By Ross Muscato
Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), ranking member of the Rules and Administration Committee, addressed the issue of cybersecurity and assuring the integrity of voting and elections during a June 7 committee hearing on Capitol Hill.
“We have seen an increase in cybersecurity threats over the past several years,” Fischer said to Christy McCormick, commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
Fischer then asked McCormick if there is a “pretty good buy-in” from state and local election officials in using resources that the EAC provides to safeguard voting from corruption and cyber intrusion.
“Yes, obviously, we need to stay on top of all the current threats,” said McCormick. “It’s a never-ending project to stay ahead of the bad guys.”
McCormick went on to say that 49 states are using the EAC’s Cyber Access and Security Program (CAS) that EAS launched in 2020.
The words that McCormick used in her response, that “It’s a never-ending project to stay ahead of the bad guys,” could be considered a short-form and insightful explanation about the enormity and constantly growing number of issues, challenges and threats that federal, state, and local officials, employees, and volunteers face in ensuring that voting is accurate and properly done.
How do you stay on top and ahead of it all? And none of it is getting easier.
At the forefront of meeting the challenges of running fair and accurate elections is the EAC.
The EAC was created through the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which was passed with strong bipartisan support in Congress (357-49 in the House, 92-2 in the Senate) and signed by President George Bush. HAVA mandates that states and municipalities update and improve their voting processes and procedures, including voter registration, operations of voting machines, and increasing access to voting. The EAC provides resources and guidelines to help the states and localities comply with the HAVA regulations.
The purpose of the Rules and Administration Committee hearing, at which all four EAC commissioners testified, was to learn about and gain a better understanding of the work of the EAC.
“As we’re approaching the 2024 elections, EAC’s mission remains important, even more so as officials are now doing the dedicated planning that it takes to administer elections effectively, while also confronting the array of new challenges, to targeting election workers, the spread of disinformation, and the use of artificial intelligence, even, to mislead voters in our elections,” said Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) in his opening statement.
“We’ve got to continue to support the election officials on the front lines and our democracy who need to be able to rely on regular and steady federal funding to do their jobs.”
Welch said funding the EAC is critical to defending U.S. elections from foreign intrusion, ensuring that U.S. election technology is current, and recruiting and training those who work the polls on election day.
Welch mentioned that the EAC plays a vital role in countering the growing incidence of harassment of election workers.
Distrust in Election Process
The committee hearing takes place during a particularly stressful period in the nation, which includes a high level of distrust in the soundness and reliability of its elections.
Politicians from both parties, who have ended up on the losing end of a vote tally—and their backers—have loudly cried foul and said there was a mistake and chicanery had played a role in the result.
Pew Research polling released at the end of October 2022 reported that 70 percent of voters are “somewhat confident about the administration of elections in the U.S.,” which is down from 81 percent in 2018 yet up from 62 percent in 2020.
Pew polling published on the same date showed that Republican voters were considerably less confident about the integrity of the November 2022 elections than were Democrats.
When GOP voters were asked their views on how the elections would be “run and administered,” 11 percent said “very well,” 45 percent said, “somewhat well,” 33 percent replied, “not too well,” and 10 percent said, “not at all well.” The corresponding percentage of Democrat voter response to the question was 35 percent, 53 percent, 10 percent, and two percent.
Seeking Answers on Biden Admin Voting Programs
Senator Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) questioned EAC Vice Chairman Benjamin Hovland about certain Biden administration voting programs.
“The commission believes transparency with respect to its work is important for voter confidence and nonpartisan election administration,” said Senator Hagerty. “Is that correct?”
“Yes, senator,” replied Hovland.
“Thank you,” said Hagerty. “I’m sure you’re familiar with President Biden’s executive order number 14019, that directs federal agencies to submit plans to the White House for using taxpayer resources to expand mail-in ballots and voter mobilization.
“The White House refuses to release these agency plans. For me, this raises significant concerns about the Biden administration’s voter mobilization plans perhaps being used to help President Biden in his next election.
“So, my question for you, you agreed earlier that transparency regarding election administration is important; for that reason, do you support releasing these plans?”
Hovland replied: “We’re an independent agency. And, so, I’m not in a position to tell the White House what to do. But I think that a piece of election administration that is critical, and one of the challenges we’ve seen a lot of is—”
Hagerty cut Hovland off.
“Let me come back to this,” said the senator. “I sent a letter to President Biden, along with every other Republican member of this committee, requesting that they release these plans. A month has passed, and there’s been no response. If there’s nothing to hide, these plans should be released. It’s very disturbing.”