Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have co-sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act providing for federal funding for state election security measures. While the security community has embraced this amendment, and we thank Sen. Graham for taking the problem of election security seriously in a way that attempts to respect state power, we have some concerns about this measure:
- It is a serious amendment of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that should be approached carefully, and the process should include hearing where various stakeholders testify.
- It places enormous new responsibilities on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an agency which has struggled to fulfill its existing mandate and operate its existing advisory boards, which faces a budget crisis, and which may not have the authority to accomplish what the amendment requires.
- The EAC already accomplishes many of the functions in this amendment, but the amendment adds more bureaucracy and spends more money to do it. It is an enormous aggregation of federal power.
- It formalizes the role of the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Branch to set standards, which the states are required to meet to receive federal funding. Currently, the EAC is the only federal standard-setting standard entity for elections, and it is an independent agency.
- An existing voluntary program to certify voter registration systems appeared to be working well, aside from DHS withholding important security information from the states last fall. States are agreeing to this new measure because they are already doing these things on a voluntary basis and need the funding, but a voluntary program and a mandatory (at least, from the perspective of funding) program are vastly different in terms of who is controlling the election security standards and systems.
- It excludes states that use direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. While there have been some serious problems with DRE machines (and Virginia decertified all DREs in the state last week), DREs are the only machines many localities have and they make voting easier for voters with disabilities.
- It would allow states to implement mandatory voter registration and other progressive reforms with federal funds.
This amendment needs some serious study and input from election administration experts--not just computer, national security, and cybersecurity experts--before it moves forward in the Senate.
Among other burdens placed on the EAC, the amendment requires it and a commission to conduct an investigation of the foreign interference in the 2016 election and the potential for interference in future elections. An existing commission, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, is already investigating election security and voting machines as part of its mission to study the U.S. election system and what promotes or decreases voter confidence in the system. The next meeting of the commission is tomorrow, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM Eastern. RNLA will be live-tweeting the meeting.