Kentucky state official says foreign adversaries 'routinely' scan election systems

Kentucky state official says foreign adversaries 'routinely' scan election systems
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A senior election official in Kentucky said Tuesday that the state’s election systems are “routinely” scanned by foreign adversaries, and begged for the continued allocation of funds to help combat cyber threats.

"We are routinely scanned by Venezuela, by North Korea, by Russia on a regular basis," Kentucky Board of Elections Executive Director Jared Dearing testified during a Kentucky House budget subcommittee hearing, according to the Courier Journal.

"This is not something that is in the past, that happened in 2016," Dearing added. "It happens on a weekly basis."

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Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Ben Self said in a statement following Dearing’s remarks that it was “extremely alarming” to hear about potential Russian interference in Kentucky elections.

“With this new information, it’s clear we need stronger laws cracking down on foreign election interference,” Self added. 

Dearing heads the staff that runs the state’s Board of Elections, which is helmed by Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams (R). 

Dearing appeared before the House Budget Subcommittee on General Government to discuss funding for the upcoming two fiscal years. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) recommended that the Board of Elections be given around $6.2 million for fiscal 2021, which will include the 2020 elections, but decreased the amount to around $3.4 million for 2022. 

Dearing argued that while the funding level recommended by Beshear was sufficient in the short term, he hoped the state would increase it in the future, particularly in light of federal funding for election security likely not being renewed in the next few years. 

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He asked specifically for funding to support a full-time administrative specialist and two IT developers, with both assisting counties to boost cybersecurity. Dearing noted that the foreign adversaries are often targeting at the “county level.”

“We’re asking county clerks with very, very limited resources, with not enough IT staff, to fully maintain their own systems," Dearing said, according to the Courier. "We’re asking them to participate in national security.”

Congress appropriated $425 million to states to assist in election security efforts as part of the most recent budget, which also included a requirement for states to match this amount by 20 percent. These funds were in addition to $380 million previously appropriated by Congress for election security in 2018, of which Kentucky received around $5.7 million.

States have begun the process of submitting requests for new funds, which will be allocated based on population size. Adams submitted a formal request to the Election Assistance Commission, which is in charge of distributing the funds, earlier this month, requesting around $6.4 million for “updating aging voting equipment.”

While the inclusion of election security funds in the 2020 federal appropriations package had bipartisan support and backing from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Louisiana Republican: People upset at 'spending porn on pet projects' in latest stimulus bill Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE (R-Ky.), the issue of election security legislation has been one largely divided along party lines.

The House passed three major election security and voting reform bills in 2019 through mostly party-line votes, and all of them have stalled in the Senate due to Republican objections that the legislation would serve to federalize elections. 

Democrats have repeatedly tried to force votes on those bills and others introduced in the Senate, but have been blocked by Republicans.

Self on Tuesday called out McConnell for blocking these election security bills, saying that failure to pass these bills was “unacceptable.”

“It is unacceptable that Mitch continues to stand in the way of important bipartisan legislation intended to crack down on foreign interference in our elections,” Self said, according to the Louisville, Ky., Courier Journal. “Perhaps Mitch is just trying to keep all his options open for his reelection this year, but Kentucky deserves better.”

U.S. intelligence agencies, the Senate Intelligence Committee and former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE all conclude that Russia conducted a sweeping interference effort in the 2016 elections designed to favor the campaign of now-President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE.

These efforts included spreading disinformation on social media and probing state election systems, with Russian actors successfully able to access the voter registration database in Illinois and systems in two Florida counties. There is no evidence any votes were changed by hackers in 2016.