House Committee Looks to Pave Over Election-Security Potholes

WASHINGTON (CN) — Less than 24 hours after their colleagues on the Intelligence Committee probed a whistleblower complaint that is sparking impeachment talks, the House Judiciary Committee focused Friday on steps the country can take to safeguard 2020 elections.

“The president is not only refusing to defend our elections against foreign attacks but is actively soliciting such interventions,” said Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. 

Several lawmakers took heart, however, in testimony this morning from Tom Burt, corporate vice president for customer security and trust at Microsoft, about a software-development kit the company launched this week.

ElectionGuard works with both paper and electronic systems to register ballots with individual tracking numbers, allowing voters to check online that their vote is registered as cast. While encrypting private voter information, the system also allows third parties like media outlets or watchdog agencies to analyze if votes are tallied correctly. 

Burt said the free tool could lock in voter confidence like never before if adopted nationwide by the 2020 elections.

“Ultimately it would provide a much greater degree of confidence in the outcome in part because individual voters, for the first time, will see that their vote actually was counted,” Burt said.

One drawback to ElectionGuard, though, is how new it is: Microsoft launched the kit online and has encouraged hackers to try to break in to uncover any vulnerabilities. 

Because of federal guidelines in place today for polling machine updates, however, Burt said it may already be too late, 402 days out from Election Day, to install ElectionGuard in polling stations across the country.

“The current ones don’t adequately address security,” Burt said. “They take too long and they’re too burdensome. So we need to streamline that process.”

On top of that, Kathryn Boockvar, the acting secretary for the Pennsylvania State Department, noted that most of the election systems across the country lack any means of detecting hackers.

“The intrusion-detection systems should be in every single county in the country, in every municipality that runs elections,” Boockvar said. “That’s one of the most critical components to protecting our elections.” 

Burt also highlighted the failure of officials to advance with the times, noting that many election systems across the country are running on a decade-old Microsoft operating system.

Chairman Nadler noted that there is no getting around the imperative to tighten election security.

“Our adversaries are agile and technologically advanced. We must be too,” he said.

Asked by Democrats if they support Congress passing laws to federally standardize election security, all three witnesses testifying to the committee Friday agreed the move was vital, saying inconsistencies between municipal, state and federal election systems make them vulnerable to attack.

But Burt had a word of caution for policymakers, saying they “must be careful” not to require “specific technological solutions because our enemies move very quickly.”

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