voting (Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock.com)

States get policy help in securing the 2018 vote

Time is running out for state and local officials to secure their voting systems before the mid-term elections, but they may be getting some help from Capitol Hill, the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Homeland Security.

FEC Vice Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said her agency unanimously voted to update the 2006 rules governing political ad disclosure in time for the 2018 elections.

"I believe we are going to be able to move this rulemaking forward in this election cycle," she said at the 2018 State of the Net conference on Jan. 29. "We should be able to move quickly enough to get the new rules in place to at least require the information available about where the ...  ads are coming from."

Even though the bipartisan Honest Ads Act hasn't received a vote in either chamber, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have publicly stated they're working to publicly provide more information about paid advertisements that run on their sites.

Katie Harbath, Facebook's U.S. politics and government outreach manager, said that "regardless of legislation," the social media company would be taking some "small steps" to make advertising more transparent, including making advertisers verify their identities, as well as labeling political ads and archiving them for four years.

Meanwhile, Candice Hoke, who co-directs the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law's Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection, said that election systems themselves are at risk of digital interference.

DHS revealed in June 2017 that Russia tried to hack at least 21 states' election systems in 2016. In response, a group of Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Jan. 29 asked committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to subpoena DHS for records relating to the attempted breaches.

"We have large segments of the population voting on equipment that's not secure," Hoke said. "It's poorly designed equipment for the modern age.... Yet election systems are some of the most poorly funded governmental operations."

Several senators are pushing to help increase that funding at DHS. The Secure Elections Act proposes $386 million in funding for DHS' electoral cybersecurity efforts.

While these efforts deal with more direct channels for influencing an election, there's still the threat of the dissemination of fake electoral information.

On this front, Weintraub said the best course of action is transparency and disclosure, "to empower citizens to make smart choices about what they're going to share and what they're going to read."

Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications at the National Protection and Programs Directorate Jeanette Manfra said that DHS, which designated election systems as critical infrastructure and is working with states to provide cybersecurity aid, is also working with industry, including social media companies, about what they need to do secure their networks.

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

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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