Lawmakers questioned federal officials Wednesday about the importance of passing election security measures ahead of the 2020 contests, pressing witnesses on the threat posed by foreign actors to influence U.S. elections. Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), testified during the House Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday that the federal government is “lightyears ahead” of where it was in 2016 when it came to communicating with state and local officials. But he said improving outreach and communication with those officials is a top priority for his department ahead of 2020. Krebs also said that being able to audit elections is a pressing issue for his agency, and that records of votes, like paper trails, will help officials confirm election results. The DHS official added that basic cybersecurity remains a crucial issue, saying he fears any gaps could expose vulnerabilities in systems that could be abused by hackers.
Election security emerged as a top priority for security officials after the U.S. intelligence community determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. That interference was largely tied to Russians’ alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, which resulted in the release of damaging emails in the lead-up to Election Day.
Since then, potential vulnerabilities with voting machines have been highlighted as another way bad actors could interfere with U.S. elections.
Thomas Hicks, chairman of the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC), testified on Wednesday that states would need between $500 million and $1 billion to replace all outdated voting equipment. He said that it’s up to each state to decide on when they would replace their systems, which is largely based on funding available at the time.