In a rush of preparation for this year’s midterm elections, scores of state and local governments have been working to safeguard their election systems from being hacked or otherwise compromised. At the same time, according to interviews with more than a dozen national, state and local election officials, the federal commission responsible for providing assistance to them has either been missing in action or working to thwart their efforts. The Election Assistance Commission has ceded its leadership role in providing security training, state and local officials say, forcing them to rely on the help of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which lacks the same level of experience in the issues confronting the country’s voting systems. One of the EAC’s commissioners has dismissed the threat of foreign governments undermining American elections in private meetings with state election officials, and often personally appealed to individual officials not to waste their time on the idea that election systems might be vulnerable to outside meddling.
The election officials assert that the EAC’s executive director, Brian Newby, has blocked the travel of key staffers at the EAC who specialize in cybersecurity, preventing them from attending what training sessions have taken place.
While local officials credit the EAC for the speed with which it has distributed federal money set aside for election updates, they say it has shown little enthusiasm for beefing up election security.
One of the state officials interviewed by ProPublica said that in the run-up to the 2018 vote, election security was “the only conversation there is,” but that the EAC had chosen not to be a major player. “They are completely absent in this space,” said an election official who — like others — spoke to ProPublica on condition of anonymity, citing the bitterly partisan nature of the upcoming election.