WASHINGTON – All nine of Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers in Congress have asked Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to allocate the money needed to get federal aid to improve the state’s election system infrastructure and security.
“With the 2018 midterm elections fast approaching, we hope you will work quickly and collaboratively with the Maryland State Board of Elections to ensure Maryland has access to this critical federal funding,” the legislators wrote to Hogan.
Congress set aside $380 million for the Election Assistance Commission when it passed a catch-all spending bill, also known as the omnibus, last month. According to the measure, the funds are “provided … for necessary expenses to make payments to states for activities to improve the administration of elections for federal office.”
“Governor Hogan must dedicate the necessary resources, and I hope he will move forward on this issue without delay,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement to Capital News Service. “Protecting our election systems requires an all-hands-on-deck approach — from the local, state and national levels.”
In the letter, the legislators said that they hoped the funds would create a position on the Maryland State Board of Elections for a Chief Information Security Office to oversee cybersecurity, implement a “comprehensive post-election audit and recovery system,” expand the “two-step security verification for all state and local election systems” and provide more security training for election officials.
“As the security and integrity of our electoral system is of the utmost importance, the administration will be taking full advantage of new federal funding that all states received,” Amelia Chassé, communications director for Hogan’s office, said in response to the letter.
She added that the administration, while it has little control over the State Board of Elections, will be keeping a close eye on how the funding is used once it is accessed.
The focus on election security comes after the Department of Homeland Security told 21 states, including Maryland, that they were the target of attempted Russian hacks during the 2016 election.
“As you know, the Maryland State election system was the target of an attempted intrusion by hostile actors during the 2016 election … federal officials have made clear they expect continued assaults on our election infrastructure in 2018 and beyond,” the Democrats’ letter says. “In response, we in Congress have acted swiftly to better understand the threat and to appropriate the resources needed to harden our election systems.”
No information has been released on whether the hacks in Maryland were successful, but the funding is evidence of efforts being made to increase security before the 2018 midterm elections.
Under the Election Reform Program, outlined in the omnibus spending bill, Maryland is slated to receive just over $7 million to improve its elections systems and infrastructure.
In order to access the funds, however, the state will have to pay a mandated “5 percent state-provided match — or $353,185 — within two years of receiving the federal funds,” according to the language of the letter.
Besides Van Hollen, the other Maryland lawmakers who signed the letter to Hogan were Sen. Ben Cardin, and Reps. John Sarbanes of Towson; Steny Hoyer of Mechanicsville; Elijah Cummings of Baltimore; Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore; John Delaney of Potomac; Anthony Brown of Upper Marlboro, and Jamie Raskin of Kensington.
Van Hollen is also a co-sponsor on the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act — introduced in January — with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. The legislation seeks to “prevent future foreign interference from Russia and others by ensuring that any meddling will trigger immediate, harsh sanctions,” according to Van Hollen.
In the letter, the Maryland Democrats requested an answer from Hogan’s office by April 20 “detailing the state’s plan to allocate the required matching funds.”