Maryland Lawmakers Clear Election Security Bill as Session Closes

Maryland lawmakers passed HB 1331, which requires the state administrator of elections to report any security breaches or serious attempts within a week of their discovery.

by Danielle E. Gaines, The Frederick News-Post / April 11, 2018
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(TNS) — ANNAPOLIS, Md. — With the close of the legislative session on Monday, all eyes are turning to the 2018 elections — and election security.

On the final day of the legislative session, lawmakers passed House Bill 1331, which requires the state administrator of elections to report security breaches and significant attempted violations within a week of their discovery to the State Board of Elections, governor, legislative leaders and attorney general.

Delegate Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s County) sponsored the legislation after it came to light that Russian hackers tried to penetrate Maryland’s online voter registration system in August 2016.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that voter registration databases or election agency public websites in 21 states were probed by Russian hackers during the 2016 election.

At a hearing on Washington’s bill last week, Nikki Charlson, Maryland’s deputy elections administrator, said the state’s registration system was “probed,” but not “breached.”

Charlson described the unsuccessful attempt to gain access to the system using the analogy of a would-be burglar. “They jiggled the doorknob, it was locked and they left,” she said.

The State Board of Elections provided a four-page explanation of what happened in August 2016 in a letter to Delegate Carol Krimm (D-District 3A) last week.

“There’s no evidence that Maryland’s election systems or voter data were breached or compromised,” Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone wrote. “In early August 2016, we identified some unusual activity on the online registration and ballot request system and immediately blocked the IP address associated with the activity.”

Krimm said she asked detailed questions about the state’s election security because “I want to be able to tell people that when they go to vote, their vote is going to count.”

The letter to Krimm notes safeguards that are already in place, including that the state’s certified voting system is never connected to the internet, and the Department of Homeland Security scans the state’s website each week for vulnerabilities.

The Department of Homeland Security also performed a risk and vulnerability assessment on many of the state’s systems, and the state has resolved all issues that were identified, Lamone wrote. Representatives of the Department of Homeland Security are also assessing local election offices and warehouses to improve the physical security of buildings.

The state and local election offices also have disaster recovery plans in place if systems or data are compromised.

Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday, urging him to take the necessary steps to access more than $7 million in federal funding available to the state to enhance election technology and improve election security.

In the federal budget passed last month, Congress appropriated an additional $380 million in Election Security Grants. To access these funds, Maryland is obligated to allocate a 5 percent match, or $353,185.

“Federal officials have made clear they expect continued assaults on our election infrastructure in 2018 and beyond. In response, we in Congress have acted swiftly to better understand the threat and to appropriate the resources needed to harden our election systems,” the delegation members wrote.

Hogan addressed the issue at a press conference on Monday.

“The state is very interested in the security of our elections. I’ve been talking about that for years. We’re glad we finally got some federal help, and of course we’re going to do everything we can,” Hogan said. “… We’re going to make sure they’re funded.”

©2018 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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