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Election meddling, local issues clash before the House Oversight committee

July 24, 2018

Democrats on the House Oversight committee on Tuesday failed to secure the public testimony of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to discuss election security, while local and state officials told the panel the true responsibility of upholding the nation’s democracy rests with U.S. citizens.

During a hearing exploring federal efforts to help states secure their voting systems, angry Democrats claimed that committee leadership, led by Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, had blocked multiple efforts to subpoena witnesses to address Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential contest.

Mr. Gowdy offered to invite Mr. Coats to a private, classified hearing. But Rep. Gerry Connolly, Virginia Democrat, proposed a motion to subpoena Mr. Coats to testify publicly. In a 17-15 vote along party lines, Republicans defeated the effort.

Mr. Coats was in the headlines last week when he reiterated that Russia interfered in the last presidential election. He spoke hours after President Trump questioned that assessment during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Mr. Trump later clarified his statement by saying he misspoke.

Meanwhile, testimony from the state and local election officials who visited Capitol Hill to provide insights from the field, focused less on Washington and international politics and more on citizen responsibilities.

“While we all need to work together to combat misinformation, intentional and accidental, to maintain voter confidence,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said, “I also encourage those citizens watching today to get involved in the process by becoming a poll worker, reaching out to their state and local election officials with questions and ultimately voting in November.”

New Mexico was not among the 21 state election systems that the Department of Homeland Security has concluded were targeted by Russian operatives in 2016, however, all its neighbors Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona were.

Ricky Hatch, the auditor for Weber County in Utah, discussed security responsibilities at the precinct level where the vast majority of residents cast their votes. Utah was also not targeted by Russians although neighboring states were.

He applauded Congress for appropriating $380 million in grants for state election security expenses. Utah, he said, was using the funds “to update and strengthen our statewide voter registration database software, buy more secure elections equipment and implement a more robust post election audit process.”

But Mr. Hatch reminded lawmakers that funds can get bogged down by state bureaucracy while election officials at the county level struggle to purchase new equipment, “keep up with technology changes and stay ahead of hackers.”

“Elections are the basic foundation of our democracy, and ensuring they are secure, fair and trustworthy are the basic goals and responsibilities of every election official across the country,” he said. “Because all elections are local, I am here today to reiterate the importance of including local governments, and especially counties, in federal and state discussions to strengthen our national efforts to secure elections.”

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