National: House Democrats Renew Calls for Bill Giving Election Assistance Commission More Funding and Responsibility | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive

Following news from intelligence officials on Wednesday evening of foreign election interference attempts, several House lawmakers are renewing their calls for the Senate to take up their massive reform bill that would bolster the funding and responsibilities of the nation’s elections clearinghouse. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray gave an unexpected press briefing on Wednesday—13 days out from the election—in which they said that Iran and Russia obtained voter registration information in attempts to meddle in U.S. elections. They said that voting remains secure, but House lawmakers renewed the call for the Senate to take up their “2019 For the People Act,” which the chamber passed in March 2019 and has specific provisions to beef up the Election Assistance Commission. Elections in the United States are run by states and localities, but the EAC—along with the FBI, Justice Department and Homeland Security Department—support them and have increasingly done so after the Russian election interference attempts in the 2016 cycle.

National: How Voter-Fraud Hysteria and Partisan Bickering Ate American Election Oversight | Jessica Huseman/ProPublica

On March 20, state election administrators got on a conference call with the Election Assistance Commission to plead for help. The EAC is the bipartisan federal agency established for the precise purpose of maintaining election integrity through emergencies, and this was by every account an emergency. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus had grown from an abstract concern to a global horror, and vote by mail was the only way ballots could safely be cast in the states that had not yet held their primaries. But many officials didn’t know the basics: what machines they would need and where to get them; what to tell voters; how to make sure ballots reached voters and were returned to county offices promptly and securely. “I have a primary coming up, and I have no idea what to do,” Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said on the call. She and her colleagues didn’t get the help they were looking for. Of the EAC’s four commissioners, only chair Ben Hovland spoke, and his responses were too vague to satisfy his listeners. The lack of direction was “striking,” said one participant, Jennifer Morrell, an elections consultant and a contractor for The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). “It felt to me that there was no leadership. Nobody was saying, ‘Hey, let’s figure this out.’ Questions just went unanswered.” The commission punted. On a follow-up call, Hovland volunteered the state of Washington, which votes almost entirely by mail, to respond to questions and provide materials. But Washington built its vote by mail system over more than a decade and had accumulated thousands of pages of detailed instructions, too much for other states to implement quickly. Hovland agreed in vague terms to pitch in, but others involved saw little evidence. “We started working with the EAC, and then it just started to get kind of cold,” said Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state. “Nothing happened, nothing good or bad. Just nothing.”

National: Two positions filled at federal election agency | Bill Theobald/The Fulcrum

After staying vacant almost a year, the top two jobs have been filled at the Election Assistance Commission, the principal federal agency overseeing how states conduct voting. The commissioners formally made the hires on Wednesday. The moves could help stabilize the EAC after years of turnover, controversy and inconsistent funding. The appointments come just five months before the presidential election, and in the middle of a primary season when the coronavirus pandemic has created delays and chaos across the country, most recently this week in Georgia. The EAC is a small agency that plays a large role in the execution of the democratic process. It is charged with coordinating the government’s limited supervision of how states and thousands of localities conduct elections. It certifies the reliability of the voting machines and has been at the center of efforts to protect election systems from being hacked by foreign adversaries.

National: Election Assistance Commission Regains Permanent Leaders In Top Positions | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive

With election season well underway, the federal agency responsible for election administration finally has filled its two most senior positions. The Election Assistance Commission announced on Wednesday that the commissioners approved by unanimous consent Mona Harrington as executive director (who was previously serving in an acting capacity) and Kevin Rayburn as general counsel (formerly a top election official in Georgia). The posts had been without permanent leadership since early September, when the commissioners voted not to reappoint then Executive Director Brian Newby and General Counsel Cliff Tatum. “This unanimous vote of the commission shows the confidence we have in these great candidates to lead the EAC into its next chapter,” said Chairman Ben Hovland. “Ensuring elections are secure, accessible, accurate and safe is critical for every election, and 2020 has presented unique challenges. With Ms. Harrington and Mr. Rayburn leading our staff, the EAC is better positioned to add value to the elections community and help election officials in the lead up to November and for years to come.”

National: Election Assistance Commission hires cybersecurity expert to help states with 2020 infrastructure | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

The federal agency that oversees funding for states to secure their election equipment is hiring a cybersecurity expert versed in voting technology as it prepares for the 2020 election. Joshua Franklin will start in the coming weeks in a top cybersecurity position at the Election Assistance Commission, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. It is an effort by the EAC, a tiny agency with a big responsibility, to bolster the cybersecurity expertise it has on staff. Franklin, who spent six years as an engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is expected to protect EAC networks from hacking threats and support the commission’s cybersecurity work with state and local election officials. Franklin has been working as an election security advocate for years, drawing attention to the issue at hacking conferences. In 2018, Franklin presented research at DEF CON comparing the vulnerabilities in the websites of House and Senate candidates for the midterm elections. Franklin and others scanned the websites in their spare time and spent hours trying to contact administrators to fix them.

National: Election Assistance Commission, Hungry for Funds, Now Pays for Officials to Get to Office | Jessica Huseman/ProPublica

For years, it was how things worked at the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency charged with helping America’s thousands of local officials run elections: If you served as one of the agency’s four commissioners, making more than $150,000 a year, you lived in and around Silver Spring, Maryland, where the agency’s office is located. The reasons were straightforward: The agency’s small staff needed daily guidance from its leadership, and its modest budget was not meant to pay for commissioners to travel from out of state. But this year, the EAC’s executive director, Brian Newby, allowed two of the four commissioners — including the agency’s chairwoman — to work outside the Washington, D.C., area and agreed to pick up the costs of their travel to and from the office. Christie McCormick and Donald Palmer, the two Republican commissioners, work most days from out of state — McCormick, the agency chairwoman, in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Palmer in a suburb of Jacksonville, Florida. Newby appears to have approved the changes on his own. Current and former employees of the agency say no formal announcement was made, and the agency’s full slate of commissioners, which includes two Democrats, does not appear to have taken a vote on the change in practice. The disclosures, contained in answers to questions the EAC provided to a congressional oversight committee, come as the agency has repeatedly claimed it is underfinanced and critics say it is not doing enough to assist election administrators around the country at a time of genuine threats to the integrity of the nation’s elections. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the Democratic chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the EAC, said in a letter to the commission that news of the working arrangements for McCormick and Palmer “raises concerns about how much taxpayer money is being used to accommodate travel between duty stations and agency headquarters when the agency is avowedly struggling with its current funding levels.”

National: Lack of security clearances hampers federal Election Assistance Commission | Politico

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.”

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.

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.

National: Senate panel advances nominees for Election Assistance Commission | The Hill

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.

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.

National: EAC nominees testify before Senate panel on plans for election agency | The Hill

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.

National: EAC finally nearing ability to take major action | Politico

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.

National: Senate Rules Committee to consider EAC nominations | FCW

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.”

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.

National: Election Assistance Commission Carries On Despite GOP Resistance | GovExec

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.

National: New EAC chairman will continue to focus on election security | Cyberscoop

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.

National: US mobilises to counter Russian interference in midterm elections | Financial Times

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.

National: Ryan move to replace election agency leader stirs outcry | Politico

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.”

National: World grapples with critical computer flaws | The Hill

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.

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.

National: New EAC tool offers unprecedented access to U.S. election data | GCN

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.

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.

Voting Blogs: Modernizing voting system guidelines and testing | Center for Civic Design

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.

New Hampshire: Federal election audit questions HAVA spending | Union Leader

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.

National: States Need to Modernize the Polling Place, but Funding Is Scarce | Wall Street Journal

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.

National: Election officials: ‘We are going to need more assistance’ | FCW

The Department of Homeland Security continues to work with state and local governments to protect election systems as critical infrastructure. At an Aug. 16 public meeting of the federal Election Assistance Commission, however, officials made clear that risks still remain. EAC Vice-Chairman Thomas Hicks pointed to a recent planning exercise in Albany, N.Y., as an example. That exercise, conducted in July, resulted in some surprising results that remain classified. “I found the meeting very informative, enlightening and frightening,” Hicks said. “I would encourage every state to hold a similar meeting with election officials, emergency management folks and IT officials.”

National: Amid DHS leadership shuffle, voting systems remain vulnerable | FCW

Even with the widespread attention and federal protections provided to election systems, state and federal officials alike have concerns that U.S. election systems remain vulnerable to digital meddling. In the final days of the Obama administration, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson formally designated state election assets as U.S. critical infrastructure in response to digital floods of misinformation, as well as Russian cyber espionage on an election software vendor and spear-phishing attempts against local election officials during the lead-up to the November 2016 presidential election. The move allowed state governments to ask DHS for help on a voluntary basis in securing their election infrastructure, but was met with resistance from many state officials and some members of Congress. Amid this resistance — and the current shuffle in DHS leadership — Johnson expressed fear on CBS’s Face the Nation Aug. 6 that voting systems remain vulnerable to digital meddling. “I’m concerned that we are almost as vulnerable, perhaps, now as we were six, nine months ago,” he said.

Editorials: Republicans Want To Defund The Commission That Fights Voting Machine Hacking | Steny Hoyer/HuffPost

This past weekend, hackers gathered in Las Vegas with a simple mission: break into America’s electronic voting machines and take control. Within minutes, some had already succeeded – but that’s a good thing. These hackers were part of a workshop held to identify vulnerabilities so they can be fixed well before any Americans cast actual votes next election. This exercise underscores the very real danger posed by outdated and insecure voting-machine software – as well as the important mission our government must continue undertaking to close these vulnerabilities and safeguard our elections. However, in their FY2018 funding proposal, Republicans are going after the small but highly successful agency that protects the integrity of our voting systems: the Election Assistance Commission. In June, House Republicans included a provision in their Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that would abolish the Election Assistance Commission.

Editorials: Election hacking requires better vigilance | Matthew V. Masterson/Washington Times

This week, hackers from across the globe are gathering in Las Vegas at the annual DEF CON conference for an exercise ripped straight from news headlines — trying to hack U.S. election systems. It’s a unique exercise that has raised a lot of eyebrows in the election community. For me, it’s yet another moment to focus on the topic of election system security and the need for constant vigilance. For all of the hype surrounding the DEF CON exercise and beyond the 2016 election system hacking attempts shaping news headlines these days, attempts to hack into government-controlled systems isn’t exactly a new concept or exercise. There were 10 federal agency cyber breaches in 2014, including targets such as the White House, State Department, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In fiscal 2016, OPM found federal agencies faced 31,000 “cyber incidents” that led to “compromise of information or system functionality.”