Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on Monday kicked off the first day of hosting his counterparts from 11 states for a national summit on election security, an issue that one federal official called “a priority” before the midterms.
The two-day event, in St. Louis, is for election officials and not open to the public. Its discussions are intended to help attendees mitigate threats and vulnerabilities on the state level as authorities gear up for the fall elections, according to Ashcroft’s office.
Ashcroft said the two main reasons for the summit were to demonstrate states’ commitment to protecting elections and to show that state secretaries are working with the federal government in “striving to make sure our elections are more secure.”
Christopher Krebs, the under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s Protection and Programs Directorate, attended and said election security was a top concern for his department.
“The fact that this summit is happening should be a solid indicator that this issue is a priority, that investments are made, and that the leadership at the state level and county level are engaged 100 percent,” Krebs said.
He went on to describe the department’s efforts to engage lawmakers on the issue.
“We are working with the Congress to make sure resources are available,” Krebs said, referring to “a team effort” that includes Missouri’s U.S. senators, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill.
The security summit follows a partisan feud on Capitol Hill that derailed an election security bill. The dispute over the Secure Elections Act boiled down to whether Congress should compel more states to use paper-based audits — a safeguard that election integrity advocates say would help ensure vote tallies weren’t tampered with or altered.
A Senate aide told POLITICO that the Rules Committee postponed the markup after hearing from state election officials who didn’t want stringent audit requirements. Their concerns jeopardized Republican support for the bill.
When asked during a Q&A why the bulk of the conference was closed to the public, Ashcroft said he wanted a closed forum to facilitate conversations and was concerned that political rivals might otherwise not be candid.
Mark Martin, Arkansas’ secretary of state, said the closed sessions allowed for building relationships on the issue of election security.
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Hugh T. Ferguson is a legislative reporter for POLITICO.