House Administration Committee to make election security a 'primary focus'

House Administration Committee to make election security a 'primary focus'
© Greg Nash

The secretaries of state of Michigan and Alabama went before the House Administration Committee Wednesday to advocate for more federal resources to secure election systems against cyber attacks and committee leaders vowed to make the issue a "primary focus."

“Federal action is needed now to grasp the scope of the problem and to innovate concrete solutions that can be implemented before the next federal election cycle in 2020,” House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenPelosi: Trump 'is engaged in a cover-up' Hillicon Valley: Instagram cracks down on anti-vaccine tags | Facebook co-founder on fallout from call to break up company | House Dems reintroduce election security bill | Lawmakers offer bill requiring cyber, IT training for House House Dems reintroduce bill to protect elections from cyberattacks MORE (D-Calif.) said at the hearing on election security. “This goal will be a primary focus of this committee moving forward. No matter your side of the aisle, the oath of upholding democracy as citizens and elected leaders is fundamental.”

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Lofgren noted that House Administration Committee Ranking Member Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Go-Go's rock the stage at annual 'We Write the Songs' DC concert House Administration Committee to make election security a 'primary focus' GOP voices skepticism about viability of T infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ill.) had an “avowed commitment” to securing elections. Davis said that he took “the responsibility of ensuring fair and secure elections extremely seriously,” and that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was “troubling.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson emphasized the need for Congress to provide support to state and local governments in strengthening election security.

“Although we all aspire to bipartisanship when it comes to strengthening our democratic institutions, election security is an area where we cannot afford to be divided,” Benson said. “Without a functioning voting system, which the American people trust to deliver accurate results, we cannot maintain a representative democracy.”

Benson advocated for Congress to set national standards on election security, to support the Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) effort to secure voting systems, and for Congress to “go further” in providing protections to state and local governments against cyber threats. 

“I feel very strongly that there is a leadership role for the federal government to play, it is in partnership and in collaboration with the state and local governments, but the federal government cannot and should not abdicate its role as it has historically to set the standards and expectations that all states must meet,” Benson said.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, another witness at the hearing, cautioned that while federal resources are needed, any “unfunded mandate” from Congress would “not be good for any state.” 

Merrill also floated the idea of the EAC becoming a “central repository to evaluate the effectiveness” of voting equipment, something that Merrill compared to a “consumer report.”

“What we could really benefit from in Alabama, in Michigan, in all other states in the Union is to have a centralized effort to evaluate the effectiveness of election equipment, whether it be for voter registration purposes, whether it be for voter administration purposes, electronic pollbooks,” Merrill said.

In 2018, Congress designated $380 million to enhance technology and make improvements in securing elections in U.S. states and territories, which was distributed by the EAC. Witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing urged Congress to designate even more funds for election security. Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said that without more money, U.S. elections will continue to be “threadbare.”

There was acknowledgement, however, that the funds needed to fully secure election infrastructure against cyber threats was high. Another witness, Verified Voting President Marian Schneider, estimated that replacing the election systems in Pennsylvania alone would cost around $100 million.

Members of the committee still seemed committed to securing elections despite this potential roadblock.

“It seems as if the cyber age has made political democracy more vulnerable and our elections more susceptible to attack and manipulation,” Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-Md.) commented.

Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access House Administration Committee to make election security a 'primary focus' Dems rally behind Omar as Trump escalates attacks MORE (D-Ohio), the chairwoman of the House Administration’s newly reconstituted Subcommittee on Elections, noted that she was “more concerned now than when you came in about how easily our systems are compromised, and the fact that states don’t have the resources to ensure that each of their citizens votes are going to count.”