ROCKVILLE — As the 2018 primary election approaches, foreign election interference could be at play, Congressman Jamie Raskin warned.
“It’s been nearly two years since Russia’s sweeping and unprecedented assault on the country’s elections in 2016,” Raskin said to an audience of about 70 people at Richard Montgomery High School on Tuesday evening. “Although there’s no evidence that vote counts were altered … actors were able to gain access to and could have deleted voter registration records or altered poll books.”
Raskin (MD-8), who was joined by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-5), Election Assistance Commission Chairman Tom Hicks, Center for American Progress Voting Rights Manager Danielle Root, and Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program Liz Howard, warned that, much as in 2016, the 2018 midterm elections could be targeted by foreign adversaries such as Russia.
Hoyer explained that the issues have previously plagued elections in the United States, including in 2000, when butterfly ballots resulted in the “hanging chads,” causing confusion about votes cast in Florida. He added that election machine manufacturers need to be held to “high standard of security.”
“I think we’re moving in a very positive direction resulting from a negative event,” Hoyer added.
Hicks, whose agency is designed to assist states in administering elections, explained that the EAC is helping states to recruit election judges, conduct audits, and ensure state-level election officials are better prepared to handle potential election interference.
He also added that voters can contribute by serving as poll workers, getting trained as election judges, visiting their local election offices, and participating in tests designed to examine the logic and accuracy of election systems.
Although little evidence suggests that hackers altered votes, Root insisted that the intelligence officials have been able to conclude that hackers “attempted to breach the election infrastructure of at least 20 states, including Maryland.”
Root explained that many states suffer from election infrastructure vulnerabilities. To examined these vulnerabilities, the Center for American Progress, which was founded by former 2016 Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in 2003, evaluated states on minimal cybersecurity standards for voter registration, use of paper ballots, post-election audit procedures, ballot accounting, the return of ballots by mail, voting-machine certification, and testing voting machines prior to elections.
Although there has been progress in many states, Howard noted that some states continue to use voting equipment more than a decade old, including touchscreen voting machines that have no paper trail, thus making them “very difficult to audit.” He added that paper ballots are a “very low-tech solution.”
Raskin reassured voters that election security is a priority for policymakers.
“I want people to know the Election Assistance Commission is channeling money that we made available for the states … to fortify cybersecurity and to improve election technology,” he said. “People should have a basic confidence about it … remain vigilant … and be touch with local and state election authorities if they see any problems.”
Raskin and Hoyer are also co-sponsors of the Election Security Act (H.R. 5011), which authorizes numerous election security provisions, including $1 billion to secure election infrastructure through the Election Assistance Commission. The Act would provide sustainment funding to help states maintain election infrastructure, and requires the Director of National Intelligence to conduct regular threat assessments.