Voting machine vendors to testify on election security
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By Maggie Miller – 01/09/20 06:00 AM EST
The CEOs of the three biggest U.S. voting equipment manufacturers will testify before the House Administration Committee on Thursday, marking the first election security hearing of 2020.
The hearing, which is to be focused on the status of election security, will represent the first time that top executives from the three companies have testified together before Congress.
The presidents and CEOs of Dominion Voting Systems, Hart InterCivic and Election Systems and Software (ES&S) are all scheduled to appear.
These three companies are estimated to control more 90 percent of the voting equipment market in the U.S., according to a report put out by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Public Policy Initiative. All three have come under scrutiny from Washington in the wake of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race.
The Senate Intelligence Committee in volume one of its investigation into Russia’s actions expressed concerns for the security of voting machines. It voiced particular concerns with “direct-recording electronic” machines, which do not print out a paper copy of a voter’s vote.
A 2019 report on findings from the annual DEF CON Voting Village, where hackers attempt to break into voting machines, found new vulnerabilities. The report said participants “were able to find new ways” to compromise “every one of the devices in the room in ways that could alter stored vote tallies, change ballots displayed to voters, or alter the internal software that controls the machines.”
Machines tested included those built by ES&S and Dominion Voting Systems, which said they had worked to improve the security of their equipment.
Tom Burt, the president and CEO of ES&S, which has the largest share of the voting equipment market, will underline steps his company has taken to boost election security in his testimony, including asking Congress to pass legislation requiring a paper record for every vote cast.
“If Congress can pass legislation that requires a paper record for every voter and establishes a mandated security testing program for the people making voting machines, the general public’s faith in the process of casting a ballot can be restored,” Burt will say. “That’s not just a good thing, it’s essential to the future of America.”
John Poulous, the CEO of Dominion Voting Systems, will call on Congress to help voting machine vendors address cyber threats.
“This would go a long way towards enabling private sector election providers to better prioritize resource allocations in the same economic terms as other enterprise decisions,” he will say, according to prepared testimony.
The House Administration Committee last year approved along party lines three major election security bills that were subsequently passed by the House.
The Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, which would require states to use voting equipment that includes paper records, is stalled in the Senate amid Republican objections. The bill would also impose strict cybersecurity guidelines for voting equipment.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told The Hill on Wednesday that he felt both the House Administration Committee and potentially the Senate Rules Committee would be the “appropriate place” to address concerns surrounding election equipment.
“We want to make sure that there is a threshold that everybody hits and that when the federal government is looking into intrusions into systems, we don’t have to worry about the systems, so having that threshold in that is important,” Burr said.
Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, is urging the committee to focus on changes that will win bipartisan support.
“Instead of getting into a winded debate today between paper vs. electronic or state vs. federal, let’s instead focus our efforts on areas within our federal reach that need improvement, areas where we may come to a bipartisan agreement as we’ve seen in the past,” Davis will say, according to his prepared remarks.
Davis, who has introduced election security legislation, will also highlight the $425 million given to states for election security as part of the 2020 appropriations package.
“We should secure and protect our nation’s elections without partisan politics, and I hope we can remember that not only during this hearing but for the duration of this Congress,” Davis will say.
Other witnesses include Donald Palmer, a commissioner on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which is in charge of distributing the funds appropriated to states by Congress.
According to the EAC, the $380 million for election security approved by Congress in 2018 is mostly being used by states to replace outdated voting machines and to upgrade cybersecurity services. Palmer will testify that these funds were “critically important to helping officials secure election infrastructure.”
“As a former naval intelligence officer, I understand the critical importance of establishing clear lines of communication and confidence in responding to cyber threats,” Palmer will say. “The EAC is uniquely positioned to serve as a trusted partner assisting in this role.”
Despite security enhancements made by companies and state and local officials over the past several years, much of the nation’s infrastructure “remains vulnerable,” according to Matt Blaze, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center who is also slated to testify.
The threats “range from traditional election tampering in local races to large-scale disruption by national adversaries,” Blaze will say, according to his prepared testimony.
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“We should take no comfort if such attacks have not yet been widely detected. At best, it is only because, for whatever reason, serious attempts have not yet been made. Given the potential rewards to our adversaries, it is only a matter of time before they will,” his testimony states.
Liz Howard, the former deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections who is also set to testify, told The Hill this week that there should be more federal oversight of election machine vendors.
“Election vendors, including voting system vendors, have received little federal or congressional oversight,” said Howard, the counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.