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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U.S. states operating outdated and insecure voting machines face major hurdles in protecting them in time for the 2020 presidential election, officials said at a meeting of elections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will have to spend more than $2 billion to protect their election systems in the next five years, including replacing outdated machines or purchasing the software improvements necessary to help harden existing equipment against hackers.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.

National: Election Assistance Commission staff ‘strained to the breaking point’ | Christopher Bing/Reuters

As the U.S. government prepares to defend the 2020 presidential election from cyber threats, the federal agency charged with helping administer elections, the Election Assistance Commission, says it is “strained to the breaking point,” according to Chairwoman Christy McCormick.

“Obviously we’re a very small agency and quite under funded,” McCormick said on Wednesday during a House of Representatives Oversight Committee hearing. “We’re stretched very thin.”

McCormick told lawmakers the agency is seeking additional funding from Congress. That funding is part of a sweeping election reform package, known as H.R. 1, which passed the House earlier this year but has yet to be voted on in the Senate.

Multiple federal agencies, including the Justice Department, Homeland Security Department and intelligence community, play a role in protecting U.S. elections from foreign interference.

The Election Assistance Commission is responsible for setting standards and guidelines for election officials and voting equipment makers. But since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the agency has also taken on additional responsibilities related to cybersecurity, McCormick said.

Full Article: U.S. election cybersecurity agency staff ‘strained to the breaking point’ – Reuters.

Full Article: U.S. election cybersecurity agency staff 'strained to the breaking point' - Reuters.

National: Keeping voting security standards from bureaucracy | Derek B. Johnson/GCN

Although the security updates to the Election Assistance Commission’s new Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0 are sorely needed, its approval and updating process can’t keep up with the technological changes. Later this year, the full 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. At a May 21 hearing, however, a number of stakeholders advised the agency to refrain from requiring a full vote to approve the technical portions of the guidelines, saying it could keep the latest technology from being incorporated into voting machine standards. “We cannot wait weeks or months for a decision on a federal level when there’s a need to act immediately,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said. “I’m asking all of you to have a dialogue about what happens if we run into that situation again when there is not a full quorum on the EAC. How will decisions be made, and will that make it more difficult for state election officials to protect the security and integrity of the vote?”

Full Article: Keeping voting security standards from bureaucracy -- GCN.

National: Americans may vote in 2020 using old, unsecured machines | Gopal Ratnam/Roll Call

The first primary in the 2020 presidential race is a little more than 250 days away, but lawmakers and experts worry that elections will be held on voting machines that are woefully outdated and that any tampering by adversaries could lead to disputed results. Although states want to upgrade their voting systems, they don’t have the money to do so, election officials told lawmakers last week. Overhauling the nation’s election systems would mean injecting as much as $1 billion in federal grants that would then be supplemented by states, but top Senate Republicans have said they are unlikely to take up any election security bills or give more money to the states. The deadlock could mean that even as federal government and private companies spend tens of billions of cybersecurity dollars annually to protect their computers and networks from attacks, the cornerstone of American democracy could remain vulnerable in the upcoming elections.

Full Article: Americans may vote in 2020 using old, unsecured machines.

National: EAC rattles the cup on Capitol Hill | Derek B. Johnson/FCW

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Election Assistance Commission has a full slate of commissioners in place. Now, with the agency sitting at the center of several key election security debates, they’re asking Congress to make their budget whole too. At a May 15 Senate Rules Committee hearing, Christy McCormick, who chairs the EAC, said the commission is at “a critical crossroads with regard to having sufficient resources necessary to better support state and local election administrators and the voters they serve” and asked members of Congress for more funding. “With additional resources, the EAC would have the opportunity to fund additional election security activities within its election technology program,” said McCormick. There is no shortage of ambition at EAC when it comes to supporting this work, but there is a stark shortage of funds for such activities.”

Full Article: EAC rattles the cup on Capitol Hill -- FCW.

National: EAC hires 2 tech experts for testing and certification program | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has added two experienced hands to its voting system certification program amid concerns it had a shortage of technical experts overseeing election infrastructure. The agency is staffing up its crucial certification program by hiring Jessica Bowers, a former executive at Dominion Voting Systems, one of the country’s three largest voting system vendors, and Paul Aumayr, a former Maryland election official. Both new hires will work as senior election technology specialists. In an email announcement to staff obtained by CyberScoop, EAC Executive Director Brian Newby touted Bowers and Aumayr’s technical acumen. Bowers has “over 18 years of software development and product support experience,” while Aumayr is a “Microsoft-certified systems engineer,” Newby wrote.

Full Article: Election commission hires 2 tech experts for testing and certification program.

National: Election commission names new lead for testing and certifying voting systems | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

The federal Election Assistance Commission has appointed Jerome Lovato, a former Colorado state election official, as head of the commission’s program for testing and certifying voting systems, according to a commission email obtained by CyberScoop. Lovato replaces Ryan Macias, who was filling the role in an acting capacity and will step down this month. The crucial EAC program works with the country’s top voting equipment vendors to certify and decertify voting system hardware and software. 

Full Article: Election commission names new lead for testing and certifying voting systems.

Editorials: Everyone has a stake in a secure federal elections in 2020 | Ben Hovland/The Kansas City Star

The 2018 midterm election cycle was one of the most closely scrutinized in recent memory. Election officials across the country took potential threats seriously and, in the run-up to Election Day, doubled down on efforts to secure election systems and educate voters to ensure confidence in the process as a whole. Their hard work paid off. There were no cybersecurity compromises of election infrastructure, and data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates the 2018 midterms saw the highest voter turnout in four decades, including here in Missouri, where more than 58% of voters cast a ballot. This is an example of the nation’s election system working as it should: with high public interest and civic engagement, and election officials focused on election security, accessibility and accuracy. We can learn many lessons from both the 2016 and 2018 federal elections, but chief among them is that our election system has integrity. And we all have a role in ensuring it remains secure.

Full Article: Everyone has a stake in a secure federal elections in 2020 | The Kansas City Star.

Minnesota: Senators skip cybersecurity hearing | Minnesota Lawyer

Election cybersecurity, once described as one of the lightest legislative lifts of 2019, has devolved into a stubborn controversy that some Democrats worry foreshadows turbulence ahead as this year’s Capitol session enters the home stretch. It boils down to a simple unanswered question: How much of $6.6 million in Help America Vote Act funds, which the federal government granted Minnesota last year, should go to Secretary of State Steve Simon to shore up the state’s election cyber-defenses? The two chambers have quite different answers. On Feb. 21, the DFL-led House voted 105-23 to approve House File 14, with many Republicans joining the Democrats. That bill appropriates the full $6.6 million. On Feb. 28, the Senate voted 35-32 along party lines to give Simon access to only $1.5 million of the grant — the same amount included in last year’s vetoed Omnibus Prime supplemental finance bill. The discrepancy sent the HF14 to a joint House-Senate conference committee to iron out the differences. On Tuesday, for the second time since March 21, Senate Republicans — led by conference committee co-chair Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake — skipped a HAVA hearing. The meeting went ahead anyway. Democrats — including three Senate DFLers who aren’t conferees — heard testimony from Simon and former Cook County, Ill., election director Noah Praetz. But with no Senate Republicans on hand to continue negotiations or vote on a compromise, the issue remains unresolved.

Full Article: Senators skip cybersecurity hearing – Minnesota Lawyer.

Alabama: Alabama failed to spend federal grants for election security | WALA

With looming fears of foreign interference in last year’s midterm elections, Congress rushed to send almost $6.2 million to help Alabama secure its voting system. But the state did not spend a dime of it, according to a report this month from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which disbursed the funds. The money came from the so-called omnibus spending bill approved in March 2018. But Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the money did not come in time to spend before the November midterm election. In order to spend federal grant money, he told FOX10 News, the state has to going through a competitive bidding process and get companies on an approved vendor list, among other requirements. “That’s an arduous process, at best,” he said. “We’re not gonna get in a hurry because someone thinks we should be in a hurry to spend it.”

Full Article: Alabama failed to spend federal grants for election security | News | fox10tv.com.

South Dakota: Secretary of State Office received another $3 million to beef up election security | KELO

Among the many adjustments the South Dakota Legislature made last month to state government’s current budget was adding $150,000 to the Secretary of State Office’s operational budget. That’s so the office can move ahead with using $3 million from a 2018 federal election security grant that Congress approved, according to Kea Warne. She is deputy secretary for elections for Secretary of State Steve Barnett, who took office in early January. Congress took the action in March 2018 after people from other nations such as Russia tried ways to influence the 2016 U.S. elections. Many states including South Dakota still needed approval from their legislatures before channeling the money toward greater election security. “Our office has not spent any of those funds to date, as we asked for the Legislature to provide the five percent match money for the federal grant during the 2019 legislative session,” Warne said. South Dakota’s lawmakers approved that $150,000 request as part of SB 180, which amended the 2019 general-appropriations act for state government. It becomes effective June 28. The 2020 state budget starts July 1, 2019. “Our office has been approved by the federal Election Assistance Commission to spend the full $3 million on new election equipment for the counties,” Warne said.

Full Article: Secretary of State Office received another $3 million to beef up South Dakota election security.

National: How the Election Assistance Commission Came Not to Care So Much About Election Security | ProPublica

In a rush of preparation for this year’s midterm elections, scores of state and local governments have been working to safeguard their election systems from being hacked or otherwise compromised. At the same time, according to interviews with more than a dozen national, state and local election officials, the federal commission responsible for providing assistance to them has either been missing in action or working to thwart their efforts. The Election Assistance Commission has ceded its leadership role in providing security training, state and local officials say, forcing them to rely on the help of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which lacks the same level of experience in the issues confronting the country’s voting systems. One of the EAC’s commissioners has dismissed the threat of foreign governments undermining American elections in private meetings with state election officials, and often personally appealed to individual officials not to waste their time on the idea that election systems might be vulnerable to outside meddling.

Full Article: How the Election Assistance Commission Came Not to Care… — ProPublica.

National: EAC Commissioner Pushes for Standards, Reveals Spending on Election Security | MeriTalk

Thomas Hicks, commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, said today that EAC has developed a set of voluntary voting system guidelines to aid local election authorities, but the commission currently lacks a quorum to vote on the standards and distribute the guidance to localities. EAC currently has two active commissioners of a possible four, but requires a quorum of three in order to vote. President Trump has nominated two people to serve on EAC, but there has been no movement in Congress to confirm the nominees. “I’m hoping the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate come together and vote those two folks up or down relatively soon,” Hicks said today at the Symantec Government Symposium.

Full Article: EAC Commissioner Pushes for Standards, Reveals Spending on Election Security – MeriTalk.

National: The agency created to protect elections is broken | Yahoo News

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.

Full Article: Election Assistance Commission ignoring Russia interference.