What has Galvin been doing on election security?

Secretary’s use of federal election funds ‘abject failure’

A DAY AFTER THE INDICTMENT of 12 Russians who allegedly interfered with our 2016 elections, Secretary of State William Galvin told the The Boston Globe he’s “picking up the pace” on election security in Massachusetts – hardly a ringing endorsement of whatever the previous “pace” was. If Galvin’s tired approach sounds familiar, that’s because it’s become the norm for a 24-year incumbent who first entered elected office in 1975.

Our highest-ranking intelligence and defense officials have been clear: Russian operatives and hackers are attempting to replicate the election meddling they pulled off in 2016, and states need to be ready. Russians have reportedly already tried to hack three American campaigns this year. These attacks were traced back to the same Russian military intelligence agency that hacked the Democratic National Committee two years ago.

Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, recently stressed that “we need to inform the American public that this is real, that this is going to happen,” adding that we must “stand up and say we’re not going to allow some Russian to tell us how to vote, how we ought to run our country. And I think there needs to be a national cry for that.”

Unfortunately, election officials in Massachusetts have failed to heed that cry in a meaningful way. Galvin’s tepid comments to the Globe came after the National Association of Secretaries of State conference, which focused on election security and which Galvin skipped. He instead dispatched a staffer, noting that he took time to speak with her, twice, during the gathering. After hearing about a “very technical” luncheon conference, Galvin declared Massachusetts better prepared than most.

Still, Galvin said he’s “concerned” and boasted that the Commonwealth had, in the last two months, applied for a $7.9 million federal grant for election security. Massachusetts has since received this formula-based, non-competitive entitlement grant that it (and every other US state and territory) was awarded by virtue of existing. This begs the question: with our 2018 elections just weeks away, what was Galvin doing before two months ago?

Since 2002, Massachusetts has received $58 million in federal grants under Section 251 of the landmark Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Once a state has met certain minimum requirements for its voting machines, ballots, and voter registration lists, HAVA permits the use of these funds for “other activities to improve the administration of elections” – which, under the threat of Russian election interference, must surely be construed by a “concerned” secretary of state to include election security.

The sad truth is Massachusetts’ utilization of these funds – practically free money from the federal government – has been an abject failure.

In its most recent annual grant expenditure report, the US Election Assistance Commission reported that, since HAVA’s inception, Massachusetts has utilized less than 45 percent of its allocated funds plus accrued interest, placing us dead last in the country – behind every other US state and territory.

Our account balance of $43.4 million, the nation’s largest even on an absolute basis (despite our relatively small size), represents an ocean of missed opportunities and should be an embarrassment to Galvin, who retains broad discretion over the expenditure of HAVA funds.

Nor can Galvin plead a cautious approach towards the allowable uses of Section 251 funds. He wasn’t shy about pushing the envelope in 2009, when he used our funds to pay for a series of campaign-style television “public service announcements” – starring himself, of course.

In a routine audit that ultimately mandated corrective action, the federal commission cited these public service announcements, along with four other violations of HAVA, including shoddy financial reporting and (ironically, given Galvin’s role as our state’s chief records custodian) inadequate record keeping.

Meet the Author

Josh Zakim

Candidate/City Councilor, Secretary of State/City of Boston
We know the Russians will try to undermine our elections this year. If Massachusetts needs to upgrade its security capabilities, let’s get to work. Now. Enough time has already been wasted. But it’s fanciful to think Bill Galvin, whose office lacks a full-time cybersecurity unit and who openly refuses to use email, is up to this technologically complex task.

The right to vote is sacred, fundamental, and guaranteed by our state Constitution. For the sake of democracy, we must continue to demand answers and accountability in Massachusetts. 

Josh Zakim, a Boston City Councilor, is challenging incumbent William Galvin in the race for secretary of state. Zakim is the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate for the post.