Voting Machine Firms Add Lobbyists Amid Election Hacker Concerns

  • Two companies dominate the voting machine market
  • Pelosi’s ex-chief of staff represents No. 2 manufacturer

Voting machine manufacturers are increasing their Capitol Hill presence as lawmakers demand they do more to protect U.S. elections against foreign hackers.

Dominion Voting Systems — which commands more than a third of the voting-machine market without having Washington lobbyists — has hired its first, a high-powered firm that includes a longtime aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The No. 1 vendor, Election Systems & Software, added two new lobbying firms last fall.

Members of Congress have criticized those and other companies for their security methods and business practices.

Evidence that Russian hackers in 2016 targeted a software vendor and voting systems in 21 states, plus Russian investment in at least one software company, has driven greater scrutiny of the aging machinery used across the country.

Multiple bills are pending, including legislation that would require paper trails (H.R. 378), and the House has passed legislation (H.R. 1) that would set cybersecurity standards for voting technology vendors that want to be eligible for federal grants.

“The maintenance of Americans’ constitutional rights should not depend on the good graces and sketchy ethics of a handful of well-connected corporations like ES&S who have stonewalled Congress, lied to Congress, have questionable judgment when it comes to security, and have repeatedly gouged taxpayers,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who’s been pressing the companies for information since shortly after the 2016 election.

Washington Advocates

In October, ES&S hired Peck Madigan Jones, and paid the firm $80,000 during the last three months of 2018.

The company also reported hiring the lobbying firm Vectre Corp.

Dominion’s first-ever lobbying firm is Brownstein Farber Hyatt & Schreck. Nadeam Elshami, Pelosi’s former chief of staff, is one of the lobbyists on the account.

“We want to make sure that we are telling the story of what Dominion is, and how deeply the company is invested in our mission, hopefully dispelling myths about our industry along the way,” Kay Stimson, vice president of government affairs at Dominion, said in an email.

Both Dominion and ES&S say they are actively working with lawmakers and told Bloomberg Government they are having productive conversations.

“As a priority, ES&S would like to see mandated, consistent cybersecurity testing for all vendors, performed by independent, qualified, vetted, good faith cybersecurity researchers,” ES&S spokeswoman Katina Granger said in an email.

The Brennan Center for Justice, housed at New York University Law School, also reported lobbying on election security last year, as did Public Citizen, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), identity theft protection company CyberScout, and tech giant Oracle Corp.

Congressional Attention

The ranking Democrats on four Senate committees have asked the three largest voting-machine companies how they plan to beef up their security measures before the next presidential election.

“Impartial elections are the very heart of our democracy, which is why it is critically important that voting equipment manufacturers are accountable for their products,” Sen.Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said in an email.

Peters, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, co-signed the letter to the companies, along with the top Democrats on the Intelligence, Armed Services, and Rules and Administration committees.

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“I do think there is a growing realization of what an important role they play in our elections and how little information we have about their security practices, who they hire, who owns them,” said Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program.

The U.S. Constitution leaves election management up to state and local officials, so voting systems and protocols vary across thousands of jurisdictions.

An effort last year to impose regulations on the voting machine vendors was opposed by some state election officials and the White House on the grounds that it would impose on states’ rights.

Even a measure that had some bipartisan support (S. 2593 in the 115th Congress) ended up going nowhere.

The measure by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) would have required voting machines to produce a printout to let election officials confirm electronic votes. Lankford and Wyden have said they intend to reintroduce paper-trail bills.

Republicans and Democrats agreed in the 2018 omnibus (Public Law 115-141) to divide among the states $380 million for voting system upgrades.

Federal and state officials say hundreds of millions of dollars are needed right away and more will be needed on a regular basis to keep systems secure and updated.

An example in just one state: Georgia’s legislature approved a plan to spend as much as $150 million on equipment that cybersecurity researchers say is still hackable.

“If you want to deal with election security, it needs to be a continuous effort, it can’t be something that just gets attention when people are fixated on election season because campaign ads are running,” said Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at POGO’s Constitution Project.

To contact the reporters on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at mwilson@bgov.com; Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com