Election Security Has Become A Partisan Issue As Senate Votes Down Funding

from the bad-ideas dept

It shouldn’t matter which party you belong to (or if you belong to no party at all): fixing our totally broken election security should be a priority. This is a topic we’ve written about on Techdirt for nearly 20 years. The broken system of electronic voting has always been a security disaster, and now with more direct attempts to influence elections happening, it should be even more of a priority. And yet, following the lead in the House, this week the Senate voted down an amendment from Senator Patrick Leahy providing more funding for election security.

The vote was almost exactly along partisan lines, with only one crossover (Senator Bob Corker was the only Republican who voted for the amendment). While there were some arguments made against the bill, they don’t make much sense:

Sen. Blunt said that states are responsible for running their elections, not the federal government, and that providing more funds would give the impression of federal overreach.
Sen. Lankford said on the floor Wednesday, referencing the omnibus funds, ?the $380 million amount is what was needed for the moment,” and indicated he didn’t want to fund states beyond that right now.

There can be reasonable questions in how this money is being spent, and what’s being done to actually secure elections, but the fact that this seems to be becoming a partisan issue should worry us all. And, I know some of you will be tempted to do this, but claiming that Republicans are against this because insecure technology helps them get elected is not a serious response. That’s not only cynical, but almost certainly incorrect.

However, at a time when Congress (including many of the Senators who voted against this) have been grandstanding about tech companies being used to influence elections, the fact that they would then not really care that much about our woefully undersecured voting infrastructure just seems ridiculous. For years, we’ve argued that when tech policy issues get partisan, they get stupid, and it would be a real shame for election security, of all topics, to become stupidly partisan.

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Comments on “Election Security Has Become A Partisan Issue As Senate Votes Down Funding”

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60 Comments
Glenn says:

Actually, Republicans will argue that since they aren’t secured then they should be delayed until they are, or maybe just cancelled altogether “due to massive voter fraud” (which in reality is not only not massive but barely existent)… anything to keep themselves in office (because the next elections certainly won’t).

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve been hearing "the President is going to suspend elections!" conspiracy theories since the Bush Administration. So far it hasn’t happened.

anything to keep themselves in office (because the next elections certainly won’t).

If you think it’s "certain" that the Republicans will lose the Senate in November, then I don’t think you’ve looked very closely at the seats that are in play. There are 33 Senate seats up in November; of those, only 8 are Republican seats. Democrats have to pick up a net 2 seats to gain a Senate majority (ie lose no seats and pick up 2, lose 1 seat but pick up 3, etc.). Their likeliest path to a Senate majority is to keep all their seats and win Arizona and Nevada, but again, this is far from certain; Manchin, McCaskill, and Heitkamp are all facing tough reelection campaigns and it’s possible the Democrats could lose one or more of those seats.

In a "blue wave" scenario, Democrats could keep all their seats, pick up Arizona and Nevada and maybe even Tennessee and Texas. I would not describe that as a likely outcome, but it is possible.

The Democrats are more likely to take the House than the Senate. But this article is specifically about the Senate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Interesting picks for tough reelections! I would have thought Nelson (Beating Rick Scott in one of the only states Trump has gained ground in seems a daunting task), Donnelly (won against a foot-in-mouth candidate in massively red West Virginia) and Tester (Montana is not as democratic anymore) were more in a pickle?

Glenn says:

Re: Re: Re:

The conspiracy theory in question here is the one repeatedly floated by Trump since he lost the popular vote in the election that put him in office–the completely false claim that there were millions of “illegal voters”. His hand-picked commission could find no evidence of it, much as they tried. As far as “delaying elections” goes, he stated the desire himself. But, no–not gonna happen.

tom (profile) says:

After the Bush v Gore hanging chad election in 2000, the Feds DID hand out grants to all 50 states to upgrade election systems. That money was spent on the wonderful systems many of the folks are now complaining about. Repeating past mistakes in hopes the states will do better this time would most likely be as much a waste today as it was post Bush v Gore.

Better approach would be to make the states decide what system they want, test it to verify accuracy and security, then let that state apply for Federal funding to help pay for it.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

After the Bush v Gore hanging chad election in 2000, the Feds DID hand out grants to all 50 states to upgrade election systems. That money was spent on the wonderful systems many of the folks are now complaining about. Repeating past mistakes in hopes the states will do better this time would most likely be as much a waste today as it was post Bush v Gore.

First: The purpose of the post-2000 grants was modernization, not security. This effort is fundamentally different, as its focus is security, and it’s not just about upgrading voting machines. There are a lot of systems that need their security shored up, including voter rolls.

Second: 2000 was 18 years ago. Even under ideal circumstances, computers purchased early in the Bush Administration need to be replaced by now. Here’s a good story on outdated election machines, including Texas districts still using ZIP disks and other discontinued hardware.

Third: While your suggestion that states should have a proposal already in place before they request a federal grant is reasonable, I see two issues with it: one is that I don’t think it’s any likelier to pass the Senate than Leahy’s amendment; the other is that the election is in three months.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I mean, that’s a clear implementation of the goals of this bill, and not at all why the republicans claimed to disagree, in which they claimed the federal government shouldn’t spend or allocate any additional money with a perspective on election security, a serious issue given known hacking attempts.

The text of the amendment isn’t yet indexed, but I am not sure that grants to modernize election systems (given the ambiguity shown by hanging chads) is necessarily equivalent to grants to spend on election security. Not knowing the text, It is quite possible such grants would have to be applied for.

I just feel that, with the exact text of the amendment not public, just that it was about grants for election security, your comments seem to be in favor of such grants (“apply for federal funding”), but against them when they are called grants. You say the issue was that the grants after bush/gore were spent on poorly researched options that were, in hindsight, a bad choice, so we shouldn’t issue grants, but instead let the states who made poor choices, make those choices again, and apply for funding that doesn’t exist, because in the budgetary process we did not allow for additional grants to the states for improving election security (which we know is already an issue in the upcoming election).

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: What's the alternative explanation, then?

I am not saying this is the correct answer, but in response to your question:

The voting machine companies that have already sold ‘secure’ machines to the states don’t want their equipment replaced with someone else’s ‘more secure’ equipment, and they have already paid their bribes, um…erm…campaign contributions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What's the alternative explanation, then?

Unless the voting machine companies derive substantial ongoing benefits from keeping their machines in service (whether through lucrative support contracts or, as you allege, backdoors to subvert the election), they shouldn’t care if the machines get retired. They’ve been paid for the machines, and if they were smart at all, insisted that the support contract be paid upfront/non-refundable to the greatest extent the customer would accept. If so, they’ve already made their money off the machine and don’t care whether it goes straight from delivery box to trash bin.

I think it’s more likely that this is some combination of:

  • Fiscal hawks, who need extremely strong evidence that an expenditure is worthwhile
  • Waste hawks, who look at how the past grants were spent and oppose issuing new grants that aren’t locked down tightly
  • "Small government" types who think the Feds have no business working on this; they prefer to believe, possibly rightly, possibly not, that the states are better suited to handle this.
Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: What's the alternative explanation, then?

The election security scandal is tied to the Russian scandal. The Russian scandal is tied to Trump. Trump is a Republican. The Democrats are obviously trying use the connected scandals to embarrass the Republicans.

Therefore all of the connected scandals are partisan issues. Simple.

Thorsday says:

everything is partisan

EVERYTHING is a “partisan issue” (i.e., political issue) in Congress… and most everywhere else in government.

Partisan & special-interests routinely jockey for power and control — that’s what “politics” is.

Who seriously thinks that Congress is some sober, objective deliberative body?
Congress is dysfunctional and does not perform even its most basic functions.
Election-security is a quite trivial issue on the long list of Congressional failings.

And this focus on Federal “spending” to supposedly fix election-processes… is itself a very partisan (and erroneous) subjective viewpoint.

You would think there would be some kinda learning-curve for
people who actually observe Congress in action over the years & decades ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: everything is partisan

“Who seriously thinks that Congress is some sober, objective deliberative body?”

Congressional members ……. I’m serious.
Many times those who suffer from mental deficiencies are not cognizant of same and will deny it in the face of incontrovertible evidence.

“Election-security is a quite trivial issue on the long list of Congressional failings.”

I disagree, as it is not trivial.

“And this focus on Federal “spending” to supposedly fix election-processes… is itself a very partisan (and erroneous) subjective viewpoint.”

So – do nothing … great, as this is exactly what congress is doing – brilliant!

freedomfan (profile) says:

Re: Re: everything is partisan

So – do nothing … great, as this is exactly what congress is doing – brilliant!

Actually, I’d say that what congress does most is spend other people’s money on problems, while claiming that such expenditures will fix them. I (and presumably this should not be rare here) am dubious that the problems are usually fixed as a result.

That’s not to say that federal money given to states as proposed in the amendment wouldn’t increase election security. I have no idea. But, I lean toward the "provide some solid evidence/reasoning that this approach will work before we fund it" camp and away from the "pay and pray" camp.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Dear Senate, Putin thanks you.

The Russians already have. And why not? They got away with it in 2016, achieved their desired result, and thus there is no reason for them not to repeat the exercise in 2018 and 2020.

My expectation is that they will target infrastructure this time around; power grid, communications, networks. Disrupting enough of that in just in the right areas should be sufficient to maintain plausible deniability while assuring the election outcomes they want.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think I agree with you (that’s strange)

I think I would come to the same conclusion – that there is something behind the curtain that the politicians are not showing us. There must be some motivation to block what seems to be an innocuous bill. Wait a minute, is it an innocuous bill? It has support for the “resistenace”, after all, that makes it suspicious naked and alone (metaphorically). I also understand that after the best efforts of the Democratically Fanatical FBI, not a single incident occurred that changed a single vote. So I agree with you, Mike, it looks suspicious on the surface. Did you actually read the bill? You do that sometimes, did you do it this time? It seems strange to write so many words about a bill you didn’t read. Without reading it, your article requires an excersize in mind-reading and soothsayer level inferences. “The mysterious bill” like “The mysterious island”… Is it good or Evil? Kind of a strange way to make your point, but I do agree with you, it bears further investigation. Why don’t you go read it and write another article about it and explain it to us? Sometimes you are surprising good at that (or at least you used to be)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I think I agree with you (that’s strange)

See him what? He got fired for the appearance of bias not actual bias. It’s almost like Mueller is a professional. So maybe write a second draft there champ. And while you’re at it maybe look at synonyms for fanatical so you don’t look like you copy your claptrap from Fox News.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I think I agree with you (that’s strange)

“Yes, of course, law enforcement has always been known for being liberal.”

I was pointing out how ridiculous this attempt at sarcasm was. Strzok is a flaming liberal who spearheaded the FBI “influence” investigations on the election. He is on record saying he thought Hillary should win by 10000000 votes to zero and Trump will not win because he will “stop it”. So yes this is a concrete and recent example of law enforcement being fanatical liberals.

Understand? Probably not. Oh well. Carry on with your silliness, it is good for the written records.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I think I agree with you (that’s strange)

Ok, you got me. What exactly is a RWNJ? Republican within New Jersey? Republican WIth No Job? Not many of those. Regarding being a “white trash ass racist”, I saw this really interesting thing on Tucker Carlson today. It is how the left will “trash” old white men with impunity, even though doing so is obviously racist. The idea is that racism is not only OK, it is mandatory if you are a Democrat/Leftist. You have to trash old white men, and especially rich ones (like me). Some Asian lady at the New York TImes made this very clear. Would you agree with that? Old white men (especially rich ones) should be the target of hatred and little else. Right? Thanks in advance for your help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 I think I agree with you (that’s strange)

We all try to help where we can. It’s Christian, and Buddhist, too. Never undestimate the power of faith. That is, clear thinking, well reasoned faith, like Christianity and Buddhism. Being certain of your hopes and dreams makes them come true. Trump, for example. He channeled the hopes and dreams of hundreds of millions of Americans. Like an attachment to ground for a limitless current of faith, optimism and belief in the future. Hating something is easy, but has no payback, other than brief vindication in the face of a fortunate event. Real faith, real love, real contribution, including monetary contributions to Trump, that’s what I believe. MAGA

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re:9 I think I agree with you (that’s strange)

Eh, that’s even funnier than that mad pirate lesbian separatist crack. I’m seeing Geena Davis in an eyepatch and headscarf for some reason. If Mitt “Etch a sketch” Romney was an internet troll…

Thank you for confirming that Trumpism is indeed a cult. BTW your small-handed orange idol has feet of clay, but I’m sure it’s the best clay. Have fun with your idolatry.

cecil says:

too little, too late

There isn’t time to do any sort of government upgrade to election infrastructure. Not sure even if they doled out pork, I mean funds, that there is even time to do the upgrade by the next presidential election. You have to remember, this is government you’re talking about and they do IT at their own speed… Changes in systems for governments are planned in decades, not weeks or months or even years… And even then, they are as subject to fail as to succeed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: too little, too late

Wait what? They PLAN the upgrades? I thought Gov IT just went with the lowest bidder and didn’t care what the reaults were.

No really I’m kidding. Anytime IT work is done it will depend on the project and people to determine if it is done right and/or quick. The problem is people usually only see and hear about the badly managed ones and not the projects that run correctly.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The current government is less right than anti-left

Essentially the legislature and executive presently are less interested in pushing an agenda than they are going against everything endorsed by the left, even if the notion or policy is entirely rational.

So when we say that we need better election security, the GOP is inclined to take the opposite stance, simply because some Democrats agree that we need better election security.

It’s kind of like the straw thing, where people are wasting disposable plastic straws just to piss off the environmentalists.

cecil says:

too little too late

Do the states need the interference (sorry, I mean help) that the fed offering them cash with strings would involve? How about “here, have some cash that you can spend issuing every verified voter an ID card with their biometrics and DNA”? Some solutions just aren’t.
If you think that the fed is in the business of handing out cash with no strings attached, then I have this bridge that makes a good income on tolls that is an investment just waiting for your life savings…

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