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While McConnell Concedes to Pressure on Election Security Funding, U.S. Election Assistance Commission Misses

Statement of Aquene Freechild, Co-Director, Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign

NOTE: This preamble (note) to this press release was updated on Oct. 22, 2019, to provide correct information about the Election Assistance Commission’s actions.

Note: On Thursday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) – who has been blocking a vote on legislation that would provide states with more election security funding – announced that he was co-sponsoring legislation that would provide $250 million for election security to be distributed to 50 states and thousands of counties. Also on Thursday, a U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) committee discussed moving forward proposed voting machine guidelines that would continue allowing wireless in voting machines, despite overwhelming bipartisan calls for a ban. Public Citizen has long been an opponent of wireless in voting machines because they are vulnerable to hacking.

After 40-plus actions calling for funding, led by Public Citizen and dozens of groups, and calls from conservatives at Americans for Tax Reform and FreedomWorks, McConnell finally has deemed election security worthy of more funding.

But it’s not enough. If the $250 million were to be allocated by the states to counties equally, using Texas as a hypothetical, it would amount only to $70,000 per county. This is inadequate. It is barely enough to buy 13 paper ballot scanners at the relatively low rate of $5,500 per machine and not enough to hire an IT security. (Pricing data is from a 2018 Public Citizen report, and is based upon lower-priced ballot scanners on the market).

It makes no sense to give states and counties so little to stop cyberattacks compared to the funding given to our military, police and first responders to protect us physically.

Although we are encouraged that the Senate majority leader finally heard the nearly universal cry for action, we will press on to make sure the funding allocation will be large enough and targeted enough to make an impact. The House bill targets funding first to localities without paper ballots to help close this major vulnerability. The Senate bill does not.

But McConnell isn’t the only one who dropped the ball.

It makes no sense for the EAC to allow voting machines to connect to the internet, especially considering hacking attempts from foreign powers in the 2016 election. It appears that something is deeply broken at the EAC when it ignores 55,000 commenters who called for a ban on wireless connectivity in voting systems, echoing election security experts. We will continue to pressure the EAC to listen to the public and election security experts in determining what is considered a secure system in federal certification standards.

The EAC’s decision to drop its controversial Executive Director Brian Newby is a step in the right direction, however. We hope that the change in leadership on the commission staff will result in better election system standards and assistance to the states. The EAC is too important to be poorly run at the staff level.