March 3, 2020

Bolstering Election Security


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Republicans in Congress have taken unprecedented steps to secure the 2020 elections and fight foreign election interference.
  • The Democratic Party’s disastrous handling of its 2020 presidential caucus in Iowa has not been replicated in 2020 primaries administered by state governments.
  • Since 2018, the federal government has provided more than $800 million for states to improve the administration of elections.

Republicans in Congress have responded to foreign interference in the 2016 election by strengthening election security. The Trump administration is improving information sharing with state and local governments. In just three years, Congress has given states more than $800 million in Help America Vote Act grants to improve election administration. This is a dramatic increase from $170 million given to states during the eight years of the Obama administration.

Federal HAVA Grants to States

Election Security

The Senate also has passed several bipartisan bills to improve the administration of elections. These bills would increase penalties for foreign nationals who interfere in U.S. elections, improve federal cybersecurity assistance to states and localities, and combat advanced misinformation technologies such as “deepfakes.” Unfortunately, Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives has prevented the House from voting on these measures, opting instead to package election security with their partisan priorities. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party spurned federal assistance in administering the 2020 Iowa caucuses, resulting in a debacle.

Efforts in congress to Secure Elections

Since the high-profile Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Congress and the administration have stepped up a number of measures to make elections more secure. Though there is no evidence actual votes were changed, to counter the ongoing threat, Congress has appropriated $805 million for election security grants under HAVA since 2018. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 specified that HAVA funds can be used to fix election system vulnerabilities identified by the Department of Homeland Security. The 2018 appropriations act made funds available for improving the administration of elections for federal office, including the enhancement of election technology and election security.  Some states used 2018 HAVA funds to implement basic cybersecurity measures like multifactor authentication for state election employees.

The Senate has conducted thorough oversight of election assistance to states and threats to election integrity. There have been dozens of hearings in several committees on topics like cybersecurity, attempted foreign interference in U.S. elections, and election administration. 

Congress has improved cooperation with the state and local governments that actually confront threats to election infrastructure. The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act allowed state election officials to obtain higher security clearances so that DHS and other agencies can share specific threat information with them. It also directed the federal government to develop a strategy to counter the threat of Russian cyberattacks and mandated reports to Congress on election threats.

Senate Election Security Measures Ignored in the House

Election Security

The Senate has gone further, passing a number of bills addressing specific concerns.

  • The State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act of 2019 would expand DHS’ responsibility to help strengthen election cybersecurity.
  • The Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes Act would keep foreign nationals from being admitted to the United States if there are reasonable grounds to believe they have interfered with a U.S. election.
  • The Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act would broaden the federal statute for computer-related crimes to include attacks against computers that are part of the voting system.
  • The Deepfake Report Act of 2019 would require DHS to study and report on content forgery, including deepfake technology that people use to create highly realistic fake videos and photos.

These bills have the broadest bipartisan support imaginable: the Senate passed each by unanimous consent. House Democratic leadership has not taken up any of them, opting instead for massive messaging bills with a number of long-sought and highly partisan Democrat campaign finance and election policies unrelated to election security.

CASE STUDY: IOwa Democrats vs. State-RUN ELECTIONS

The steps to secure elections taken by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have been on display in the 2020 presidential elections. State and local governments, acting with the expert assistance of the federal government, have done an excellent job of administering the 2018 midterm elections, 2019 off-year elections, and so far, the 2020 presidential primary elections.

The Election Security Division of Labor

Election Security

In contrast to the good work of the state and local governments, the Iowa Democratic caucuses show what can happen when experts are cut out of the process and partisanship overwhelms professionalism.

The Iowa Democratic Party ran the party’s presidential caucuses last month. It commissioned a technology company, Shadow Inc., to build an app in less than two months for the purpose of reporting caucus results from around the state. Many caucus chairs had no training on how to use the app, which was difficult to install and not available in either the Apple or Android app stores. For the first time, the chairs also had to report complicated details, such as the total number of supporters for each candidate at each phase of the caucus. When the app didn’t work, caucus chairs tried to submit their results by phone, which jammed the phone lines. The result was uncertainty, lengthy delays, and a general drop in voter trust in the process. DHS had offered to assist in vetting the app, but the Iowa Democratic Party declined.

State and local election officials have far more experience overseeing elections. It is little surprise, therefore, that the state-run primary in New Hampshire had virtually no problems. The voting and the counting of ballots used familiar equipment that had been in place for years. Under HAVA, the federal government granted New Hampshire funds in 2018 and 2020 to help the state administer its elections. The federal government provided a total of $6.6 million over the two cycles, and New Hampshire contributed an additional $850,000.

Issue Tag: Senate