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After GOP is criticized over election security, key official goes to Homeland Security

After GOP is criticized over election security, key official goes to Homeland Security
© Greg Nash

The official recently replaced atop the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is joining the Department of Homeland Security to protect elections from cyber threats, The Hill has learned.

Matthew Masterson was replaced as chairman of the EAC in February as a result of a decision made by Republican leadership. The move opened up House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Wis.) to criticism.

Masterson has now signed on to work as a senior cybersecurity adviser at Homeland Security’s main cyber wing and to assist the department’s election security mission. A Homeland Security official confirmed that Masterson will work at the National Protection and Programs Directorate, which spearheads efforts to protect critical infrastructure from cyber and physical threats.

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Masterson was widely viewed as a leader on cyber matters during his time chairing the EAC, an independent, bipartisan panel that, among its responsibilities, is working with Homeland Security to help states secure their digital voting systems from hackers.

Ryan decided against renewing Masterson’s term in February, a move that sparked a wave of Democratic criticism. The decision opened Republican leaders up to charges that they were not prioritizing election security.

Masterson was selected by then-House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats On The Trail: How Trump lost the law and order debate MORE (R-Ohio) and nominated by President Obama to serve on the EAC in 2014. Masterson’s four-year term expired in December, but he remained in the post while Ryan made a decision about a successor.

“The appointment expired in December and we are going in a different direction for our nomination. We nominate people for a variety of positions and generally speaking choose our own folks,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told Reuters last month.

Masterson worked in the Ohio secretary of state’s office before his appointment to the EAC, where he served as the secretary’s chief information officer. He led the state’s push to develop an online voter registration database and online ballot delivery for voters overseas.

Congress established the EAC in order to help states meet requirements under the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The EAC has four commissioners, no more than two of whom can be members of the same party. The chairmanship switches between Republican and Democrat annually.

Commissioner Thomas Hicks, a Democrat, was named the new chair in late February.

Officials from the EAC and Homeland Security have been engaging with state officials to ensure voter registration databases and other systems are secure following Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Homeland Security is offering a range of services to state election officials, including remote cyber hygiene scans as well as more rigorous risk and vulnerability assessments of digital infrastructure.

The department designated election infrastructure as critical infrastructure in the final days of the Obama administration, opening state voter systems up to voluntary federal protections. The designation, which was initially met with resistance among state officials, has been kept in place by the Trump administration.

Masterson is widely respected among state officials, who are likely to welcome his new role.