Mueller’s Testimony Highlights Need for Additional Election Security Funding

July 26, 2019 by HJ Mai

Election security has been under the microscope since reports of Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. presidential election first surfaced. 

The findings by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence further indicate that the Russian government directed attacks on U.S. elections infrastructure during that time. 

The reports also showed that neither the federal government nor individual states were adequately prepared to counter such activities. When asked during Wednesday’s congressional hearing if Russia would attempt to attack future U.S. elections, Mueller replied: “They are doing it as we sit here.”

While there has been no evidence that any votes were changed or that any voting machines were manipulated, the reports have shaken the public confidence and the integrity of the U.S. election system, which are a “cornerstone of American democracy,” the Department of Homeland Security said on its website.

DHS, state and local election officials have responded to those reports by working together to make the U.S. election infrastructure more secure, but there’s still more work to be done as the country barrels toward the 2020 elections, Liz Howard, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program and former deputy commissioner for the Virginia Department of Elections, told The Well News.

“The Senate Intelligence report said that state officials need to address the equipment issue, including aging equipment and equipment that doesn’t have a paper trail,” Howard said. “Right now, we have 11 states that continue to use voting equipment that does not have a paper trail. At least two of these states are currently working on transitioning over to new voting equipment before the 2020 election, so that’s an important step forward.”

A recent report by the Brennan Center showed that most states used their portion of the $380 million that Congress allocated toward election security on four things: audits, new voting machines, voter registration and cybersecurity updates.

The report, co-authored by Howard and Christopher Deluzio, showed that the $380 million is not enough to address the myriad of security challenges faced by state and local offices. “Many have substantial election security needs that likely will not be met absent additional federal support,” the report concluded.

Howard described the lack of funding as one of the biggest problems when it comes to fixing election security vulnerabilities. 

“We’ve talked to election officials and many have said they want to transition to new voting equipment or to put these other election security measures in place, but the only thing stopping them is they do not have sufficient funding … and that’s what we really need in order to ensure that we have resilient systems today and that we have resilient systems going into the future, no matter what adversary we’re facing,” she said.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement on Thursday that the progress that has been made over the last three years is a testament to what can be accomplished when people are given the opportunity to be part of a solution.

“I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that this threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said in prepared remarks.  

Despite Mueller’s testimony and the Senate intelligence report showing the need for increased security, Senate Republicans blocked a package of bills aimed at strengthening election security twice within 24 hours. 

Two of the bills would require campaigns to report any attempt of foreign entities to interfere in US elections, and the third is aimed at protecting the personal accounts and devices of senators and some staffers from hackers, according to CNN.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the legislation package, which was passed by the House, “so partisan that it received just one Republican vote in the House.” He added that any election security measure that the Senate takes up must be bipartisan. 

Russia has repeatedly denied all accusations of interfering in U.S. elections.

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