Condos backs election security bill in Congress

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, left, testifies Wednesday before a U.S. Senate committee on election security.

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WASHINGTON — Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos urged a congressional committee to advance a bill that would bolster election security finances and practices Wednesday.

The cybersecurity of election infrastructure has been in the spotlight after revelations that Russian hackers scanned the voter registration databases of nearly two-dozen states ahead of the 2016 election.

Condos, who is also the incoming president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, joined a panel including a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official and secretaries of state from Missouri and Minnesota.

When issues around election security emerged in 2016, state officials were wary of federal involvement in a process that has traditionally been managed at a state and local level.

However, all three officials as well as DHS cybersecurity adviser Matt Masterson emphasized Wednesday that the state and federal governments have developed good systems for sharing information without violating the states' responsibilities.

Members of the panel, including Condos, voiced support for a bill that aims to improve election security around the country by setting baseline requirements

The bill, which has bipartisan backing, would take steps such as setting basic security standards, encouraging election audits, and improving methods of information sharing between local and national levels.

Congress authorized $380 million to go to states to help them improve security around elections earlier this year.

Vermont received $3 million through the new appropriation. The money, which the state has already received, will pay for training local election officials in cybersecurity, implementing two-factor authorization and putting in place new testing, according to Condos.

Condos, who testified in Congress earlier this year on election security, told the committee that Vermont has undertaken several steps in recent years to improve the security around the voter roll. That includes undergoing regular security scans, backing up the digital database and more.

However, Condos and other witnesses said that states would benefit from regular ongoing financial support from the federal government, rather than large one-time injections of funding.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said more financial resources would be helpful to state election officials.

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"This is expensive and the recommendations we get from the Department of Homeland Security, while very helpful, they have a price tag," Simon said.

Simon said that cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving, and it is a challenge to keep up with the latest risks.

"I like to say this is a race without a finish line," Simon said.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft told the committee that the country's election was not hacked. "It was the people's perception of our elections," he said.

Ashcroft ruffled feathers among Democratic lawmakers when he said that in his view, voter fraud represents an "exponentially greater threat" than hacking.

Later, under questioning from New Mexico Democrat Sen. Tom Udall, Ashcroft said that no votes or voter registration were changed as a result of Russia's cyber-activity ahead of the 2016 election.

In contrast, he pointed to an instance in which two people were convicted of voter fraud in a Missouri House district where the election was decided by a single vote.

Multiple Democratic members of the committee emphasized that convictions for voter fraud tend to be very rare.

Condos pushed back against the concerns over voter fraud after the hearing.

"From my perspective, the true voter fraud in this country is eligible Americans that are denied the opportunity to cast a ballot," he said.

In the last election, 68 percent of registered Vermont voters turned out to cast a ballot, Condos noted.

"We have trouble enough getting people to vote once, let alone twice," he said.


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