Security clearances are held by only half the current members of the Election Assistance Commission, which advises states on how to guard against foreign hacking and other security threats.
And none of the four commissioners had clearances at the time of the past two elections, including the period when Russians linked to the Kremlin are suspected of an array of cyberattacks against state election operations, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
"The delay in issuing security clearances for commission members is part of a massive backlog of application approvals throughout the entire federal government," Politico wrote in describing the situation. "But it's a particularly acute problem for the EAC, one of the key agencies offering guidance to state and local officials about how to protect themselves from security risks."
"The people entrusted with securing our elections need to know what threats they're supposed to address," Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said, explaining that an EAC commissioner "without a security clearance is like making a baseball player hit without a bat."
An EAC spokesman says the two commissioners without clearances have completed all the necessary work for getting them. Until the situation changes, they have limited access to classified material, potentially restricting their awareness of specific threats and vulnerabilities. The paucity of clearances has also meant the commission has been hampered in one of its central missions: acting as an intermediary between state election offices and federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security.
Many state and local election officials have security clearances, but DHS concedes there's a backlog on that front as well.