Improving election resources, security among top EAC concerns
© Greg Nash

Last week, I joined state election officials from across the nation as they gathered in Washington, D.C. for their annual meetings. It was the first time they had been together since the 2016 elections and, as expected, the topics of cybersecurity and how they would be affected by the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to designate election systems as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure played key roles in their discussion. Their concerns were real, and I assured them that the support they receive from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission will be just as tangible. 

Today, I became chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), but for years I, too, was a state official in Ohio working to make sure elections were accessible, accurate and secure. Election officials from our nation’s 8,000+ election jurisdictions face mounting pressures as their role demands that they be just as astute at information technology and cybersecurity as they are at training poll workers and meeting tight deadlines prescribed by state and federal laws. They are the front line of defense in protecting the very foundation of our democracy, the vote.

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With that in mind, I am devoting my one-year term as EAC Chairman to providing state and local officials not only with the resources and best practices they need to carry out successful elections, but also with a voice in Washington that conveys their concerns and needs.

The EAC’s mission, as detailed in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), is to help Americans vote. Our relationships with state and local election officials are the best guides to help us effectively fulfill that promise.

Looking ahead, the EAC plans to continue serving as an intermediary between state and local election officials and federal government agencies. During the 2016 election cycle, we were able to connect local election administrators facing growing cybersecurity threats and other challenges with the right resources from federal entities such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Health and Human Services and the U.S. Postal Service. Last week, we heard directly from them that they appreciated that support and they want more of it.

As many of us continue to examine the challenges posed by ongoing cybersecurity threats, alleged voting irregularities, our nation’s aging election system infrastructure and other election-related concerns, the EAC will keep turning to state and local election officials to listen and respond. Based on the conversations I had last week, the following topics have emerged as their primary concerns ahead of the 2018 election cycle:

  • Aging election system infrastructure: Just like the federal government, state lawmakers have many competing priorities with regard to how to invest taxpayer dollars. Investing in election system infrastructure, though important, is often not the first place they turn. The EAC will continue to provide support to empower state and local officials who are purchasing new and innovative election system technology to better serve their voters. The vast majority of those systems will be tested and certified by the EAC, which runs the nation’s most successful and most implemented voting machine testing and certification program. We are also in the midst of writing and adopting the next generation of voting system standards, which we expect to unveil next year. These new standards promote innovation, improve efficiency, and will save state and local election officials valuable funds.
  • Critical infrastructure designation: No matter where state and local officials fall on the spectrum of support for the DHS’s decision to designate election systems as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, they all agree that they need more information about how it will impact their day-to-day operations. The EAC is working to bridge the information gap between DHS and these election officials, but conversation will not be enough. For example, as state election officials told DHS and Congressional staff last week, jurisdictions wishing to make system adjustments in line with recommendations provided by DHS may not have the resources they need to implement these changes. Likewise, they may need support from the EAC and other federal agencies that specialize in training election workers and others who may be impacted by the designation.
  • Accessibility: At the core of the EAC’s mission is to ensure that elections are accessible to all eligible voters. When many think of election accessibility, they think of voters with disabilities or Limited English Proficiency voters. While we must focus resources in making sure those voters have access to independent voting, we must also focus attention on ensuring that our military voters and other Americans overseas can successfully cast their ballots. Working with the Federal Voting Assistance Program and USPS, the EAC is focused on improving the election experience for these Americans so that casting a ballot from a submarine in the Pacific Ocean is just as possible as pushing a button at a local polling place in Montpelier, Ohio.

As EAC chairman, I’m committed to helping Americans vote and giving state and local election officials the support they need to carry out successful elections. We need them, but more importantly, when they need us we hear their concerns and respond with the urgency elections demand.

Commissioner Matthew Masterson is chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) commissioners. The EAC was established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA).It is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with ensuring secure, accurate and accessible elections by developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration. EAC also accredits testing laboratories and certifies voting systems, as well as audits the use of HAVA funds.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.