More than a decade before anyone worried about Russian bots, there were chads. The hanging chad was the most famous chad of all. But there was also the pregnant chad, the fat chad, the dimpled chad and the tri-chad. These were all minute variations on a scrap of paper a fraction of an inch in diameter, the vestige of a voting ballot not quite fully punched through. Hanging chads that could not be counted led George W. Bush to beat Al Gore in Florida in the 2000 election by 537 votes and become president. The hanging chad became the central image of that election, and of the Supreme Court case that decided it. Scenes of Florida election officials studying indentations on sheets of paper suggested a ridiculously outmoded system. Two years later, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which was designed to provide funds for states “to replace punch card voting systems” and to “establish minimum election administration standards” for the nation’s 10,000 voting jurisdictions.
State election officials plan to spend about two thirds of election security money allocated by Congress earlier this year on new voting equipment and cybersecurity efforts, though not all the improvements will be completed before the November elections. New data gathered by the federal agency that distributes the funds detail how states plan to spend $380 million appropriated by Congress in March to upgrade election security. States plan to spend roughly $134.2 million on cybersecurity upgrades over five years, and $102.6 million on voting equipment, according to the data released by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. States plan to spend the rest of the federal funding on measures that include upgrading voter-registration databases, bolstering postelection auditing and communications capabilities.
The federal government allocated $380 million to protect and improve election system security. In a June 24 House Oversight Committee hearing, officials and House Democrats made the case for a few dollars more. Thomas Hicks, commissioner of the Election Assistance Commission, confirmed that $335 million of the $380 million in the omnibus spending bill passed in March earmarked for election security assistance has been dispersed to states and that 100 percent of the funds have been requested. The remaining $45 million is expected to be distributed by next month.
Momentum may finally be building in Congress to take new action to secure the elections from cyberthreats as the midterms approach. Lawmakers have struggled to advance election security legislation in the months since they approved a $380 million funding package for states to upgrade their election systems. But a flurry of election-related hearings on Capitol Hill in recent weeks — including a pair of hearings Wednesday that featured testimony from some of the government’s top cybersecurity and election officials — shows they’re sharpening their focus on the issue. And the latest attention could help move bipartisan legislation to combat election cyberthreats closer to the goal line as November nears and intelligence officials warn of ongoing attempts by the Russian government to disrupt the U.S. political system. “The tone has changed so it’s much more forward-looking in terms of, ‘Let’s figure out what we can get done,’ ” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), co-sponsor of Secure Elections Act, which would streamline the way state and federal officials exchange threat information and has garnered broad support in the Senate. “Congress, I think, has realized our role has to focus on what’s in front of us, and that’s protecting the 2018 and 2020 elections from foreign interference.”
U.S. elections are safer from hacking than they were two years ago, but the threat of foreign meddling hasn’t been stamped out, lawmakers said. “People are much more aware of the problem and taking steps to protect themselves” from hacking before the November elections, Sen. Amy Klobuchar(D-Minn.) said in a phone interview. “We’ve reached a new era” with lawmakers of both parties concerned about Russia’s interference in 2016 and are “trying to solve the problem going forward,” she said. Klobuchar spoke after the Senate Rules and Administration Committee took testimony from experts on how to safeguard U.S. elections. Congress provided $380 million for grants in response to Department of Homeland Security revelations that Russia targeted election systems in at least 21 states for possible interference in 2016. The DHS found no evidence of actual ballot tampering, but said steps are needed to secure future elections.
National: States using election security grants for new voting machines that won’t be ready for 2018 | McClatchy
In three Southern states with some of the nation’s most vulnerable election systems, federal grants designed to help thwart cyberattacks may not provide much protection in time for the mid-term elections as Congress intended. The $380 million in grant funding was supposed to help all states bolster their elections security infrastructure ahead of the 2018 elections after the intelligence community had warned that state voting systems could again be targeted by foreign hackers as they were in 2016. States have until 2023 to spend the grant money, said Thomas Hicks, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, which distributes the grants. But the long procurement process for voting machines makes it hard for states to buy new machines with their grants and get them into service by the 2018 mid-terms, even though “Congress looked at getting this money out quickly to have an effect on the 2018 election,” Hicks said. … With just over four months remaining until the mid-term elections, at least 40 states and the District of Columbia have requested more than $266 million of the $380 million pot, according to the EAC.
When Congress approved giving $380 million to states to bolster the security of their elections, state officials were caught off guard but extremely grateful. Elections are notoriously underfunded and haven’t seen a windfall like this from the federal government in more than a decade. But getting that money out to all the states, and then into the hands of localities that run the elections, with enough time to have a meaningful effect on the 2018 midterm elections is a difficult proposition. Three months after receiving congressional approval, and now less than five months from November’s midterm elections, 33 states have filed the necessary paperwork to begin receiving money. That number may seem “disconcertingly low” to some, especially when it was just 11 in mid-May, but there is mixed consensus on what it actually says about the country’s seriousness when it comes to handling threats leading up to the 2018 election.
Homeland Security Department inspectors aren’t turning up anything shocking when they assess state and local election systems for cybersecurity vulnerabilities in advance of the 2018 midterms, an official said Tuesday. Most of what Homeland Security is turning up in the risk and vulnerability assessments are the same issues you’d see in any information technology environment, Matthew Masterson, a senior cybersecurity adviser, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That includes unpatched software, outdated equipment and misconfigured systems. Homeland Security has conducted risk and vulnerability assessments of 17 states and 10 localities so far, Masterson said.
National: Election Assistance Commission says 26 states have received cybersecurity funding ahead of midterms | The Hill
The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) on Tuesday released a list of 26 states that have requested and received cybersecurity funding, money that aims to ensure state’s voting systems are properly secured ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. An EAC press release broke down which states have requested the cyber funds as well as how much they received. To date, these states have requested nearly $210 million in newly available funds, or about 55 percent of the total amount available. The funds were distributed under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, a bill passed by Congress that allocated $380 million in funds to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
Florida: After two months, Florida’s election security money is approved in one day | Tampa Bay Times
Well, that was fast. It took Gov. Rick Scott’s administration two months to formally apply for $19.2 million in election security money. It took the feds one day to approve the request. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Monday released a letter it sent to Sen. Marco Rubio that said the EAC “has reviewed Florida’s disbursement request and approved the request in one working day. We expect funds will be in Florida’s account this week.” … The money will be divided among the state and all 67 counties to improve security procedures to help detect threats to voting systems, such as the attempted phishing emails in at least five counties in 2016 that a federal agency said was the work of Russian hackers.