Panelists Press for Heightened Election Security

Written by Sander Kushen, Common Cause intern on February 13, 2018


"Election security is national security. Every state must take steps to strengthen election infrastructure," the president of a Washington-based think tank that has studied attacks on election systems told a forum on Monday.

Neera Tanden, who heads the Center for American Progress (CAP), was among panelists reviewing a new CAP study of election security released in conjunction with the forum. The report concluded that the US is facing an ongoing, Russia-backed assault on its election systems and remains vulnerable for the upcoming 2018 elections.

The CAP report graded the vulnerabilities of election systems in all 50 states. Not a single state received an “A” for election security.

The forum’s keynote speaker, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, said Russian attacks in the 2016 election were meant to target voter information and voting systems. She stressed that this is an indication of the authenticity and severity of the threat to our elections and democracy.

“Hack me once, shame on you. Hack me twice, shame on us,” Klobuchar said.

Former president George W. Bush, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Secretary of state Rex Tillerson are among the officials  who have come forward to corroborate the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) claims of Russian interference.

In its report, CAP cited seven “best practices” to ensure more secure elections. These include minimum cyber-security standards, the use of paper ballots, and updated voting machine certification requirements.

Tanden noted that all those steps could be implemented in every state with only half the funds needed to purchase a single B-2 Spirit bomber.

Klobuchar reviewed her efforts to implement some these solutions in the Senate. Bills such as the Secure Elections Act would allocate more federal money for election security and create best practices for auditing election returns. Similarly, the Honest Ads Act would extend to social media longstanding rules that require radio and TV stations to disclose the buyers of political advertising. This would act as a bulwark against the ongoing “fake news” and propaganda propagated by Russian “bots,” Klobuchar said.

Despite these efforts, no election security laws have emerged from Congress since the revelations of Russian interference.

Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s designation of election infrastructure as “critical infrastructure” in January 2017 has given state elections priority for DHS cyber security resources. State elections officials from Virginia and Colorado cited these resources as sources of improvement in their security practices.

Johnson, who was part of the panel, claims that this is not enough. He stressed the need for action and leadership from the White House to promote election security. The lack of sanctions and public condemnation does nothing to discourage Russian interference, and also emboldens other countries to try to meddle with our democracy, Johnson argued.

Johnson also cited the media’s “attention deficit” to voter security as another critical roadblock to more secure elections. After the announcement in October 2016 of evidence of Russian attempts of election interference, media coverage quickly turned to the Access Hollywood tapes, the Florida hurricane, and the leaked DNC emails. The threat of election interference still “takes a backseat to the story or scandal of the day,” Johnson argued.

With only 266 days remainings until the 2018 midterm elections, our country is in a precarious position. Foreign interference in our elections will not stop until Congress and our president take action.

The full CAP report on election security can be found here.

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Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems

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