- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A left-leaning watchdog group has sued the U.S. Election Assistance Commission over allegations that the federal panel weakened the security standards for voting systems this year after unlawful secret meetings with voting machine manufacturers.

The Free Speech For People watchdog group claims that the changes to the standards created a loophole for voting machines capable of connecting to the internet to receive certification from the commission despite not meeting previous standards.

A 2002 law gives the commission authority to certify and test voting systems, which helps determine the equipment selected by states and local governments that are responsible for administering elections. In February, the commission adopted new guidelines.

The watchdog argues that the commission’s process violated federal law and urged the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to scrap certain rules that Free Speech For People says were unlawfully developed.

Free Speech For People’s lawsuit says changes to the standards were advocated in a series of private meetings between voting machine manufacturers and federal elections panel staffers occurring on a weekly basis last year.

“The inclusion of devices capable of connecting voting systems wirelessly to the internet, even if disabled (as permitted in the final revisions to the VVSG 2.0), introduces significant potential vulnerabilities to the security of the voting systems, because reliably, consistently, and effectively disabling the devices is complex and difficult,” reads the lawsuit filed Tuesday. “Verifying persistent conformance to the provision that the wireless capability has been disabled will impose a burden on FSFP and the public.”

Free Speech For People says the process undertaken to make changes to the federal standards has created an opening for voting machines with wireless modems and radio technologies to obtain federal certification.

The commission “brazenly flouted its legal obligation to adhere to a transparent process, choosing instead to invite the manufacturers into private meetings so they could alter the voting system standards to ease requirements and benefit the manufacturers, all at the expense of the most basic cybersecurity best practices,” Susan Greenhalgh, Free Speech for People senior adviser, said in a statement.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Criticisms of the commission’s actions involving cybersecurity have attracted the attention of policymakers. Rep. Jim Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat, teamed with Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican, earlier this year to include a provision in the Democrats’ election overhaul legislation, H.R. 1, that would force the federal elections panel to prioritize cybersecurity by creating new staff.

The bill passed the House but has stalled in the Senate. Mr. Langevin has said he would pursue addressing election cybersecurity in a narrower fashion if the larger bill fails.  

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