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National: The voting machine certification process is making it harder to secure elections | Chris Iovenko/Slate

A judicial election in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, in November produced a literally unbelievable result. About 55,000 votes were cast on newly purchased electronic voting machines, but only 164 votes were registered for the Democratic candidate. Luckily, the touch-screen machines produced a backup paper trail, which allowed for an accurate recount. Ultimately, the Democrat won by some 5,000 votes. The root cause of this systemic vote switching is still under investigation. Whatever the case, though, the mass malfunction of these machines highlights the reliability and security issues around electronic voting systems that are mostly already primed for use in the 2020 elections. As disturbing as the Northampton County miscount is in its own right, it throws into relief a grave general issue that applies to voting systems across the country. One would hope that whatever glitch or virus, once identified, that caused the massive malfunction will be quickly and easily fixed, patched, or updated so that those machines can be relied upon to work properly going forward. Further, one would also assume that other vulnerable voting systems around the country will be updated prophylactically to prevent similar malfunctions in next year’s elections. However, neither of those things is very likely to happen. Our current regimen for certifying electronic voting systems makes changing or updating election systems in the run-up to an election very difficult—and as Election Day 2020 gets closer, that maintenance becomes virtually impossible.

Full Article: The voting machine certification process is making it harder to secure elections..

National: Just How Regulated Are Our Nation’s Elections? | Hadley Hitson/Fortune

The U.S. federal government subjects nearly every industry to a slew of operational rules and regulations. Defense contractors are prohibited from utilizing certain Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei in order to prevent theft of the nation’s military technology. Power companies must abide by mandatory reliability standards and report any attempted or successful breaches of their systems to a federal commission. National banks implement federally required security procedures to prevent robberies. These sectors are meticulously managed with hundreds of requirements specifically because the Department of Homeland Security considers them so vital that their incapacitation would have a “debilitating effect” on the country as a whole.  But when it comes to elections, a cornerstone of American democracy, the vendors whose voting equipment is used throughout the country largely lack the level of federal oversight and direction that protect other critical infrastructure industries from domestic and foreign interference.

Full Article: How Regulated and Secure Is Voting in U.S. Elections? | Fortune.

National: Senators advocate for increased election security funding in 2020 budget | Melina Druga/Homeland Preparedness News

A group of 39 Democratic senators recently sent a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging the panels to better fund election security. The senators requested funding for election security grants and for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in the Fiscal Year 2020 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. The EAC is an independent and bipartisan commission established in the Help America Vote Act that ensures elections across the country are secure, accurate, and accessible. It sets voting standards, certifies voting equipment, and conducts the Election Administration and Voting Survey. The senators urged the committees to fund the EAC fully. Currently, the House has appropriated roughly $16.2 million for the commission, and the Senate has appropriated nearly $12 million. The commission has half the staff it did when it was founded in 2010, and EAC’s budget for salaries and administration is $10 million less.

Full Article: Senators advocate for increased election security funding in 2020 budget - Homeland Preparedness News.

National: Report: Election Assistance Commission Grapples With Staffing, Budget Cuts | Alexa Corse/Wall Street Journal

The federal agency responsible for setting election security standards is grappling with key leadership vacancies and inadequate funding, a new report by a government watchdog office has found. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which is focused exclusively on the voting process, is struggling to help state and local officials bolster the security of their voting systems, the agency’s inspector general said in a report released Wednesday. The commission has sought to promote cybersecurity best practices and to serve as a central resource for state and local governments, which have the primary responsibility for administering elections. But the inspector general’s report says that the commission’s efforts are faltering amid staffing shortages and years of budget cuts. Two of the agency’s most senior officials—the executive director and general counsel—stepped down last month, and the agency has begun looking for their successors, the report said. The agency’s acting executive director and chief information officer, Mona Harrington, said in a letter to the inspector general dated Monday that the agency “concurs” with the findings about its troubles.

Full Article: Report: Election Security Agency Grapples With Staffing, Budget Cuts - WSJ.

National: Election Assistance Commission Needs More Authority In Face of 2020 Threats, Report Finds | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive

With less than a year until the 2020 presidential election, a new report calls on Congress to bolster the authority of the agency that serves as the nation’s elections clearinghouse and devote more funding and resources to it. The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and public policy institute, released a report on Tuesday that proposes a new framework for protecting election systems. Its recommendations focus on the oversight and internal operations of the Election Assistance Commission, the understaffed and underfunded federal agency responsible for promoting election administration best practices and voting machine security standards. “The federal government regulates colored pencils, which are subject to mandatory standards promulgated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more strictly than it does America’s election infrastructure,” said the report. Although the Homeland Security Department designated election systems as critical infrastructure in 2017 following revelations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, election systems don’t receive the same type of oversight as other sectors with the critical infrastructure classification.  “While voting systems are subject to some functional requirements under a voluntary federal testing and certification regime, the vendors themselves are largely free from federal oversight,” the report said. “Under our proposal, the EAC would extend its existing certification regime from voting systems to include all vendors that manufacture or service key parts of the nation’s election infrastructure.”

Full Article: Election Commission Needs More Authority In Face of 2020 Threats, Report Finds - Government Executive.

National: Every State Was Given Funding to Increase Election Security. Here’s How They Spent It | Nicole Goodkind/Fortune

The U.S. is less than a year out from one of the most consequential elections of the century, which President Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security has called “the big game” for foreign adversaries looking to attack and undermine the Democratic process. Congress, meanwhile, is locked in a stalemate about how to secure systems in the country’s 8,000 largely disjointed voting jurisdictions. Tuesday marks the last test of security preparedness before the 2020 elections, as certain statewide polls take place around the country. The Department of Homeland Security is gearing up “war rooms” to monitor for potential interference and test voting infrastructure, but with sluggish movement at a federal level there is little they’ll be able to do to correct any issues within the next 12 months. There is, however, one beacon of hope: 2002’s Help America Vote Act (HAVA)—a block grant issued to states to bolster election security following the Bush v. Gore hanging chad debacle some 19 years ago. In 2018, Congress used the Omnibus Appropriations Act to pad HAVA with an extra $380 million to be divided up amongst the states in proportion to their voting age population. The idea was that they spend it to prepare for the 2020 elections, and Democrats and Republicans are likely to approve at least another $250 million through the act this year.

Full Article: Election Security Funding: How States Are Spending to Protect Votes | Fortune.

National: New federal guidelines could ban internet in voting machines | Eric Geller/Politico

A long-awaited update to federal voting technology standards could ban voting machines from connecting to the internet or using any wireless technology such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. A new draft of version 2.0 of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines says that voting machines and ballot scanners “must not be capable of establishing wireless connections,” “establishing a connection to an external network” or “connecting to any device that is capable of establishing a connection to an external network.” If they survive a review process, the new rules would represent a landmark development in voting technology oversight, eliminating one of cybersecurity experts’ top concerns about voting machines by plugging holes that skilled hackers could exploit to tamper with the democratic process. The wireless and internet bans are included in the latest draft of the “system integrity” section of the VVSG update. A working group focused on the VVSG’s cybersecurity elements reviewed the document during an Oct. 29 teleconference.

Full Article: New federal guidelines could ban internet in voting machines - POLITICO.

National: Election Assistance Commission Loses Its Top Leaders | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive

s the nation’s elections clearinghouse faces tight funding and criticism from advocacy groups on its new voting guidelines, the agency is losing its top two officials. Election Assistance Commission commissioners voted in early September to not reappoint Executive Director Brian Newby and General Counsel Cliff Tatum, Politico reported. Under the previous succession plan, the chief operating officer would assume the role of acting executive director; however, that position has been vacant since 2015. Commission Chief Information and Security Officer Mona Harrington will assume the role of acting executive director on Wednesday, under the new plan, as the agency starts the search process for a permanent leader. “The [Election Assistance Commission] is charged with providing top quality resources that support accurate, secure and accessible elections for all eligible voters,” the EAC commissioners said in a press release regarding the vacancies. “We are lock-step in our commitment to fulfilling that mandate.”

Full Article: Election Assistance Agency Loses Its Top Leaders  - Government Executive.

National: Senate’s Election Security Funding Bill Leaves Election Assistance Commission Strapped for Cash | Courtney Buble/Government Executive

he cash-strapped, understaffed federal agency responsible for promoting voting machine security standards and best practices for election administration will receive very little new funding under a Senate appropriations bill aimed at bolstering election security. Bowing to pressure from Democrats and some Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week reversed course and said he would support legislation aimed at preventing foreign interference in U.S. elections. On Sept. 19, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the “Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2020” (S.2524), which includes funding for $250 million in election security grants for state and local election administrators. But the bill includes almost no new funds for the Election Assistance Commission, the severely understaffed and underfunded agency that serves as a clearinghouse for information about voting machine security standards and administrative best practices. Under the Senate legislation, EAC would receive $11,995,000 in 2020, about $2 million more than it received in 2019, however $1.5 million of that would be transferred to the National Institute for Standards and Technology to develop voluntary state voting system guidelines, and another  $2.4 million is designated for the EAC’s relocation to new offices.

Full Article: Senate’s Election Security Funding Bill Leaves a Key Agency Strapped for Cash - Government Executive.

National: EAC says it won’t de-certify voting systems running old versions of Windows | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has told lawmakers that it will not de-certify certain voting systems that use outdated Microsoft Windows systems, a disclosure that highlights the challenge of keeping voting equipment secure after a vendor ceases offering support for a product. While a voting system would fail certification if it were running software that wasn’t supported by a vendor, the act of de-certifying the system is cumbersome and “has wide-reaching consequences, affecting manufacturers, election administration at the state and local levels, as well as voters,” EAC commissioners wrote in a letter to the Committee on House Administration that CyberScoop obtained. To pass certification, voting vendors must meet a series of specifications outlined in the Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines (VVSG), a set of standards that the EAC has been slow to update. In response to questions from the committee’s staff, EAC commissioners said the laborious de-certification process can be initiated if there is credible information that a voting system no longer complies with the guidelines. However, in the case of Election Systems & Software, the country’s largest voting vendor, for example, the EAC said it didn’t have “grounds to decertify any ES&S product that uses software that is no longer supported by a third-party vendor.” The commissioners also said that there is no stipulation for how far into the future operating systems must support security patches for them to be certified.

Full Article: Election commission says it won’t de-certify voting systems running old versions of Windows.

National: EAC parting ways with embattled top staffer | Eric Geller/Politico

The embattled executive director of the Election Assistance Commission, whose tenure has been marked by internal turmoil, will not serve another term, two government employees with knowledge of the decision told POLITICO. While the departure of Brian Newby will remove a controversial figure from one of the federal agencies charged with helping states secure their election systems, the shakeup will likely further hamper its mission ahead of the 2020 election, which intelligence officials say hackers working for Russia and other U.S. adversaries will once again attempt to disrupt. EAC commissioners voted over the weekend of Sept. 7-8 not to reappoint Newby for four more years, according to an agency staffer and a House aide, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. The commissioners also voted not to retain Cliff Tatum, the agency’s general counsel. Both men joined the EAC on Oct. 22, 2015. The vote on the two appointments was 2-2, splitting the Democratic and Republican commissioners, said the House aide. A decision to reappoint them would have required a majority. The vote came three months after a POLITICO story about how Newby has faced extensive criticism from inside and outside the EAC for undermining its election security work and ignoring, micromanaging and mistreating staff.

Full Article: Key federal election agency parting ways with embattled top staffer - POLITICO.

National: Election security funds caught in crosshairs of spending debate | Maggies Miller-The Hill

Funding to bolster election security efforts at the state level could become a sticking point during the ongoing government spending talks, with the House approving the funds while Republicans in the Senate remain staunchly opposed. The spotlight will be on the Senate on Tuesday, as the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government marks up its portion of the annual spending bill, with the full committee due to vote on the bill Thursday. While the subcommittee will wait until after the markup to release its version of the annual financial services and general government funding bill, which includes appropriations for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), it’s unlikely to include election security funds due to Republican opposition. This could become a factor in negotiations between the House and Senate over government funding bills and make it even more difficult for Congress to approve funding legislation prior to the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, which is needed to avert a shutdown.

Full Article: Election security funds caught in crosshairs of spending debate | TheHill.

National: Distrust, Staffing and Funding Shortages Imperil Election Security | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive

pecial Counsel Robert Mueller was emphatic when he testified before the House Intelligence Committee on July 24 about Russian interference in the 2016 election: “It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” In an earlier, less partisan era, Mueller’s warning likely would have galvanized lawmakers and propelled them to action to ensure the security and integrity of American elections. While federal agencies have taken critical steps to improve security around U.S. elections since 2016, those efforts have been hampered by inadequate funding; staffing problems; mixed messages from Congress and the administration; and, not insignificantly, by Constitutional questions—states and localities hold primary authority for administering elections, and some Republicans worry about the federal government usurping state powers in the name of security. But the special counsel’s warning had no such galvanizing effect. Hours after Mueller testified in the House, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., blocked, without giving a reason, election security bills in the Senate, one of which would have required campaigns to alert the FBI and the Federal Election Commission about election assistance offers from foreign countries. The next day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denied the Democrats’ request for a vote on the House-passed Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, which would have authorized $775 million to bolster state election systems and required paper ballots as a guard against vote tampering. McConnell said the legislation, which passed the House with just a single Republican vote, would nationalize election authorities that “properly belong to the states.”  While few things are more fundamental to democracy than the integrity of the election system, finding a bipartisan consensus for ensuring that integrity has been elusive, and as a result, agencies’s efforts are far less effective than they could be otherwise.

Full Article: Distrust, Staffing and Funding Shortages Imperil Election Security - Government Executive.

National: States Struggle to Update Election Systems Ahead of 2020 | Alyza Sebenius and Kartikay Mehrotra/Bloomberg

U.S. states operating outdated and insecure voting machines face major hurdles in protecting them in time for the 2020 presidential election, officials said at a meeting of elections experts. Budgets are strained, decision-making authority is diffuse and standards put in place years ago haven’t kept up with today’s cyberthreats, according to testimony Thursday to the Election Assistance Commission in Silver Spring, Maryland. The Senate Intelligence Committee reported last month that Russia engaged in “extensive” efforts to manipulate elections systems throughout the U.S. from 2014 through “at least 2017.” The Brennan Center for Justice reported Thursday that states will have to spend more than $2 billion to protect their election systems in the next five years, including replacing outdated machines or purchasing the software improvements necessary to help harden existing equipment against hackers. Updating software is a “regular and important part” of cybersecurity, the Center for Democracy & Technology warned in a statement. But even when a software patch is available, states can’t compel “severely under-resourced” local elections officials to buy and implement the improvement, said Jared Dearing, executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections. On top of those hurdles, Dearing said, the process of certifying elections equipment to federal standards leaves machines in “a time capsule of when that system was developed.”

Full Article: States Struggle to Update Election Systems Ahead of 2020 - Bloomberg.

National: Election Assistance Commission Urged to Finalize 2020 Security Standards | Jack Rodgers/Courthouse News

During a forum on election security Thursday, Connecticut’s secretary of state urged a federal agency in charge of the process to act quickly in issuing new security standards for voting systems so states can update software in time for the 2020 election. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission hosted three panels of witnesses, all of whom testified on ways to improve the security of the nation’s election systems during a three-hour forum in Washington, D.C. Last year, Congress appropriated $380 million under the Help America Vote Act, which makes funds available for states to update election security measures and voter registration methods. However, the federal funds, coupled with a state-required match, were not enough to completely update voting equipment across the country. During Thursday’s first panel, the secretaries of state for Connecticut and Louisiana, Denise Merrill and Kyle Ardoin, respectively, both spoke to the benefits of this funding. Merrill said that with the $5 million in HAVA funds appropriated to her state last year, Connecticut had implemented a virtual system that allows those in election advisory roles to view every desktop used for counting and reporting votes in the state. In most of the state’s 169 towns, methods of recording votes differ depending on the area, Merrill said, also noting that some towns don’t use computers.

Full Article: Election Agency Urged to Finalize 2020 Security Standards.

National: Key House Republican demands answers on federal election security efforts | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, demanded answers from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) on Monday regarding election security oversight issues. In a letter to the EAC, Davis posed a series of questions, citing the committee “Majority’s inadequate oversight of your Commission” during an EAC oversight hearing on May and the recent testimony by former special counsel Robert Mueller as key factors in sending the letter.  “I remain committed to ensuring that local election officials have every resource they need to provide for a secure election in 2020,” Davis wrote. “Effective and focused oversight over the EAC is critically important in this mission.” Questions included what steps the EAC is taking to ensure there is a plan in place to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security in the event of a threat to election infrastructure in 2020, how the EAC is communicating its activities to the public, and details around the new Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines 2.0, which are a national voluntary set of standards for voting systems. Davis gave the EAC until Sept. 2 to respond. A spokesperson for the EAC told The Hill the commission has “received the letter and will respond to Congress within the agreed upon deadline.”

Full Article: Key House Republican demands answers on federal election security efforts | TheHill.

National: EAC plans Windows 7 confab | Tim Starks/Politico

The EAC will convene state and local election supervisors, federal officials and cyber experts to discuss the ramifications of Microsoft sunsetting support for Windows 7, which is still used in many voting systems. “It is essential that the election community and the EAC have a full appreciation not only for the scope of this specific software issue, but also the issues of patching and internet connectivity more broadly,” EAC Chairwoman Christy McCormick told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in a July 26 letter. Wyden had asked how the EAC was handling the issue, including whether it would decertify machines running Windows 7 before the Jan. 15, 2020, sunset. McCormick didn’t answer that question but noted that decertification “has wide-reaching consequences” and that the EAC has an established policy for when to initiate it. Election Systems & Software, one of the companies still selling Windows 7-based voting systems, has submitted new technology for certification that runs on Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, McCormick told Wyden. “The test plan has been approved by the EAC,” she wrote, “and testing is underway.” Based on the EAC’s conversations with vendors, she said, “we are confident that they are working to address” the Windows 7 issue. The vendors “are in direct contact with Microsoft,” she added, and “have received commitments from Microsoft regarding software support.” She did not say whether Microsoft had promised free updates for these products; the company plans to charge everyone else for continued Windows 7 support.

Full Article: Exclusive: EAC plans Windows 7 confab - POLITICO.

Kansas: Former Johnson County Election Commissioner’s leadership of federal agency draws scrutiny | Jay Senter/Shawnee Mission Post

The former Johnson County Election Commissioner who left a string of financial and human resources scandals in his wake here after he accepted an appointment with the federal Election Assistance Commission is now drawing scrutiny for his direction of that agency. A lengthy investigative piece published by POLITICO this month details concerns with Brian Newby’s leadership of the EAC, which is charged with helping local voting operations across the country adhere to the requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. According to the report, elections officials and federal employees have been disheartened by actions from Newby that have stymied efforts to address election security issues.

Full Article: Former Johnson County Election Commissioner's leadership of federal agency draws scrutiny.

National: Federal election official accused of undermining his own agency | Eric Geller/Politico

A tiny federal agency that plays a crucial role in assisting the nation’s local election supervisors is gripped by a leadership crisis that has sparked concerns that it is unprepared to play its role in protecting the 2020 presidential race from foreign interference. Brian Newby, the executive director of the Election Assistance Commission, has blocked important work on election security, micromanaged employees’ interactions with partners outside the agency and routinely ignored staff questions, according to former election officials, former federal employees and others who regularly work with the agency. In doing so, Newby has not only frustrated his own employees and helped create a staff exodus — nine EAC office directors have left since Newby arrived — but also angered cybersecurity experts, election integrity activists and state and local officials. His reputation in the elections community conjures up “the eye-roll emoji,” said one former election official. “Everybody kind of puts up with him.” POLITICO’s seven sources — all of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly — described Newby, a Republican, as too beholden to the EAC’s GOP chairwoman, Christy McCormick, who masterminded his appointment and later spent years denying the reality of Russian interferencein the 2016 election. They also said that Newby alienated his agency almost immediately by wading into the issue of a citizenship requirement for voter eligibility — and that he has failed to regain their trust ever since. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the lawmakers most focused on election security, told POLITICO that “if these allegations are true, Brian Newby should immediately resign.”

Full Article: Federal election official accused of undermining his own agency - POLITICO.

National: States, experts ask EAC for more flexibility in voting machine standards | Derek B. Johnson/FCW

State officials and security experts say security updates contained in the Election Assistance Commission’s new Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0 are badly needed, but there is concern that the bureaucratic process the agency has set up to approve and update those standards can’t keep up with the pace of technological change. Later this year, the commission is expected to vote to approve a five-page document outlining principles that will guide the development of VVSG 2.0, including a new emphasis on security. That process will be followed up with far more detailed technical guidance and standards that companies will rely on to design their new voting machines. At a May 21 hearing, the commission heard from a number of stakeholders who advised that the agency refrain from requiring a full vote to approve the technical portions of the guidelines, saying it would run counter to the goal of ensuring that voting machine standards account for the latest developments in technology.

Full Article: States, experts ask EAC for more flexibility in voting machine standards -- FCW.