Election security: the letter of the law

Governments are not just looking to technology, process changes and greater voter education to improve security. The law is playing a role as well.

New legislation aimed at providing better security for elections is cropping up in states and counties, and on a federal level. Here is a selection of legislative bills that are related to elections.

  • The 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law No. 115-141), approved in March, is aimed at providing assistance to state governments by “allocating $380 million to the Elections Assistance Commission to make payments to states for activities to improve the administration of elections for Federal office, including the enhancement of election technology and making election security improvements,” according to Matt Shabat, U.S. strategy manager for Glasswall Solutions and a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cybersecurity official. The Elections Assistance Commission reported in July 2018 that within four months of the law’s enactment, eligible states and territories had requested 100 percent of the appropriated funds, Shabat adds.
  • The Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2018, introduced in June by Sen. Wyden, D-Ore., has yet to be enacted, but it would require paper ballots and audits designed to limit risk of cyberattack in federal elections. It has been read twice and referred to committee, according to Giovanni Vigna, co-founder and chief technology officer at Lastline.

  • The Secure Elections Act, introduced in December 2017 by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., in many ways resembles the above Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2018 bill. It would eliminate paperless voting machines, replacing them with paper ballots. It also encourages states to perform post-election audits. In June 2018, the bill, which was panned by a White House that said DHS has the needed statuatory authority to assist states, was submitted to the Congressional Committee on Rules and Administration, and hearings were held. But the legislation has not progressed since then.
  • The Secure America’s Future Elections Act or the “SAFE Act,” was introduced before most of these other bills, in March 2017 by Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis. The SAFE Act’s objective is to improve the security of the information technology used to administer voter registration procedures and elections for federal offices, and to promote the accuracy and integrity of the results of such elections, by designating voting systems as “critical infrastructure.” DHS would establish standards to ensure security of voting systems, and would require notification of any breach of a voting system by the manufacturer of that system. It has been repeatedly referred to committee; and no action has been taken since April 2017.

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