On the day that a special election in Alabama captured national attention, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter urging National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to take additional steps to secure the nation’s election infrastructure and provide support to state and local governments ahead of next year’s mid-term elections. Specifically, Wyden asked McMaster to designate a senior White House election security czar to brief Congress of executive branch election security efforts, direct the National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Department of Homeland Security to grade states on their election infrastructure and designate political campaigns as critical infrastructure. Wyden, who has been one of Congress’ most vocal advocates of increased election security, also is asking that the U.S. Secret Service expand its presidential candidate security detail to include cybersecurity. In the Dec. 12 letter, Wyden noted that 14 states still use direct-recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines that don’t allow for paper-based election audits and rely on outdated operating systems with known vulnerabilities.
“While some states have taken the threats seriously, others are seriously lagging behind and remain woefully vulnerable to foreign government cyberattacks,” Wyden wrote. “As such, the federal government must take action: leaving federal election cybersecurity to the states is irresponsible and a total abdication of the federal government’s primary role in matters of national security.”
Legislators have been pushing for the executive branch to take a more proactive role in securing the nation’s election systems and infrastructure. In October 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department had not taken any formal steps to adequately prevent foreign meddling in elections. He echoed those comments in November 2017, telling the House Judiciary Committee, “we are not anywhere near where I would like us to be” in updating laws to protect election security, but he later acknowledged he had yet to look into the matter to “see where we are on that.”