The controversy surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has spurred a new level of scrutiny concerning the technology that will be used in election voting equipment. Although American companies supply the voting machines to be used in the general election, their supply chains rely on many necessary parts from foreign countries. Lawmakers recently called upon the three main suppliers of voting machines in the U.S.–ES&S, Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart Intercivic–for transparency regarding their supply chain and investors. As the largest vendor, ES&S has public shipping records that show many of their parts coming from the Philippines and China, raising concerns about sabotage or technology theft.
The election voting equipment vendors, however, have no choice but to use these foreign parts due to a lack of domestic suppliers. They are calling upon the House Administration Committee for guidance and more federal regulation as they work through this problem. In late December, Congress agreed to allocate $425 million in added funding for election security. This money will go to each state, where they will decide how to use it. Many lawmakers, however, think more needs to be done about the issue.
“Securing our elections is imperative, and states and local governments need ongoing and reliable funding to make it happen,” said Lawrence Norden, the director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program, in a report issued last year. “A minimum investment of $2.153 billion over the next five years will bring all states to a reasonable baseline on election security. These are costs above and beyond the routine costs of administering elections, and are focused on the urgent needs to protect elections infrastructure from foreign interference or hacking.”
A 2018 case study by Interos looked at the supply chain of one of the most commonly used voting machines, which they refused to name, and found that 20% of the components came from China-based companies. In order to combat security threats that originate in technology supply chains, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force in 2018. This program identifies and manages risks to national and global ICT security.
National Protection and Programs Directorate Under Secretary Christopher Krebs said at the time of the Task Force announcement, “Threats to the nation’s IT and communications supply chain can severely impact our national security and nearly every facet of our economy. The nature of supply chain threats, because they can encompass a product’s entire life cycle and often involve hardware, make them particularly challenging to defend against.”
The problem of a lack of U.S.-made equivalents is not only affecting voting machine developers–it’s a widespread issue among technology companies. As this is a growing concern for the security of U.S. parts and technology, the only way to avoid it is to manufacture these necessary parts within the U.S.