Election Assistance Commission official on meeting about voting threats: “There was a real urgency”

Election Assistance Commission official on meeting about voting threats: “There was a real urgency”
Some New Yorkers had to vote in emergency tents after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Source: AFP/Getty Images
Some New Yorkers had to vote in emergency tents after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Source: AFP/Getty Images

In the world of voting, “we talk a lot about ‘election speed,’” Matthew Masterson said.

“[It’s] basically a way of saying that every day, we’re closer to another election,” Masterson, the commissioner of the federal Election Assistance Commission, said. “The one resource election officials can’t get more of is time.”

This week, members of the EAC, officials from the Department of Homeland Security and voting experts from across the country huddled in the New York state capital of Albany to discuss how to better insulate the nation’s elections systems from attack before the next vote.

“As the information came out last year about possible threats or intelligence regarding voter registration systems, the EAC worked with DHS sort of on an ad hoc basis [to] share [information to] ensure election officials could use it to secure the system,” Masterson said Thursday.

That, he said, could mean everything from securing databases to responding to phishing attacks to having continuity of operations planned so that if something happens, you can respond.”

The feds added elections systems to Homeland Security’s “critical infrastructure” government facilities sector in January. That move put the protection of voting from physical and cyber threats right up there with the defense of dams and nuclear reactors.

As worrisome as early reports of Russian cyber-meddling with voter records in 2016 might have been, the problem turned out to be even worse — “including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported,” according to Bloomberg.

Masterson said the concern is about getting alerts from agencies like DHS or the FBI to the people who run elections in the states quickly.

It’s not the first time he has pressed the issue.

In June, the EAC issued an alert to voting administrators “in the wake of news reports that in the fall of 2016 a Russian-based hacker launched a phishing cyberattack targeting more than 100 local U.S.-based election officials.”

In a statement at the time, Masterson pressed “federal agencies that have specific intelligence or resources that could help election officials better secure the election process to share that information with state and local officials as soon as possible.”

EAC commissioners Thomas Hicks, Christy McCormick and Matthew Masterson
Source: Election Assistance Commission

After this week’s meeting at Albany’s Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which included elections officials from 12 states, Masterson said, “I expect progress to be made, absolutely, as we head into the midterms next year.”

The bipartisan, independent EAC is separate from President Donald Trump’s controversial election integrity panel (although EAC Commissioner Christy McCormick serves on both).

For a while, the EAC might not have been sure how long it would be around to oversee administration of the Help America Vote Act, which broadly reformed U.S. elections after the 2000 vote, along with the standards for voting machine testing. When the House GOP released its proposed budget, the $4 million allocated for the EAC was gone.

An updated version of the appropriations bill not only restored the funding but increased it to $7 million, where it still stands on the House side, per the EAC.

“Congress is doing what they’re doing,” Masterson said when asked about the financial future of the agency. “We’re focused on what our mission is and what our goals are.”

After all, the clock is ticking.