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EAC Issues Response to The New Yorker Report

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Silver Spring, Md. - Following the publication of Sue Halpern's June 11 article "Mitch McConnell is Making the 2020 Election Open Season for Hackers," the EAC submitted a Letter to the Editor clarifying errors and mischaracterizations in the piece. The New Yorker chose not to publish the letter. The following were among the items the EAC addressed:

  • The EAC is under no illusions as to the seriousness of the threats facing our election systems, or where they come from. As the only federal agency solely devoted to supporting election administrators and the voters they serve, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) takes seriously the fact that voter confidence is enhanced when we adequately prepare for, and respond to, challenges such as election misinformation campaigns, persistent attempts to breach election systems and voting registration databases, and other real threats.  The 2018 elections were secure, in part, because of the partnership and information sharing between state and federal partners.
  • This is the touchstone that guides our election security work and it’s not a stance solely taken by a previous Commissioner. It’s one that has the unwavering support of each of the current Commissioners. The EAC as an institution and its Commissioners have made this known many times during public appearances, interviews, written statements, Congressional testimony and in communication with our federal partners. To cite a January 2017 communication without fuller context or mention of any public statements since as the definitive source on the Commission’s stance, in light of all this country has learned since that time, and all the EAC has done to assist election officials in meeting this threat, is misleading.
  • In the face of attempts by foreign governments to influence the 2016 Presidential Election and undermine Americans’ faith in our electoral system, the EAC worked with other federal agencies to establish intelligence-sharing channels for election officials to know the threats facing their systems and provided election security training. When Congress made $380 million in Help America Vote Act Funds available to states less than seven months before the 2018 Midterm Election, the EAC worked diligently to ensure each of the 55 U.S. states and territories eligible to receive those funds had received them well before the election, and were educated in how those funds could be spent.
  • Just as the EAC has no illusions about the threats and challenges facing our election system, neither do election officials. The EAC has done everything in its power to meet these threats and challenges; so have election officials. To say they are ill-prepared for the 2020 election cycle discredits the tremendous strides that have been made in election security and is a dangerous mischaracterization.
  • Election officials, and the EAC, are severely underfunded and need more resources in order to function effectively. We continue to make the case that election officials need additional resources and Congress seems to be hearing that message loud and clear, as the House Appropriations subcommittee’s FY2020 fiscal budget includes a proposed $600 million to distribute to states for election security improvements. The EAC also appears poised to potentially receive a significant budget increase in 2020, following a sizeable annual drop in funding since 2010. The potential increased investment in the EAC validates the Commission’s impact during this time.
  • Recently, for example, Congressman Rodney Davis, Ranking Member of the Committee on Administration, stated emphatically that “the EAC plays an immeasurable role in being the interface between the federal government and our states.”
  • To say Executive Director Brian Newby stalled or held up the process in developing the new voluntary voting standards ignores the fact that the EAC lacked a quorum and the new requirements process was not able to proceed until the quorum was reestablished.
  • The process for considering the next generation of voluntary voting system guidelines reflects practices previously used by the Commission. Further, as the public comment period came to a close and a change in submission format was required to protect the agency’s own critical infrastructure, the Commissioners unanimously voted to extend the period by one week to accommodate those who felt unable to submit their comments within the 90-day period or by using the new format.
  • In 2017, Executive Director Brian Newby personally authorized the purchase of AP Stylebooks for each member of the EAC’s staff, books that are still in use today.
  • Commissioner Donald Palmer does not have an inappropriate association with vendors, nor has the Commissioner taken gifts or other unlawful compensation from election system manufacturers.
  • HAVA states that the EAC issues voluntary voting system guidelines and best practices that assist election officials across the nation, but it intentionally left final decisions to election administrators at the state and local level. To assert that the EAC has failed to live up to its mandate because it refused to go beyond it is nonsense.
  • The EAC abides by federal ethics standards with regard to the hiring of new employees and the professional activities of employees once they leave the agency. Appropriate steps are taken to insulate the agency from ethical violations such as former employees of a specific vendor working on testing and certification projects associated to that vendor.
  • Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate testified at a hearing in May(opens in new tab) that while he started out with reservations over the EAC, he valued the strong partnership with the EAC and other federal partners. Similarly, in June 2018, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos told the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration that the EAC “has done a great job of dispersing” HAVA funds and “because of this and their positive work as a whole, I believe they should receive any resources needed moving forward.”
  • The EAC’s budget last year was not “just over $10 million dollars.” The EAC’s budget in FY2018 was $8.6 million after our required transfer to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and $7.95 million in FY2019 after this transfer.
  • KS Attorney General Opinion No. 2017-11 confirms the statutory independence regarding expenses and budget that Election Commissioners had at the time Mr. Newby was in his position in Johnson County. Kansas court records demonstrate that the only litigation related to Mr. Newby’s tenure of Election Commissioner was initiated by Mr. Newby, against Johnson County, resulting in a February 2019 judgment of approximately $42,000 for illegally withheld wages and associated penalties from Johnson County by Shawnee County District Court Judge J. Randall Theis.

For more information, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bsoder@eac.gov or 202-897-9285.

 

Revised June 28, 2019

Contact: Brenda Bowser Soder
Phone: 202-897-9285
 
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