Paul Ryan moves to replace election security official

The White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan are looking to replace a federal official who’s been working to protect election systems from possible Russian cyber attacks. According to Reuters, Matthew Masterson, who holds a seat picked by the House Speaker and formally nominated by the president, won’t be re-appointed as a commissioner for the US Election Assistance Commission. Masterson made cybersecurity his priority when he became the commission’s chairman in February 2017 in response to what happened during the 2016 Presidential Elections.

On its website, the EAC says it “accredits testing laboratories and certifies voting systems,” among other responsibilities. When Masterson wrote an opinion piece for The Hill, he said the EAC would support and empower state and local governments to purchase “new and innovative election” machines. He also said that his office will “keep turning to state and local election officials to listen and respond” to election cybersecurity issues.

The US intelligence community believes Russian authorities launched a cyber attack on US election infrastructure on top of hacking the DNC and Hillary Clinton herself before and during the 2016 elections. In addition, the voting machines the country has been using for the past decade are already obsolete and vulnerable to infiltration. At least a couple of states are already planning to replace them with more secure models, though in Pennsylvania’s case, it doesn’t have the budget to do so.

It’s unclear why the Speaker isn’t nominating Masterson for a second four-year term. Ryan’s spokesperson AshLee Strong only told Reuters: “The appointment expired in December and we are going in a different direction for our nomination. We nominate people for a variety of positions and generally speaking choose our own folks.”

Privacy advocates are already worried about the impact of Masterson’s removal from the EAC, since it could mean that the meaningful security changes he’s been fighting for won’t see the light of day before the midterm elections take place in November. Especially since intelligence agencies believe that Russia will try to attack again. Center for Democracy & Technology chief technologist Joseph Lorenzo Hall told Politico: “This is insanity. [Masterson] is extremely capable and has been a champion of more secure and better elections the entire time he’s been on the EAC.” Colorado election chief Judd Choate echoed that sentiment, telling Reutersthat “It is pretty remarkable that in this environment, given the importance of this issue, that the speaker would choose this moment to not reappoint the person doing the most work in this area.”

While Strong didn’t explain why Ryan won’t be re-appointing Masterson, it’s worth noting that a Republican-led House panel passed a bill last year to terminate the EAC. Masterson has been fighting to keep the agency alive. As for who’ll replace him in the role of chairman, Politico reporter Eric Geller says it could be Republican appointee Christy McCormick, who’s not entirely convinced that election security is an urgent issue.