In a particularly nasty bit of irony, a pair of news stories about the possibility that the security of U.S. elections may have been compromised have in large part overshadowed a story about an effort in Congress to defund the Election Assistance Commission, a move that experts warn would almost certainly leave the electoral system less secure.
President Donald Trump and his staff last week continued to insist that there is massive voter fraud in the United States, although the administration has presented no real evidence of the millions of illegal votes the president has claimed were cast.
At the same time, news organizations are focused on alleged connections between aides and associates of Trump and Russian intelligence officials during the election. U.S. intelligence agencies have now said repeatedly that they believe Russia actively interfered in the U.S. election by stealing confidential information related to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her staff, and then slowly releasing it in the final months of the campaign.
So it raised some eyebrows last week when the House Administration Committee voted to eliminate the EAC, which among other things provides states with assistance in understanding federal election law and both tests and certifies voting technology. The EAC has 30 employees and an annual budget of $10 million.
Republicans have been eager to do away with the agency for years, but the effort never went anywhere with a Democratic president in the White House. Now, however, Republicans are taking another run at getting rid of an agency they insist has outlived its usefulness, in the hope that President Trump will sign off on it.
Writing in Wired this week, Dan S. Wallach and Justin Talbot-Zorn argue that the move is “evidence of a radical disconnect between a handful of influential House Republicans and nearly everyone else—including the scientific community, leading cybersecurity experts, and even the White House—who contend that voting vulnerabilities are a serious problem.”
Wallach is a professor in the computer science department at Rice University and a Rice Scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy. Talbot-Zorn is a Truman National Security Fellow and public policy consultant who previously worked on Capitol Hill.
Wallach and Talbot-Zorn point out that the move to get rid of the EAC comes at a time when 40 states are using electronic voting machines that are at a minimum 10 years old and that use computer systems highly vulnerable to outside intrusion.
“Across the country, independent observers have found electronic voting systems to be astonishingly insecure,” they write. “These problems have yet to be fixed.”
They say that the situation is fixable but will require a bipartisan effort to develop new standards and best practices for both the machines Americans use to count their votes and the overall way in which elections are conducted.
However, they add, “Any new voting security overhaul would almost certainly have to be implemented, at least in part, by the Election Assistance Commission, the very entity the lawmakers are attempting to gut.”
That’s worth remembering the next time a Republican member of Congress stands up to complain that widespread voter fraud is a real problem. Because it’s hard to believe that and believe the EAC should be eliminated at the same time.