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.
Molineaux and Nevins are co-founders of the Bridge Alliance, a coalition of 100 democracy strengthening organizations. (Disclosure: The Bridge Alliance Education Fund is a funder of The Fulcrum.)
As we look to history, it has always been the mystics and scientists, innovators and outliers who saw the future most clearly and acted to push — or call — society forward, to awaken from our slumber of the way things are and envision a better future. The stories of their personal transformation inspire us to be better individually and collectively. With this inspiration, we can and must transform our nation into a more perfect union.
As co-founders of the Bridge Alliance, we are inspired and challenged by the problems facing our country. Our 100 member organizations work daily to protect the ideals of our American Dream so we can create healthy self-governance that has never fully existed before. Our members work to harness the tension of our differences as we enact our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, balancing individual and community needs.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program assists military members who need to vote via absentee ballot. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said there would be "minimal disruptions" if the United States pulls out of the international postage agency.
Election officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration's trade war with China could make it more difficult and expensive for overseas voters — including those in the military — to cast ballots in the 2019 and 2020 local, state and federal elections.
The issue is the pending withdrawal in October by the U.S. from the Universal Postal Union, a group of 192 nations that has governed international postal service and rates for 145 years.
Last October, the U.S. gave the required one-year notice stating it would leave the UPU unless changes were made to the discounted fees that China pays for shipping small packages to the United States. The subsidized fees — established years ago to help poor, developing countries — place American businesses at a disadvantage and don't cover costs incurred by the U.S. Postal Service.
With the U.S.-imposed deadline for withdrawal or new rates fast approaching, states officials are running out of time to prepare for overseas mail-in voting.