Experts urge lawmakers to put resources into election security

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 (UPI) — Democratic lawmakers are urging action to ensure heightened defenses against election interference, although it seems unlikely that any House-passed legislation will land on the president’s desk in time for the 2020 election.

Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation Subcommittee Chairman Cedric Richmond said Tuesday that the White House needs to “show some needed leadership on election security.”

“Failing to do so will further erode public confidence in our election process and advance Vladimir Putin’s goal of undermining the U.S.-led liberal democratic order,” Richmond said during a Committee on Homeland Security hearing.

There have been multiple attempts by the House this year to pass legislation to stymie election interference. Last month, the chamber passed a bill that would require campaigns to report offers of assistance from foreign governments. In a statement, the White House called it “redundant, overly broad, ambiguous and unenforceable.”

Experts on Tuesday, however, emphasized the need for increased election security nationwide, specifically to combat targeted cyberattacks.

“It is a pretty indisputable fact that every component of our voting machines are capable of being compromised,” Matt Blaze, a Georgetown University professor who researches cybersecurity and encryption, told the committee. “There’s nothing you can do to completely eliminate the threat, but there are things you can do to mitigate the risk.”

Blaze suggested a two-pronged solution to make voting hardware safer. He said there needs to be a paper trail in federal elections, preferably by using a system in which paper ballots are fed into a voting machine. Second, he said those ballots need to undergo reliable risk-limiting audits, which is a post-election process in which officials manually check that the voting machine recorded the paper ballot response correctly.

The House also passed a measure in June that would authorize $600 million for states to bolster election security and require voting systems to use paper ballots. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states do not require voting machines to have paper trails.

Blaze, however, said that it is an “aggressive goal” for those states to implement before 2020.

Retired Gen. Frank Taylor, who had been a Homeland Security intelligence official, said campaigns need to start viewing themselves as a capable line of defense against foreign cyberattacks rather than relying on government efforts. However, he said, such security measures can be prohibitively expensive and specialized.

U.S. CyberDome, on whose board Taylor serves, provides free cybersecurity services to political parties, candidates and elected officials. In addition, Microsoft has started offering its security software at a 75 percent discount for campaigns.

“Campaigns are underprepared,” Taylor said. “Their focus is on getting their candidate elected. The investment required to protect against the more sophisticated campaigns against our campaign infrastructure is much more than they can afford.”

Richard Stengel, a former State Department official and author of Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It, said the government has not allocated enough resources to ensure fair elections free from foreign interference.

“We don’t spend nearly enough on election security,” Stengel said. “I do think it’s extraordinary when you think of the marketing budget of a company like Proctor and Gamble is probably $25 billion and we spend less than $1 billion on our own election. It shows what we value and what we don’t value.”

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