In his State of the Union address, President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden phones family of American detained in Russia Susan Collins praises Biden’s Supreme Court pick after meeting Bernie Sanders’ former press secretary: Proposed defense budget includes excessive amount for private contractors PLUS once again advocated for his failed voting reform bill, the “Free to Vote Act.” But there was a glaring lack of attention to what is arguably the most serious issue regarding the elections: protection against foreign cybersecurity threats.
From the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack to the SolarWinds hack, we have seen time and time again that malicious cyber interference poses a clear and present danger to our economic security. Increasingly, it is also a danger to the security of our elections.
In recent years, leading IT and network security experts have uncovered real vulnerabilities in election technology that could allow even low-level hackers to pose threats. As this technology ages, dozens of states are now in dire need of new equipment and support to manage security issues. Public reports from the director of national intelligence and other cybersecurity experts suggest threats could come from Russia, Iran, China or North Korea, as well as non-state actors with radical agendas .
But all is not lost.
There is growing agreement across the political spectrum on how to improve election security: voter-verified paper ballots that create permanent physical records of votes; risk-limiting audits that use robust statistical analysis to ensure accurate counts and sufficient, consistent funding for national and local election administrators to conduct reliable elections for years to come. There is also support for even stronger protection against hackers and foreign interference through better federal oversight of vendors of voting machines and keeping voting and tabbing infrastructure off the internet.
None of these reforms create partisan benefits, only increased confidence in the security of our elections. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen repeated bipartisan support for many of these ideas, from the PAPER Act of 2017 to the Election Security Act of 2018 to the Election Security Act of 2019. But while lawmakers have passed significant financial support in recent years, more action is needed.
That’s why I recently joined other leading proponents of free markets and limited government – including Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, the R Street Institute, the James Madison Institute and others – in sending a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to prioritize safe elections. While we believe it is vital to limit federal spending and minimize Washington’s reach into state and local policy-making prerogatives, we recognize that election security is an area in which the federal government has a necessary role to play. We cannot expect local election administrators to confront the offensive cyber capabilities of foreign intelligence services. It’s a matter of national security — and basic common sense.
Moreover, ensuring adequate funding for election security is essential to prevent the worrying trend of private funding of elections, making it one of the best ways to restore trust in our electoral institutions.
Basically, the tax burden here is low. The cost of replacing all paperless voting machines in the United States is roughly equivalent to the cost of a single F-22 fighter jet. Supporting cost-effective regular audits would only add a little more to that sum. Lawmakers should also consider full budget offsets, ensuring that there is no additional deficit spending.
Mitigating cybersecurity threats requires continuous investment. At a time when threats are growing, systems are aging, and public confidence in the voting process is falling to record lows, Congress should do its part and help state and local governments secure our elections.
Matthew Germinate is an Election Fellow at the R Street Institute. Previously, he served as political adviser and strategic planning coordinator for the Washington State House Republican Caucus, where he advised on electoral policy.