Its not common for us to wade into policy issues of our U.S. President's Administration, but given how much we've witnessed regarding foreign meddling in the 2016 election cycle, we believe its well within the scope of our mission to comment on this nation's preparedness regarding our election infrastructure in upcoming elections.

Yesterday, the EAC held a very thought-provoking Hearing (2-hour video archive here) on our election technology being classified as critical infrastructure, and afforded the protections of such a designation.  Our CTO has a continuing series on this topic from a slightly different angle. Additionally, we've been researching the matter for nearly a year, and that will culminate in a white paper shortly.  Moreover, this past weekend I published an article in Medium discussing how our election infrastructure has become a matter of national security.

For whatever reason, it appears to be politically correct to emphasize only the fact that no elections results were altered in 2016, and then drop the subject of election security without further comment.  Politically correct or not; that's not intellectually honest. We've held our tongue, primarily because I spent time last year serving, on a voluntary basis, as an election technology security subject matter expert to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  I have and will continue to maintain my obligations of confidentiality in that regard.  But to the extent of information already in the public domain, The Institute encouraged me to comment today and encourage the Trump Administration to take action.

My comment is simply that while voting machinery was not compromised, in fact other components of election infrastructure most certainly were poked, prodded, and in some cases penetrated.  Its simply irrefutable fact.  And its incorrect to deem meddling with voter registration systems or probing other back office election management systems as any lesser in importance or severity.  We also have similar concerns about assertions that America benefits from a highly distributed, diffuse, non-networked collection of voting machinery that somehow makes the infrastructure more secure than otherwise.  I refrain from going further into why that assertion can be misleading for now, because I want to focus here on moving forward, seeking improvement, and preparing for the next election cycle.

The simple reason is we know, for certain, that this criminal meddling by well funded and armed foreign state actors (which amounts to a violation of our national sovereignty) is not going to stop.  It will be back, and we have reason to believe 2016 was a "casing the joint" compared to what attempts will be made on the existing, obsolete technology infrastructure America relies on to administer public elections.  This is not some far-off matter to worry about.  Yes, there is an enormous amount going on right now; there always is and always will be.  But special elections, primaries, and the run-up to 2018 mid-terms are already underway.  The time is now to prepare.  And we think that starts at the top with the President, who has already been considerably vocal about this.

A Call to Action for the Trump Administration

The "preparedness activity" I call upon the President and his Administration to address today is making and announcing plans to help ensure the integrity of our upcoming U.S. elections. 

After all, our President was one of the most outspoken before and after the election about tampering, rigging, hacking, legitimacy, and fraud.  Therefore, to our President I say,

You, sir are in charge. Surely you want our next elections to be trustworthy; surely, you are not about to stand for any further foreign meddling.

So, today we call upon President Trump and his administration to announce plans in the next sixty days to help prevent another attack on our election infrastructure and the American election cycle.  Its certainly not the responsibility of the federal government to be prescriptive for how the political parties protect their online assets and systems, nor is it in it's purview to instruct the states how to protect their voting and election management systems.  However, we believe its clearly within the interest of the Administration on behalf of we the people to set out recommendations, guidelines, suggestions, and provide resources and assistance where requested to make every effort to protect the integrity of our electoral process.

We believe that it is imperative to put processes and tools in place to monitor foreign activity and develop open lines of communication with the parties and their campaigns to keep them abreast of potential activities as soon as possible.  Every jurisdiction should be aware in real-time of all suspicious activities anywhere as they may affect them no matter how seemingly remote they are from epicenters of political activities.  This might take the form of some digital alert, bulletin or status system that counties and states could securely connect with to receive and share reports and information.

To be sure, Russia's interference in our election in 2016 amounted to one of the most serious attacks on the homeland in some time.  Sure, it was a digital not a physical attack, but the success of their operations in 2016, which only now is being fully understood by House, Senate, and FBI investigations, suggests that greater interference is likely in the future.  And now a digital attack can be as bad if not worse than a physical one. Our concern is that other foreign actors, equally digitally armed, will be empowered if the Administration continues to discount the threat, or fails to act to do all it can to assist the states, who are in the trenches on the front lines of democracy, in protecting their portions of the national electoral infrastructure.

There is another equally important reason for this.  In our collaborating with other research institutes who are examining the national sentiment of U.S. voters, we're discovering that concerns about integrity could potentially lead to voters abandoning their civic duty and civil right to participate out of cynicism for the trustworthiness of the system.  That is not good for democracy.

Of course, the Administration must think this through carefully; we offered a suggestion above, and there are many experts who can be called upon for more and better ideas.  However, simply making a critical infrastructure designation apply to election technology is insufficient on its own. And lacking detail for what precisely that means (and doesn't mean), is confusing and not helpful.  Thus, this needs to be carefully thought-through.  But candidly, spending time and resources on this vision and plan is a far more productive use of precious resources than chasing voter fraud allegations.

Therefore, today we call upon the President and the Administration to take immediate steps to reassure the American people, and send a message to the world that protecting our democracy and its vital electoral process is a top priority. 

We've learned today that others are making similar calls for action by the Administration and the political parties (and we mentioned it in social media).  Their call to action makes sense to us.  I believe Mr. Rosenberg is thinking smartly about this.  Certainly others must be as well.  To their points, we agree that there must be some decorum; agreed-to policies and practices; and rules of engagement in electioneering.  We'll defer to those who are experts in policy and politics to opine on what that should include and how it should work.  Some of this is probably obvious.  For instance, no party should take advantage of the other from a foreign act against the other.  For us, we're focused on the processes and platforms.  To that end, we believe its in the best interest of the Administration (and all of us) to lay out a clear vision for how we protect the imperative process of elections going forward.

That's a positive step forward this Administration can, and really should take.  We're glad to offer more suggestions and contribute where-ever we can. 

 

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