Protecting Elections Suddenly is a Hot Summer Topic

    Carl Weinschenk publishes Election Security Daily, the go-to source for news, information and research about election security and offers a free weekly newsletter. 

    Everyone acknowledges that election security is an important issue. It now is a hot button item. The two things are related but not synonymous.

    That’s a great thing that may bear fruit down the line in terms of funding and overall attention to the topic. An example of the rise in the status of election security: President Trump’s choice to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe (R-TX), is being met with skepticism due to his attitude toward the topic.

    On one level, it goes without saying that the opinion of the DNI on this topic is important. It is unlikely, however, that it would be mentioned as prominently as a test of his qualifications if Robert Mueller hadn’t testified to the dangers of foreign election meddling, the Senate report on Russian interference wasn’t released and John Scarborough hadn’t labeled the majority leader in the Senate “Moscow Mitch” McConnell.

    Here are two quotes from The Hill pointing out how directly the Democrats are questioning Ratcliffe’s suitability:

    Gary Peters (D-MI): “I have a lot of concerns and questions about Congressman Ratcliffe’s record, experience and qualifications.”

    Mark Warner (D-VA): “I don’t know the man, but it seems from his testimony before the Mueller hearing, he had very different views than most intelligence professionals.”

    The story also pointed to some cyber security bills Ratcliffe introduced in Congress and his chairing of hearings on the topic. None of those items was directly related to election security, however.

    The Democrats Leave Election Security Alone: Counter to the idea that all roads now lead to election security is the fact that the Democratic candidates didn’t focus on the topic.

    That, according to The Washington Post, was “somewhat shocking considering the debate took place less than a week after former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III warned that Russia and other nations are eager to undermine the security of the 2020 elections. And Senate Democrats are also waging a drag-out fight to pass new laws mandating digital protections over fierce opposition from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).”

    It may not be as big a deal as the story makes it out to be. It may be strategic. The idea is that all the candidates more or less share the opinion that the administration is not to be trusted on election security and that McConnell is not fulfilling his responsibilities in the Senate. Beyond that, there is little to debate. It’s not a philosophical issue, such as healthcare. It’s just a matter of degree. Moreover, the candidates may not want to interrupt the momentum against the Republicans that is building by making it into just another partisan issue.

    Collins feels the pressure: This is an example of the momentum. Maine Senator Susan Collins became the first Republican to say she will sign the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act. It requires presidential campaigns to alert election regulators and the FBI if they are contacted by foreign entities offering contributions, information or services, according to the Bangor Daily News.

    Collins is up for reelection in November. Her approval rating has plummeted since her pivotal vote in favor of Brett Kavanagh’s nomination to the Supreme Court last summer. Collins, who has not announced whether she will seek reelection, may be attempting to resurrect her image as a moderate Republican.

    The Senate Report Drops:  Lawfare offered a long and comprehensive review of the Senate report. The bottom line is about all we know about what we don’t know is that there is a lot of it. Here is a sampling of the post:

    “The committee’s overall conclusion is that the intentions behind Russia’s interference with the U.S. election infrastructure are still unclear. The committee presents several theories: Russia may have had an intent to exploit vulnerabilities during the 2016 elections but later decided, for unknown reasons, that it would not proceed; Russia might have sought to gather information on election infrastructure “in the conduct of traditional espionage activities”; or Russia may be holding a catalog of options for later use. In an overarching sense, the intelligence community assesses that the goal was to undermine the “integrity of elections and American confidence in democracy.” DHS representatives who spoke to the committee expressed widespread concern regarding the possibility of creating chaos on election day.”

    Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Nick Mulvaney called the bills blocked by McConnell unnecessary grandstanding, according to The Hill.

    “This administration has worked with every single state… we’ve met with every single presidential campaign to go over how to prepare against and prevent foreign intervention into the 2020 elections,” Mulvaney added. “The bills from this week were simply showmanship and that’s why they failed.”

    That general view that legislative help is not necessary is not shared by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was quoted in another story in The Hill:

    “I think there’s come common sense things that would get 75 votes if they could get to the floor of the Senate,” Warner said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

    Georgia May Use Interim System this Year: Georgia may use an interim voting system in this year as it transitions from direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines touchscreen ballot-marking devices that will be installed in 2020.

    A two-day hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg looked into whether hundreds of county and municipal elections this year will be conducted on paper ballots because the older machines are too antiquated to guarantee a secure vote, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.

    Rick Scott: I Knew Nothing about 2016 Florida Hacking: Senator Rick Scott says that was not told about hacking in Florida during the 2016 election, according to the Orlando Sentinel:

    Scott said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he was never contacted by the Department of Homeland Security in 2016 about the attacks. The Republican said he learned about most of the details this year.

    Vermont Repels Intrusion, Wants Fed Funding: Vermont’s online voter registration system successfully repelled an intrusion last August. That wasn’t pure luck, according to Secretary of State Jim Condos, who says that security progress is going made.

    However, lack of funds from the federal government is a problem. Condos, according to the AP story, says that there is an ongoing debate over the role of the federal government in protecting state elections. Condos says that more money is needed from Washington. A key quote from Condos in the story:

    “We cannot survive having a lump sum of money once every 10 to 15 years,” Condos said Friday. “We need ongoing sustainable funding in order to maintain this battle against bad actors like the Russians.”

    Other stories of note: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger discusses the state’s new BMD voting machines…Mark Warner tells Wired what he feels the Russians have up their sleeves for 2020…Andrew Grotto discusses election security and other cyber concerns. He directs the program on Geopolitics, Technology and Governance at Stanford University and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, according to CNN…The Free Press in Mankato, MN, is not shy about pointing fingers. The first sentence of an editorial: “Inaction on election security by the GOP-led U.S. Senate would be remarkable if it wasn’t downright frightening.”


    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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