election cyber
election cyber

With the 2018 elections fast approaching and amid renewed calls for greater protection around elections, Senate Republicans Wednesday voted down a Democratic amendment that would have provided $250 million in grants to help states bolster election security.

The 50-49 in favor vote (short of the 60 necessary to overcome a filibuster), along party lines with only Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., crossing the aisle, comes on the heels of a similar move by House Republicans last month that nixed $350 million in additional funding to secure the nation's elections.

"The integrity of our elections, which are the foundation of our democracy, should not be a partisan issue," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that the Senate has followed the same path as House Republicans in blocking the funding our states need to help upgrade their infrastructure and secure our elections." 

Leahy introduced the amendment to a minibus appropriations bill before the Senate. But one of the amendment's sponsors, Sen. Jim Lankford, R-Okla., voted against the measure, saying he wanted information on how states are using $380 million in election security funds approved by Congress earlier in the year.

“Those upgrades have not occurred, been verified, nor have new state election cyber standards been implemented,” Lankford said in a statement. “We must consider requests for additional funding after those things have happened, not before.”

“The $380 million allotted earlier this year was a good start,” David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR), told SC Media after the House vote, stressing that election security should not be treated as a partisan issue.

Becker said election officials are motivated to defend systems and processes, but doing so “requires resources and funding” that are consistent and ongoing. “You can't just drop a bunch of dollars one time,” he said, noting that Russian President Vladmir Putin “is continues the regular funding of those attacking our democracy” and the U.S. must meet that posture with a “commiserate response.”

Indeed, Microsoft last week recounted its efforts to help the U.S. government fend off attempts by Russia to hack into the campaigns of three congressional candidates earlier this year.

Keying on candidates “who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint as well as an election disruption standpoint,” Microsoft Vice President for Customer Security Tom Burt said the hackers volleyed phishing attacks at campaign staffers, hoping to lure them to a fake Microsoft domain and nick their credentials.

And on social media, the 2018 midterm elections are bearing an unfortunate resemblance to the 2016 presidential race – with Facebook earlier this week banning 32 pages and accounts that it found to be engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

“We're still in the very early stages of our investigation and don't have all the facts — including who may be behind this,” Facebook said of the 32 banned accounts and pages.

But the company's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said the activity “is consistent with what [was seen] from the IRA before and after the 2016 elections” and Facebook has “found evidence of some connections between these accounts and IRA accounts” disabled last year.