Jessica Kirby

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In an effort to establish and strengthen private-public partnerships addressing election security, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Cybersecurity Assessments and Technical Service (NCATS) team has announced a program allowing federally funded national science laboratories to examine and identify gaps that would help mitigate state election systems being vulnerable to cyber threats.

As states begin preparing their election systems for the upcoming midterm elections, the federal government is offering support and guidance to state and local election officials to better respond to threats similar to those encountered during the 2016 election cycle.

In 2014, the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, FVAP, found that only an estimated 4% of overseas American citizens were participating in voting. David Beirne, Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, says that employers of overseas Americans can help further the FVAP mission in ensuring their overseas employees are made aware of the benefits when utilizing FVAP’s resources to register and request an absentee ballot.

On March 23, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 into law, a federal law that included $380 million in grants to be made available to states. This 2018 HAVA Election Security Fund is the first new appropriations to be dispersed to states since Fiscal Year 2010.

The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) has linked up with Syracuse University to examine absentee voting challenges faced by active duty servicemembers every election cycle. They have developed a survey hoping to improve the absentee-voting process.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) released this week their federally mandated 2017 Annual Report to the President and Congress. FVAP is a voter assistance and education agency established by the United States Department of Defense in accordance with federal law to ensure that members of the U.S. armed forces, their eligible family members, and U.S. citizens overseas are aware of their right to vote and have the tools to do so from anywhere in the world.

West Virginia is on the verge of leading the nation as they begin testing a mobile application for military voting. Secretary of State Mac Warner announced last week that they have begun a trial for a secure military mobile voting option that will be used for their May 8th primary election. Two counties, Harrison and Monongalia, will be the testing ground for registered, qualified military voters to cast their ballots via a mobile app that uses blockchain technology.

A massive federal government spending bill was unveiled March 21st, that includes $380 million to help counter cyber-attacks on U.S. voting systems in all 50 U.S. states and territories. The bill's passing is Congress’ first real step to bolster election security since the allegations of Russian hacking in the 2016 elections. This bill would provide a $307 million increase in the Trump administration’s request for the FBI’s budget. The bureau’s increased funding would be used for counter-intelligence to protect against Russian cyber-attacks.

On Tuesday, March 20th, voters in the state of Illinois went to the polls to cast their ballots in the nation’s second primary election of the year. Illinois was the lone state in the 2016 election known to have its election systems breached in a hacking effort that penetrated the state’s voter registration data. While no actual voting machines or vote tallying were altered, hacking of voter rolls can cause just as much damage. “I think it’s only a matter of time before we suffer a devastating attack on our election systems unless our federal and state governments act quickly,” says J. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan.

On June 12, Maine will become the first state to let residents rank their voting choices in their primary election choices for U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representatives.  The June 12th election will also allow a “people’s veto” of sorts that would overrule previous state legislation and permit ranked-choice voting again in the November 2018 general election. Ranked-choice voting is a process in which voters would rank candidates in order of preference, if no one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would then have their ballots added to the totals of their next-ranked candidates and the votes would be recounted. This process would continue until one candidate has a clear majority.

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