One Year Out From the 2018 Midterms, Here is How Election Officials Can Prepare
Nov 06, 2017
By Matthew V. Masterson
Today marks one year to the day before the 2018 midterm elections. While much of the national conversation continues to focus on the 2016 election, the EAC, and election officials across the country, are hard at work preparing for 2018. As different policies, legislation and voter preferences impact the way in which Americans vote, election officials are constantly in search of the best solution that will keep the process secure and accurate, while not compromising accessibility for voters who need special provisions.
Together with state and local election officials, and federal and non-governmental partners, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is working to improve the overall security and accessibility of the election process. At the one-year mark from 2018, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight resources available for election officials on the front lines of democracy as they defend against sophisticated and persistent malicious actors.
Making Critical Infrastructure Designation Meaningful for Election Officials
Following the 2016 election, then-Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson designated election systems as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. There has always been agreement on the fact that election systems play a vital role in our democracy, the designation left many state and local election officials wondering how the decision will impact their election offices, polling places and the voters they serve.
The EAC has worked to help election officials understand how to access the resources this designation gives them access to through public hearings, a ‘CI Scoop’ blog, resources explaining the designation, and working to establish and convene a critical infrastructure subsector to inform how DHS will work with jurisdictions. The EAC has also played a key role in helping DHS understand the election industry and to identify resources that would be beneficial to election officials.
Election officials recognize threats to election systems evolve as fast as technology itself and are working to develop up-to-date solutions to combat adaptable, persistent and well-resourced hackers. Officials must also be ready with cybersecurity plans that detect threats before breaches occur, defend cyber assets should hackers attack, and quickly recover if such attacks are successful.
The EAC is working to help election officials adapt to this new operating environment by:
- Participating in cybersecurity readiness events and meetings, such as tabletop exercises conducted by the New York Board of Elections and the Belfer Center at Harvard University.
In the future, we also hope to work with private sector experts in cybersecurity to provide additional cybersecurity help and an Incident Response Communications playbook.
Testing & Certification
Secure elections begin with having systems that can withstand cyber attacks. For over a decade, the EAC’s Testing & Certification program has worked with the election community, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) to define specifications and requirements voting systems can be tested against to ensure they meet the required standards.
The most recent iteration of these standards, the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG 2.0) were adopted on September 12, 2017. These new guidelines are designed to spur innovations that will give voters the best experience possible while ensuring improved accessibility, security, accuracy and auditability of voting systems. Expected to be released in 2018, these new testing guidelines will become the most flexible and comprehensive standards against which voting systems can be commercially tested in the United States.
Election Administration & Voting Survey (EAVS)
For over 12 years, the EAC has conducted the most comprehensive nationwide survey about election administration in the United States, known as the EAVS. Over the years, we have begun to see the impact of policy changes over time, and used this information to create additional resources for state and local election officials and the Americans they serve.
Ahead of the 2018 EAVS, the EAC has asked for additional ways to make EAVS data actionable for election officials through panels at data summits and inviting feedback during a public comment period.
More than 35 million Americans with disabilities, roughly one-sixth of the electorate, are eligible to vote in the United States. Yet, too many report they run into obstacles when they go to vote.
The EAC has long worked to remediate these challenges by providing materials, such as federal voting rights cards and ballots in large print and Braille. The commission has compiled a comprehensive list of resources for voters with disabilities, including links to voting accessibility laws and regulations. The commission has held roundtable discussions about the unique challenges veterans with disabilities face when they go to vote and how to help them. Most recently, EAC commissioners also heard feedback from individuals with disabilities about their voting experiences at the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) Summit. This input will be used to enhance services for voters with disabilities.
The EAC is also committed to helping jurisdictions provide language assistance for voters who need it. Over the years, the commission has developed Glossaries of Election Terminology, Voter's Guides to Federal Elections and the National Mail Voter Registration Form in several languages to help election officials provide translated voting materials at a lower cost. The EAC has also organized annual language access summits convening election officials, voting rights groups, and other experts to meet and share best practices and tools for effective language assistance in short, interactive forums.
Improvement in all these areas will help make American elections stronger as we move towards the 2018 election cycle and beyond.
As the EAC looks ahead to the coming year, and the task that lies ahead for officials, we are committed to improving the overall resilience of the election process by continuing to provide resources that improve risk awareness and the cyber hygiene of election systems. This will mean collaborating with our federal partners to ensure election officials receive timely and actionable information regarding threats to election systems. A true commitment to strengthening our systems though will require we never lose sight of how to improve access to the process, including for voters with disabilities, voters with language needs and military and overseas voters.