With the first congressional primary less than three weeks away, state election officials are ramping up efforts to protect their voting systems from cyber attacks as the nation’s intelligence officials warn that Russia will once again try to meddle in U.S. elections. Some states are moving to protect election data by encrypting their systems to thwart hackers, while others are asking the Department of Homeland Security to check their systems for vulnerabilities. Their actions come in the wake of revelations by homeland security officials last year that Russian hackers tried to break into the election systems of 21 states in 2016. Although no actual votes were changed, hackers did breach Illinois’ voter registration database.
On Friday, special counsel Robert Mueller filed his first criminal charges against Russian citizens and businesses for what he called a wide-ranging effort to undermine the 2016 presidential election.
“The threat is real and the response needs to be robust and coordinated,” said Matthew Masterson, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, an independent agency of the U.S. government that provides information about how to administer elections. “Folks in the election community are taking the threats very seriously and taking whatever steps they can to address it.” So far, Congress has done little to help.
A bipartisan Senate bill to provide $386 million in federal grants to states to help them improve their election systems hasn’t received a hearing or vote in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. And there are no immediate plans by Senate leaders to bring the Secure Elections Act to the floor for a vote.