Elections

Bipartisan Senate bill would boost election security aid to states

 

A new bipartisan Senate bill seeks to boost the level of federal support to state local officials in order to protect the nation's election infrastructure from foreign cyber interference.

The Secure Elections Act would authorize block grants for states to upgrade their voting machines, direct the Department of Homeland Security to "promptly" share election cybersecurity threat information with state and local governments and empower state and local election officials with the necessary security clearances to review classified threat information.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).

"It is imperative that we strengthen our election systems and give the states the tools they need to protect themselves and the integrity of voters against the possibility of foreign interference," said Lankford in a statement. "In this new digital age, we should ensure the states have the resources they need to protect our election infrastructure."

Harris said Russia "attacked the very heart" of U.S. democracy in 2016 and warned that action is needed before the 2018 mid-term elections.

"Russia will be back to interfere again with the 2018 elections just around the corner," she said. "We must act now to fortify our election system against attacks by foreign powers in a way that is smart and allows for effective communication and information-sharing between election and intelligence officials."

The provision to compel DHS to more quickly share threat information is in part a reaction to revelations in September 2017 that the department waited nearly a year after the 2016 election to notify 21 states that their election systems had been targeted by hackers linked to Russia. While many of those attempts were unsuccessful and there are no indications that voting machines were penetrated, members of Congress and election security experts expressed anger over the long delay.

The bill also would establish an advisory panel to develop election cybersecurity standards for state and local governments, including the use of paper ballots and post-election audits of vote counts. It also prohibits any grant funding dedicated to voting system upgrades from being used to purchase Direct Recording Electronic voting machines.

Many election security experts have called for states to discontinue the use of DRE machines because they do not leave a paper trail. The grants would prioritize funding to states that disproportionately rely on such paperless voting machines.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a former senior staff writer at FCW.

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