election security

Senate bill gives states a leg up in securing elections

Recently introduced bipartisan legislation looks to help state officials better secure their elections systems by providing access to classified information, cyber expertise and funding.

Amid reports of Russians hacking state election systems, the Securing America's Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act aims to protect elections against future interference. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the legislation.

The bill would permanently uphold the Department of Homeland Security's designation of election systems as critical infrastructure. The designation, made by Obama-era DHS chief Jeh Johnson guarantees states that wish to participate priority in DHS assistance requests and greater access to information on cyber vulnerabilities.

The bill would also require the Director of National Intelligence to sponsor security clearances for the chief election official in each state and authorize DNI to share with states classified information regarding election security. It also creates a joint security program with private-sector vendors to protect against electronic threats.

The SAVE Act also proposes a “Hack the Election” contest that would encourage program participants to hack into non-active state election systems to discover vulnerabilities. Based on the Defense Department's 2016 Hack the Pentagon pilot program, the contest would reward competitors for the discovery of the most significant vulnerabilities and share all discovered vulnerabilities with the relevant vendors.

To address states' concerns about the expense of replacing their election equipment, the bill would authorize a grant program for them to upgrade electronic, physical and administrative aspects of their voting systems, including election machines, voter tally systems, voter registration databases and administration procedures.  The Government Accountability Office would then conduct an audit to make sure states comply with the terms of the grant.

"The fact that the Russians probed the election-related systems of 21 states is truly disturbing, and it must serve as a call to action to assist states in hardening their defenses against foreign adversaries that seek to compromise the integrity of our election process," Collins said. "Our bipartisan legislation would assist states in this area by identifying best practices to protecting voting equipment, and ensuring states have the resources they need to implement those best practices."

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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