As the 2018 elections approach, California officials are taking steps to combat foreign interference, with or without the help of the federal government.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has been critical in recent months of the federal government's lackluster response to Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections, and Padilla renewed his criticism this week after a new report said the U.S. State Department has failed to spend money to combat foreign interference in our elections.
The department has spent none of the $120 million allocated since late 2016 for combating foreign attempts to interfere in U.S. elections and sow distrust through social media, The New York Times reported Sunday. Padilla said the delay is another example of the passive approach President Donald Trump has taken in fighting suspected Russian efforts to attack state election systems.
"Time and time again President Trump has refused to take the threat of Russian activity seriously," Padilla said in a statement. "Now, inaction by the U.S. State Department is squandering bipartisan funding to combat Russian misinformation campaigns and attempts to meddle in our democracy."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
To asses the threat to California's elections systems, the Assembly and Senate elections committees will hold a joint informational hearing on cybersecurity at 9 a.m. in Room 444 of the Capitol. The hearing will discuss steps California officials have taken and can take to shield state voting systems from foreign attacks.
The state will not wait for the federal government to help, Padilla said.
"The U.S. State Department is either sitting on their own hands or being forced to sit on their hands by this Administration," Padilla said in the statement. "State and local officials will remain vigilant as the 2018 elections gear up, but the Russian threat requires the mobilization and leadership of the entire federal government. President Trump and his administration will own the failures of their inaction."
One key concern in California is the reliability of county voting systems. A report last year by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office found that "all but a few counties in the state use voting systems that are more than a decade old."
Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2018-19 state budget includes $134.3 million for replacing aging county voting systems. The cost of updating systems is expected to be split equally between counties and the state.
Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, who chairs the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee, said updating county election systems is a top priority and requires the help of private companies that can develop the updated technology. Berman said the state cannot rely on the federal government for help.
"This is just not a priority for the Trump administration," Berman said. "We'll do everything we need to do to make sure our election systems are safe and secure."
California was one of 21 states notified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last September of Russian efforts to hack their online election systems in 2016. NBC News also reported last week that U.S. intelligence agents had evidence that voter registration systems or websites in California and six other states were breached by Russian-backed operatives before the 2016 election, but the intelligence officials never informed the states.
Padilla, however, has stated that Homeland Security officials have no evidence or information that California's voter information or registration systems were compromised or breached. The agency has also disputed the NBC News report.
This morning's hearing will feature testimony from Padilla; Matthew Masterson, a commissioner with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission; several county election officials; and cybersecurity experts, including Andrew Grotto, a Stanford University fellow and former senior director for cybersecurity policy at the White House under both the Obama and Trump administrations.
Welcome to the AM Alert, your morning rundown on California policy and politics. To receive it regularly, please sign up here.
SACRAMENTO SESSIONS: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in Sacramento today to lay out the details of a Trump administration lawsuit against California over its sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants. Sessions will speak at 8:05 a.m. at the 26th Annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day, hosted by the California Peace Officers' Association. The event is at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, 500 J Street. A live stream is available here.
MOVING UP: Longtime legislative employee Leonor Ehlinghas been named executive director of Sacramento State's Center for California Studies. Ehling replaces Steve Boilard, who led the center since 2012 and retired this year. Ehling previously worked as the director of the Senate Office of Research and deputy director of appointments for the Senate Rules Committee, among other posts at the Capitol. Her start date is March 26.
150 YEARS OF UC: On the eve of the University of California's 150th anniversary, UC President Janet Napolitano will discuss the past, present and future of the university and how it can reach more Californians in an event at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Napolitano will participate in a moderated conversation with Hans Johnson, director of the Public Policy Institute of California Higher Education Center. The talk starts at noon.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Happy birthday to Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, turning 37, and to Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, turning 57.