Only half the members of a federal commission advising states on election threats have security clearances, raising questions about whether it can effectively help local and state officials defend against adversaries such as Russian hackers. And no members of the four-person Election Assistance Commission had clearances during the past two election cycles, including the period when Kremlin-linked hackers are suspected of mounting a range of cyberattacks against state election offices, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. The delay in issuing security clearances for commission members is part of a massive backlog of application approvals throughout the entire federal government. But it’s a particularly acute problem for the EAC, one of the key agencies offering guidance to state and local officials about how to protect themselves from security risks. “The people entrusted with securing our elections need to know what threats they’re supposed to address,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the lawmakers who has focused the most on election security, told POLITICO in a statement. “An Election Assistance [Commission member] without a security clearance is like making a baseball player hit without a bat.”Full Article: Lack of security clearances hampers federal election panel - POLITICO.
Election Assistance Commission
National: States spent just a fraction of $380 million in election security money before midterms | The Washington Post
Congress scrambled in early 2018 to deliver a surge in election security money before the midterms. But it turns out that states only spent about 8 percent of the $380 million Congress approved by the time the elections rolled around. That’s the bad news in a spending report released Thursday by the Election Assistance Commission, which is responsible for disbursing the money. The good news is that states are on track to spend the majority of the money before the 2020 elections — which intelligence officials say are far likelier than the midterms to be a hacking target for Russia and other U.S. adversaries. The report highlights the lengthy process of investigations and reviews that are necessary before states can make major upgrades to specialized election equipment. Given the tight time frame — Congress approved the money in March and the EAC began disbursing it to states in June — EAC Chairwoman Christy McCormick told me that 8 percent is a reasonable amount to have spent and about what the commission expected. It’s also a warning to Congress that the clock is ticking if it wants to deliver more election security money that will make a meaningful difference in 2020.Full Article: The Cybersecurity 202: States spent just a fraction of $380 million in election security money before midterms - The Washington Post.
National: Senate confirms commissioners to Election Assistance Commission, giving it full powers | The Hill
The Senate late Wednesday confirmed by voice vote a pair of commissioners to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), giving the agency a quorum for the first time since last March. Benjamin Hovland and Donald Palmer were among several nominees passed in the final hours of the Senate session. If they had not been confirmed before noon Thursday, when the 115th Congress adjourns, both nominees would have to go through the confirmation process again. Having a quorum means the EAC can now carry out major policy moves. The small federal agency — created in 2002 to help state and local officials administer elections — had only two commissioners since March, one short of the three needed to take on significant initiatives.Full Article: Senate confirms commissioners to election agency, giving it full powers | TheHill.
The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday voted to advance two of President Trump’s nominees to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), giving the small federal agency a chance of reaching a quorum for the first time since March. During a meeting that lasted roughly a minute, the senators voted in favor of adding Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland to the commission, which was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to help state and local officials administer elections. If approved by the full Senate, Palmer and Hovland — both former election officials — would bring the agency up from two to four commissioners. The EAC has been down to two commissioners — one short of a quorum — since March, when former commissioner Matt Masterson’s term expired. He has since joined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where he has worked on election security issues.Full Article: Senate panel advances Trump nominees for election agency | TheHill.
Editorials: Improve Elections, Fully Confirm Election Assistance Commission Before 2020 | Matthew Weil/Bipartisan Policy Center
It’s hard to make progress when you have both hands tied behind your back a third of the time. Voters want more secure and better functioning elections, and Congress can act right now to accomplish that. In the swirl of election security concerns, ballot design problems, and vote counting confusion, the Senate should take up the two pending nominees to the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) before adjourning this month. The EAC is the federal government’s main arm for disseminating election administration information to state and local election officials. The Commission sets the guidelines for voting systems and certifies the machines that voters use to cast ballots. Commission staff collect and disseminate vital data about election administration, share best practices, facilitate outreach to language minority voters and those with disabilities, and much more.Full Article: Improve Elections, Fully Confirm Election Assistance Commission Before 2020 | Bipartisan Policy Center.
A pair of President Trump’s nominees for a federal election agency testified before a Senate panel Wednesday on their plans to help state and local officials administer elections. Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on their plans for the Election Assistance Committee (EAC), an agency that helps local officials administer their elections. Lawmakers are moving to add the pair to the election agency, with plans for a committee vote on their nominations next week. It would give the group its first quorum since March. Without the quorum, the EAC has been unable to take major policy moves. There are only two commissioners currently serving at the agency, which was formed as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.Full Article: Trump nominees testify before Senate panel on plans for election agency | TheHill.
Congress will move closer to giving the Election Assistance Commission a full quorum of members today, when the Senate Rules Committee holds a confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s two EAC nominees, Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland. The tiny federal agency, which plays a key role in mediating conversations between state election officials and federal agencies like DHS, currently only has two members, and it needs three to vote on major policy decisions. It has lacked a quorum since March 23, when Matt Masterson, its former chairman, left following the expiration of his term and joined DHS. That lack of a quorum has threatened progress on a major EAC priority, the 2.0 update to its Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, which many states adopt as their voting system regulations. In a statement to MC, Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt touted the EAC’s role in securing elections and highlighted the commission’s lack of a quorum. “I look forward to hearing more from the nominees about how they would strengthen that partnership, in terms of information-sharing, technical assistance, and best practices, so the American people can be assured that election outcomes accurately reflect what happened on Election Day,” he said.Full Article: EAC finally nearing ability to take major action - POLITICO.
Since February, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has operated with only two members, Chair Thomas Hicks and Christy McCormick. The lack of a quorum has prevented the four-member body from voting on a number of election and security-related initiatives. That dynamic is set to change as the Senate Rules Committee scheduled a hearing this week to consider the nominations of two additional commissioners, Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland, to fill the remaining slots. During a Nov. 26 board meeting, Hicks noted that “should they be confirmed, hopefully by early January or February, this will be the first time since 2010 we’ll have a full contingent of four commissioners at EAC.”Full Article: FCW Insider Nov. 27 -- FCW.
National: Just 13 States Have Requested Funds Congress Set Aside to Secure Election Systems | Gizmodo
Thirteen states have withdrawn a total of nearly $88 million from an election security fund established by Congress in March, but more than 75 percent of the funding has yet to be dispersed. The $380 million fund, established as part of Congress’ omnibus appropriations bill, is meant to aid state officials in securing and improving election systems, whether through technical upgrades, cybersecurity audits, or by replacing vulnerable paperless electronic voting machines with paper-based systems. Although it makes up only fraction of what some experts say is needed—the Center for American Progress, for example, has suggested $1.25 billion over a 10-year period, which is close to what Democrats pushed for in February—the funding will ostensibly go a long way toward ensuring the continuation of free and fair elections in the United States, namely by hardening certain systems against hackers who might seek to tamper with the results.Full Article: Just 13 States Have Requested Funds Congress Set Aside to Secure Election Systems.
These could be tumultuous times for the tiny federal agency called the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In a mid-term election year in which the threat of Russian meddling in American balloting continues as front-page news, the 30-person staff in Silver Spring, Md., with its $9.2 million budget is forging ahead to help states and localities modernize voting equipment, recruit poll workers and make polling stations more accessible. Some Republican critics in Congress, however, have continued a years-old bid to defund the agency set up in 2002, calling it duplicative and proposing during this year’s continuing budget battle to move some functions to the Federal Election Commission.Full Article: Election Assistance Agency Carries On Despite GOP Resistance - Oversight - GovExec.com.
Thomas Hicks has been tapped to chair the Election Assistance Commission, an agency that is considered central to protecting the U.S. election infrastructure from cyberthreats, the commission announced on Friday. Reuters reported on Thursday that Republican House Speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, decided not to recommend former chairman Matthew Masterson for a second term as one of the EAC’s four commissioners. Commissioners are recommended by congressional leadership, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. According to Reuters, some state officials were surprised that Masterson was not considered for a second term as commissioner, given that he has focused much of his tenure on cybersecurity.Full Article: New EAC chairman will continue to focus on election security.
US intelligence and election officials have stepped up efforts to protect this year’s midterm elections over fears that Russia is seeking to influence the public vote and tamper with voting systems. State election officials gathered for two “unprecedented” briefings from intelligence officials last week. “Advanced persistent threats are out there,” said Matthew Masterson, outgoing chairman of the bipartisan US Election Assistance Commission who attended the briefing. Those familiar with the briefing said it focused on the threat from Russia and encouraged states to back up voter databases, regularly patch cyber security lesions and alert authorities of anything suspicious.Full Article: US mobilises to counter Russian interference in midterm elections.
House Speaker Paul Ryan faced Democratic criticism Thursday after choosing not to renew the term of a federal agency head who has helped lead the charge on securing elections from hackers. Matthew Masterson, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, will depart once the Senate confirms a successor, three people familiar with the situation told POLITICO. His four-year term as a commissioner expired in December, but he has stayed while Ryan contemplated whom to recommend to President Donald Trump as a nominee for the seat. Ryan has decided that Masterson won’t be on the list. Another commissioner was already scheduled to take the chairman’s slot on Saturday, but Masterson could have remained as a commissioner if he were renominated. … “This is insanity,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, an election security expert who is the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology. “Matt is extremely capable and has been a champion of more secure and better elections the entire time he’s been on the EAC.”Full Article: Ryan move to replace election agency leader stirs outcry - POLITICO.
The technology industry and organizations worldwide are reeling from the disclosure of two critical computer hardware vulnerabilities that affect scores of modern devices from PCs to smartphones. Details about the computer processor flaws nicknamed “Meltdown” and “Spectre” came into full focus over the past week and sent programmers at major software companies racing to quickly issue patches to protect affected systems. The issue was initially believed to only affect Intel processors but actually affects a variety of chip vendors. Intel’s stock dropped Thursday as a result of the revelations.Full Article: Week ahead: World grapples with critical computer flaws | TheHill.
National: Election Assistance Commission announces meeting next week on securing mid-terms | InsideCyberSecurity
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has announced that it will be holding a public meeting on Jan. 10 to review steps for securing the nation’s election system in advance of mid-term voting this fall. “Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission will host an all day summit to highlight a spectrum of issues that state and local election officials will face as they work to administer a secure, accessible and efficient 2018 Election,” according to a Federal Register notice issued today. The congressionally mandated commission will hear from witness on “topics such as election security, voting accessibility, and how to use election data to improve the voter experience,” according to the announcement.Full Article: Election commission announces meeting next week on securing mid-terms | InsideCyberSecurity.com.
Every two years after a November mid-term or presidential election, the Election Assistance Commission surveys states about their election practices, compiles that data and submits a report to Congress. The 226-page 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey includes data on voter registration, turnout, absentee and pre-election voting, precinct and polling places and military and overseas voting. While the report contains charts and downloadable datasets, the EAC recognized that election officials at the county and municipal level might need help manipulating the data for their own analysis. On Dec. 13, EAC released the EAVS Data Interactive, a new data visualization tool that lets election officials, academics, activists and others examine specific data at the state and local level, as well as compare jurisdictions side by side.Full Article: New tool offers unprecedented access to U.S. election data -- GCN.
Voting Blogs: Challenges to Better Security in U.S. Elections: The Last Mile | Brian Hancock/EAC Blog
Every election has a set of outcomes. Usually it’s winners and losers, but occasionally – and perhaps not coincidentally in presidential elections – there are also outcomes that shape our perceptions about the fairness and efficacy of our elections. In 2000, it was the hanging chad and the role of the Electoral College. In 2012, it was long lines. And in 2016, it was cybersecurity. Once an issue is introduced into the election ecosphere, it often remains a permanent and recurring part of the landscape. For example, a recent Google search of the words “cybersecurity elections” produced over 12 million hits. And at nearly every election-related forum I’ve attended during the past year, cybersecurity was a key topic of discussion. The 2016 election elevated the profile of election security issues and demonstrated a need for state and local election officials not only to reassess their readiness, but to educate the public about this important work and the role it plays in securing elections.Full Article: Challenges to Better Security in U.S. Elections: The Last Mile | US Election Assistance Commission.
If you have ever looked at the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), you might be overcome by the sheer size of the document and the level of detail included. If your state requires federal certification for the voting systems you use, the VVSG 1.0 (2005) or 1.1 (2015) are the specifications used to test the voting systems against. We all learned a lot from the process of creating and refreshing the VVSG over the years. In the meantime, so much has changed. The technology has changed, the market of voting technology has changed, laws have changed — elections have changed. We all learned a lot from the process of creating and refreshing the VVSG over the years. In the meantime, so much has changed. The technology has changed, the market of voting technology has changed, laws have changed — elections have changed. On September 12, 2017, the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC), a committee formed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), adopted a new version of the VVSG, which they’re affectionately calling VVSG 2.0.Full Article: Modernizing voting system guidelines and testing | Center for civic design.
A federal performance audit said New Hampshire failed to get prior approval to use $1 million in federal election grant money as part of a $3.7 million renovation to the state archives building. This was one of four conditions found in the 76-page audit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission published in the past week and posted in the Federal Register. State election officials said they have been trying for more than seven years to get retroactive approval of that archives building spending state lawmakers first approved in 2003. New Hampshire is one of the last states in the country to undergo this audit, which is mandatory under the Help America Vote Act of 2002.Full Article: Federal election audit questions NH spending | New Hampshire.
Federal money set aside to help states upgrade their voting equipment is running out, at a time when many states are seeking to replace aging machines and further fortify against cyberattacks. While federal funding has gradually diminished, the 2016 fiscal year marked a new low. As of September 2016, states had collectively spent more than the approximately $3.2 billion, distributed over several years, that Congress provided under the 2002 Help America Vote Act, according to a report from the independent Election Assistance Commission released Wednesday. Several states now rely mostly on any interest accrued from federal grants or on other sources for election-related efforts, such as replacing equipment that is in some cases a decade old.Full Article: States Need to Modernize the Polling Place, but Funding Is Scarce - WSJ.