Congress Blog

Time is running out to secure our elections

In 2016, Russia attacked the United States. Not with bombs or guns, but with a sophisticated well-funded cyberattack and information warfare directed by President Vladimir Putin designed to undermine the values we hold most dear. Russian entities launched cyberattacks against at least 21 states and attacked U.S. voting system software companies.

Every top U.S. intelligence official has warned us, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who recently described our digital election infrastructure as "literally under attack," and sounded the alarm that "the warning lights are blinking red again."

Far from being chastened by these reports, our foreign adversaries have only become emboldened. Microsoft has already detected phishing attacks targeting at least three midterm campaigns this year.

We have less than 80 days until the 2018 midterm elections. Primary elections are well under way already. The time to act to secure our election infrastructure is now.

The men and women tasked with defending us from future cyberattacks on our elections are the thousands of state and local officials around the country who administer America's elections. These efforts are state-led and should continue to be run by state and local election boards. Congress, however, cannot expect states to effectively defend our election infrastructure from sophisticated foreign adversaries without ensuring they have the tools to do so.

Congress took an important first step by allocating $380 million in election security grant funding to states earlier this year to help them update their election systems.States must use this money wisely to replace outdated direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines with voter verified paper ballot systems and harden the election systems infrastructure. But we need to do more than just appropriate money. Fortunately, there are additional bipartisan solutions on the table that would strengthen our election infrastructure and protect our states against the next attack.

One such proposal is The Secure Elections Act, which we introduced along with a bipartisan coalition of six senators - and six more joined last month. This legislation promotes states' ability to control their elections and would do three key things to correct vulnerabilities in our infrastructure:

First, it would improve information-sharing between local election officials, cybersecurity experts, and national security personnel. Many state officials we've talked to feel like they're in the dark about threats to their election systems. That can't continue. We need our national security officials to share information with states about potential attacks in real time.

Second, this legislation will provide for the development and maintenance of cybersecurity best practices. As you know, cybersecurity presents an evolving challenge. We must be able to stay a step ahead of those who would seek to undermine our democracy.

Finally, the bill will promote better auditing of our elections so if something goes wrong, we can quickly detect it and fix it. Fourteen states do not have adequate post-election auditing procedures. A manual audit of paper ballots is clearly the best approach, but all states are not in place to perform them in the next election. Accurate audits are fundamental to ensuring public confidence in the reliability of elections.

The momentum in support of the Secure Elections Act is growing. This bill has been vetted for 18 months and has been the topic of two hearings thus far, and we are working to pass the bill swiftly through the Senate Rules Committee. On Wednesday, the Committee will vote on this bill.

Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. Protecting them for the future of our Republic is all of our responsibility. That means working together to fortify our defenses, adjust our position, and ensure our vulnerabilities have been addressed. When it comes to our national security, we must be a united front. Inaction is not an option.

Lankford is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Klobuchar is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

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