving states more election funding with low levels of required state matches. “I think we ought to go back and look at the money you currently have available to you, and maybe make that money more consistent in terms and times it has to be spent and give you more access to the money you’ve already got in addition to trying to identify the right amount of new money,” Blunt said while addressing state officials at the hearing. Pressure on the Senate to approve further election funding has increased in the wake of the primary elections, during which many local and state officials ran through much of their portions of the $400 million in election funds included in the CARES Act stimulus package signed into law by President Trump in March. These funds came with a requirement that states provide a 20 percent match, which has become a stumbling block in states reeling from a drop in revenue due to the pandemic. A further $3.6 billion for elections was included in the House-passed HEROES Act stimulus package passed in May, the amount experts have pointed to as necessary to ensure states can hold safe and secure elections during the pandemic.

National: A bipartisan group secretly gathered to game out a contested Trump-Biden election. It wasn’t pretty | Jess Bidgood/The Boston Globe

On the second Friday in June, a group of political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics quietly convened online for what became a disturbing exercise in the fragility of American democracy. The group, which included Democrats and Republicans, gathered to game out possible results of the November election, grappling with questions that seem less far-fetched by the day: What if President Trump refuses to concede a loss, as he publicly hinted recently he might do? How far could he go to preserve his power? And what if Democrats refuse to give in? “All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse,” said Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor and former Defense Department official who co-organized the group known as the Transition Integrity Project. She described what they found in bleak terms: “The law is essentially … it’s almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.” Using a role-playing game that is a fixture of military and national security planning, the group envisioned a dark 11 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, one in which Trump and his Republican allies used every apparatus of government — the Postal Service, state lawmakers, the Justice Department, federal agents, and the military — to hold onto power, and Democrats took to the courts and the streets to try to stop it.

National: Democrats say Trump election czar isn’t telling the whole story about Russian interference | Ken Dilanian/NBC

The Trump administration’s election security czar issued a rare statement describing foreign efforts to interfere in the 2020 election Friday. Democrats labeled it misleading, saying it failed to convey the scope of Russia’s interference and how its messaging matches that of President Donald Trump. With just over 100 days until the November election, the statement came from Bill Evanina, a career FBI agent who serves as the top counterintelligence official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Evanina has been given the task of coordinating what to tell Congress and the public about foreign political interference. American adversaries are “seeking to compromise the private communications of U.S. political campaigns, candidates and other political targets,” Evanina said in Friday’s statement, and they “also seek to compromise our election infrastructure, and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections.” “In addition, foreign nations continue to use influence measures in social and traditional media in an effort to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, to shift U.S. policies, to increase discord and to undermine confidence in our democratic process,” Evanina said. “The coronavirus pandemic and recent protests, for instance, continue to serve as fodder for foreign influence and disinformation efforts in America.”

National: Microsoft Makes Azure Compatible with Election Security Sensors | Phil Goldstein/StateTech Magazine

With a little more than 100 days before the general election on Nov. 3, state governments, nonprofits and technology companies are increasing their efforts to enhance election cybersecurity. In late June, Microsoft announced a partnership with the nonprofit Center for Internet Security, which runs the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center. Microsoft has made its Azure cloud platform compatible with election network security sensors from CIS. Separately, CIS launched a pilot program with several states to test and verify voter registration databases, election night reporting systems and other systems. Taken together, they represent increased election security efforts. However, time is running out before Election Day, making it urgent for state and local governments to put new enhancements in place sooner rather than later.

National: How Voter-Fraud Hysteria and Partisan Bickering Ate American Election Oversight | Jessica Huseman/ProPublica

On March 20, state election administrators got on a conference call with the Election Assistance Commission to plead for help. The EAC is the bipartisan federal agency established for the precise purpose of maintaining election integrity through emergencies, and this was by every account an emergency. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus had grown from an abstract concern to a global horror, and vote by mail was the only way ballots could safely be cast in the states that had not yet held their primaries. But many officials didn’t know the basics: what machines they would need and where to get them; what to tell voters; how to make sure ballots reached voters and were returned to county offices promptly and securely. “I have a primary coming up, and I have no idea what to do,” Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said on the call. She and her colleagues didn’t get the help they were looking for. Of the EAC’s four commissioners, only chair Ben Hovland spoke, and his responses were too vague to satisfy his listeners. The lack of direction was “striking,” said one participant, Jennifer Morrell, an elections consultant and a contractor for The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). “It felt to me that there was no leadership. Nobody was saying, ‘Hey, let’s figure this out.’ Questions just went unanswered.” The commission punted. On a follow-up call, Hovland volunteered the state of Washington, which votes almost entirely by mail, to respond to questions and provide materials. But Washington built its vote by mail system over more than a decade and had accumulated thousands of pages of detailed instructions, too much for other states to implement quickly. Hovland agreed in vague terms to pitch in, but others involved saw little evidence. “We started working with the EAC, and then it just started to get kind of cold,” said Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state. “Nothing happened, nothing good or bad. Just nothing.”

National: Trump’s assault on election integrity forces question: What would happen if he refused to accept a loss? | Elise Viebeck and Robert Costa/The Washington Post

President Trump’s relentless efforts to sow doubts about the legitimacy of this year’s election are forcing both parties to reckon with the possibility that he may dispute the result in November if he loses — leading to an unprecedented test of American democracy. With less than four months before the election, Trump’s escalating attacks on the security of mail-in ballots and his refusal again this week to reassure the country that he would abide by the voters’ will have added urgency to long-simmering concerns among scholars and his critics about the lengths he could go to hold on to power. “What the president is doing is willfully and wantonly undermining confidence in the most basic democratic process we have,” said William A. Galston, chair of the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program. “Words almost fail me — it’s so deeply irresponsible. He’s arousing his core supporters for a truly damaging crisis in the days and weeks after the November election.” Most legal experts said it is hard to envision that Trump would actually try to remain in office after a clear defeat by former vice president Joe Biden, considering the uproar that would follow such a challenge to U.S. democratic norms. Trump has previously said he offers up inflammatory ideas to provoke the media and his critics. But his unwillingness to commit to a smooth transition of power has forced academics and political leaders — including, privately, some GOP lawmakers — to contemplate possible scenarios.

National: Post office concerns highlighted at Senate hearing on elections amid COVID-19 | Niels Lesniewski/Roll Call

“The post office is a very difficult situation for us right now.” That’s how Rick Stream, a Republican elections official from St. Louis County in Missouri, responded to a question Wednesday at a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing about concerns over mail-in and absentee ballots not getting to election officials on time as the U.S. Postal Service faces funding and logistical challenges. Stream said that within his jurisdiction, the percentage of absentee voters jumped from about 10 percent seen in normal circumstances to 45 percent in the most recent election, and he expected that figure to increase with legal mail-in voting in November. “To be honest with you, senator, we have had problems with the post office since I’ve been in this office, for three-and-a-half years,” Stream said in response to a query from Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Missouri law requires ballots to be received by 7 p.m. on election night in order to be counted, and the state continues to use a complicated system requiring validation from notaries in many cases. “The delivery times are less than optimal for sure,” Stream said. “We have even proposed having one of our employees work in the post office in our local community of St. Ann, to try to speed up the process, but to no avail.”

National: Senators Weigh Spending More to Help States Prepare for Election | Tim Ryan/Courthouse News

With the 2020 election looming and the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rage across the country, senators and state election officials debated the need Wednesday for more federal dollars to help states conduct voting safely. “We all know that the counties and the states are suffering badly, so I think that it would be a correct statement to say that they need additional financial help,” Rick Stream, the Republican director of elections in St. Louis County, Mo., told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. The coronavirus pandemic coincided with primaries in many states, sending elections officials scrambling for ways to conduct voting safely. Many states turned to vote by mail, but long wait times were still common at overwhelmed in-person polling places. Changes to voting procedures have spawned waves of lawsuits and bitter partisan fights. Republicans have raised concerns about the security of mail-in ballots, most vocally President Donald Trump, who has claimed without evidence that mail-in ballots lead to voter fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups, meanwhile, have said not having widespread vote-by-mail during the pandemic will threaten the right to vote, particularly for minority and lower-income voters who could face long lines and risk having to choose between being exposed to coronavirus and casting a ballot. As part of the massive coronavirus response package that became law at the end of March, Congress set aside $400 million in grants for states to use in the 2020 election cycle. Lawmakers are now working out the details of another relief package, leading to renewed calls for another round of election support funding for states. But exactly what that funding will look like remains unclear.

National: Democrats On Offense On Russian Election Interference Ahead Of November | Philip Ewing/NPR

Four years after Russian election interference rattled and embarrassed national Democrats, the party has gone on offense over what it fears are more schemes targeting this year’s presidential race. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate this week demanded an all-lawmaker briefing from the FBI about what they suspect are active efforts aimed at Congress. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the party’s likely presidential nominee, followed up on Wednesday with a more specific gambit. Biden’s campaign said that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, could be at the receiving end of a pipeline of disinformation that originates in Russia. Johnson and his committee have said they’re continuing to investigate the work Biden’s son Hunter did in Ukraine while Biden was the point man on the country’s new government for the Obama administration. The storyline that a Ukrainian company was paying Hunter Biden in hopes that he could open doors in Washington has chastened the elder Biden, even back in 2014, but investigators in Ukraine have concluded no laws were broken. Johnson and the Homeland Security Committee are still gathering material and interviewing witnesses with the aim of hearings or other activity targeting the Bidens — and Democrats worry that some of what they reel in could be fabricated or manipulated with the goal of hurting Biden and interfering in the 2020 election.

National: As November Looms, So Do Cybersecurity Concerns for Elections | Adam Stone/FedTech Magazine

The action related to the hotly anticipated primary election season was expected to last for months. With dozens of Democratic candidates still on the ballot for the first primary in New Hampshire, social media taking an active role in campaigning and the threat of foreign influence on the election playing out, election officials were keenly aware of the need to keep the elections secure. Heightened public interest came to a near halt in early March — when former Vice President Joe Biden essentially nailed down the Democratic nomination on Super Tuesday, and the COVID-19 pandemic sent voters home and delayed primaries — but cybersecurity experts remain on high alert as they look to November. When voting patterns get disrupted, the bad actors who watch U.S. elections closely may seek to sway the outcomes, either by tampering with systems or by chipping away at public trust, they say. “This is a highly scrutinized space,” says Geoff Hale, director of the Election Security Initiative at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security. “Anything that goes wrong can be used to undermine confidence in the institution.”

National: Election officials praised for sharing information, knocked for sharing passwords | Benjamin Freed/StateScoop

State and local election officials have done a “tremendous” job reporting information about potential cyberthreats during the 2020 cycle, a senior Department of Homeland Security official said Tuesday. But some, particularly at the city and county level, are also still in the unfortunate habit of not changing default passwords on new equipment or even sharing credentials, Matt Masterson, a senior adviser at DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told the National Association of Secretaries of State online conference. “CISA has observed instances where several people in election-related offices having been sharing passwords over e-mail or default passwords are being used,” read one of the slides Masterson shared. Still, Masterson praised the actions that states’ top election officials have taken over the past few years to secure their network infrastructure and increase the amount of information they share with their counties and with federal entities like CISA, especially through organizations such as the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center. “We really have a much better picture of the election landscape,” he said. “We’re much more likely to feel a tremor in the Force now compared to 2016.”

National: The future of voting probably still requires a paper backup | Andrew Marino/The Verge

The week on our Vergecast interview series, cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter talks with The Verge’s Nilay Patel and Russell Brandom about the state of election security in the United States. The circumstances of a pandemic in an election year has complicated the voting process. In an analysis by NPR, it was found that thousands of mail-in ballots for the 2020 primaries were rejected because of late arrival, even in cases where the voter sent it in on time. In the 2020 Iowa caucus, paper backups of ballets needed to be relied upon after an app that was created to tally the votes started giving error messages. Zetter says if we’re going to use computers and software to count votes in an election, there also needs to be another system in parallel to secure the outcome. “You need to have the paper backup,” she says. “You need to have an auditing mechanism in place and an auditing law in place. And then you need the resources given to election officials for this process to succeed by November.”

National: Joe Biden is putting the Kremlin on notice about election interference | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

Democrats are sounding alarms about foreign election interference and pledging to punch back hard against Russia or any other adversary that undermines U.S. voting. In his most expansive statement to date on the subject, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pledged to “leverage all appropriate instruments of national power and make full use of my executive authority to impose substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators [of election interference]” if he wins the White House. “I am putting the Kremlin and other foreign governments on notice,” the former vice president said. “If elected president, I will treat foreign interference in our election as an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government.” Democratic leaders in Congress, meanwhile, publicly released a July 13 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray suggesting Congress itself is being used as a tool to “launder and amplify” foreign disinformation about the election. The letter didn’t specify how that’s happening but a congressional aide said the claim is based on intelligence information included in a classified addendum to the letter. The letter demands a briefing for all members of Congress. on the threats. It was signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

National: Revealed: US spends millions of taxpayer dollars on ineffective voting restrictions | Spenser Mestel/The Guardian

Restrictive “voter identification” laws pushed by Republicans, and widely regarded to be ineffective and discriminatory, have cost taxpayers at least $36m in just a few states, the Guardian can reveal. It’s well documented that restrictive voter ID laws are ineffective and discriminatory. The type of voter fraud they claim to prevent is a myth, and the burden of showing an ID disproportionately lands on students, low-income voters and African Americans. However, these laws are also extraordinarily expensive to implement and defend. Based on information obtained through open records requests, the Guardian has found that the partial costs of litigation, free identification cards, public education and other fees amount to tens of millions across the country. However, even with many states having to slash their budgets due to the economic crisis, one state, Kentucky, has decided to spend millions implementing a new ID law.

National: Democrats Warn of Possible Foreign Disinformation Plot Targeting Congress | David E. Sanger, Nicholas Fandos and Julian E. Barnes/The New York Times

Top congressional Democrats warned in a cryptic letter they released on Monday that a foreign power was using disinformation to try to interfere in the presidential election and the activities of Congress, and demanded a prompt briefing by the F.B.I. to warn every member of Congress. While the letter writers, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, did not specify the threat, officials familiar with a classified addendum attached to it said the Democrats’ concerns touched on intelligence related to a possible Russian-backed attempt to smear the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. They contend that the Russian-linked information is being funneled to a committee headed by Senator Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who is investigating Mr. Biden and his son, who was once paid as a board member of a Ukrainian energy company. While neither Mr. Johnson’s inquiry nor much of the information in question is new, the Democrats’ letter is an attempt to call attention to their concern that the accusations are not only unfounded but may further Russia’s efforts to interfere again in the American presidential election. The warning had echoes of the 2016 campaign. In August of that year, after receiving briefings from the head of the C.I.A. at the time, John O. Brennan, the Senate minority leader at the time, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, publicly warned of a Russian effort to undermine the 2016 elections. Those efforts accelerated as Election Day approached, and this year Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats, including Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have vowed to highlight any similar efforts.

National: Democratic Lawmakers Seek FBI Briefing on Election Interference | Dustin Volz and Andrew Duehren/Wall Street Journal

Democratic congressional leaders asked the FBI to brief lawmakers on foreign interference operations targeting the November elections, saying they were alarmed by what they described as an attempt to influence the workings of Congress. In a letter Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, asked Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray for a briefing as soon as possible and no later than the start of the August congressional recess, citing the “seriousness and specificity of these threats.” The letter said the threats were ongoing. “We are gravely concerned, in particular, that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November,” the letter said. The request stems from Democrats’ concerns that a Republican investigation into work that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, did for a Ukrainian natural-gas company was being amplified, and possibly driven, by a foreign interference operation likely tied to Russia, a person familiar with the matter said. The written request included a “classified addendum” drawn largely from the executive branch’s own reporting and analysis, a congressional official familiar with the matter said.