Congress Airs Concerns Over U.S. Election Security, Funding

The U.S. House Homeland Security Committee queried a bipartisan duo of state officials in charge of overseeing elections over preparedness to maintain the integrity of the vote in face of security and funding concerns.

Online actors have tried to penetrate Kentucky’s election systems, Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, told lawmakers on the panel Friday. “We’ve not been breached but there has been a rattling of our doorknob, I’ll put it that way,” he said without providing details.

In Michigan, problems include “an attempt to hack the voters’ mind,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, told lawmakers. “Efforts to sow those seeds of doubt in our electorates’ mind have come from domestic sources and from foreign sources, this year more than ever before,” she said.

Both state officials called for more money, as the U.S. Postal Service and local authorities alike prepare to handle an unprecedented number of mailed-in ballots thanks to Covid-19.

“Congress needs to act swiftly, not only to fully fund our Postal Service, but to provide needed additional funds to states as we continue to prepare for record-breaking voter turnout this November,” Benson said.

Postal Concerns

Adams said he encouraged more funding, “but not at the expense of any strings attached, red tape, or direction in how to run the elections.”

The hearing is the latest development in what’s become a political football in Washington. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked expanded voting by mail, saying -- without offering evidence -- that it could lead to fraud. The postmaster general, Republican donor Louis DeJoy, became a magnet for Democratic criticism over what he characterized as an efficiency campaign to address longstanding financial losses.

That drive involved slowing deliveries and removing equipment from some facilities, stoking concerns about a purposeful effort to undermine ballot processing. DeJoy called a halt to the initiative until after the election and promised that delivering ballots would be the top priority for the Postal Service.

The House held a rare Saturday session to pass legislation that would roll back any changes made at the Postal Service since January and provide $25 billion in new funding. Twenty-six Republicans joined with the Democratic majority to approve the bill, which was opposed by Trump, but it’s unlikely to even get a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Partisan Bickering

Trump is “waging an attack on the Postal Service to serve his own political interests,” Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the committee, said at the hearing. The president “must stop peddling disinformation that could suppress voter participation and undermine confidence in election results,” he said.

The top Republican on the committee, Mike Rogers, said there was no need for the hearing in part because the panel doesn’t oversee the post office. He said the session was aimed at bolstering Democratic “conspiracy theories.” He called voting by mail “the least secure method,” and blamed states for setting “unrealistic deadlines” for delivering ballots.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, dismissed claims that voting by mail invites fraud. He said it has “has proven to be an incredibly safe and secure method.”

Adams said Kentucky was taking steps to handle increased voting, including letting local officials begin counting mailed ballots early, investing in equipment such as scanners and sorters and increasing the number of days for in-person voting, Adams said.

Drop Boxes

Kentucky plans to use more drop boxes, where voters can deposit ballots for the fall election, Adams said. “Those things are more secure than mail boxes,” he said. “It was Republicans that liked drop boxes” in Kentucky’s June primary, Adams added.

Drop boxes have attracted controversy. For instance, The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have said expanded drop boxes in Pennsylvania had “exponentially enhanced” the risk of fraud.

Adams said his state saw a surge in absentee balloting to 75% of the total in the Kentucky primary in June, from the usual share of 2%. Nevertheless, local authorities “supervised it tightly” and “we had a clean election,” he said. The Republican also said that “we’re in unique times and we’ve got to acclimate” and that he had confidence in the integrity of his counterparts in other states.

Under questioning from Rogers, Adams said that “voting in person is preferable,” and noted that while thousands of Kentucky residents cast ballots that way in June, there was no Covid-19 spike as a result. “We have to have in-person voting also.”

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