Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime

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The Senate passed legislation on Wednesday night that would make it a federal crime to hack into any voting systems used in a federal election. 

The bill, known as the Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act, passed the chamber on Wednesday night by unanimous consent, which requires the sign off of every senator. 

It would allow the Justice Department to pursue federal charges against anyone who hacks voting systems used in federal elections under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.{mosads}

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the legislation earlier this year and it cleared the Judiciary Committee in May. 

“Our legislation to protect voting machines will better equip the Department of Justice to fight back against hackers that intend to interfere with our election,” Blumenthal said when the bill was introduced.

Graham, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, added that the bill “provides the Department of Justice the ability to investigate and prosecute those who seek to manipulate elections systems equipment” and would “help protect us from further attempts to interfere with the 2020 election.”  
The Justice Department warned in 2018 that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as currently written, “does not prohibit the act of hacking a voting machine in many common situations.” 

“In general, the CFAA only prohibits hacking computers that are connected to the Internet. … In many conceivable situations, electronic voting machines will not meet those criteria, as they are typically kept off the Internet,” the attorney general’s Cyber Digital Task Force wrote in the report. 

“Consequently, should hacking of a voting machine occur, the government would not, in many conceivable circumstances, be able to use the CFAA to prosecute the hackers,” the report continued. 
The bill marks the second piece of election-security legislation passed by the Senate so far this year, after they cleared a bill that denies visas to individuals who meddle, or are suspected of trying to meddle, in U.S. elections. 
But most election-related legislation has stalled in the Senate, including a mammoth ethics and election reform, known as H.R. 1, that was passed by House Democrats. 

Republicans also blocked a bill spearheaded by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) that would require campaigns to inform the FBI about contacts with foreign nationals who are trying to make campaign donations or coordinate with the campaign.


The Senate received a briefing on election security ahead of the 2020 election last week, with lawmakers saying the administration didn’t use the closed-door meeting to request additional funding or legislation. 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) touted “huge progress” made by the Trump administration on bolstering election security after the briefing. 

“Congress will certainly continue to monitor this closely, while resisting any efforts to use the failures of the past to justify sweeping federalizations of election law, as some on the other side have consistently sought to do,” he said. 

Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), whose panel has primary jurisdiction on the issue, indicated after the briefing that he would not take up election security legislation in his committee. 

“New federal election laws would not be the right thing to do, so I assume we’d have no legislation like that come through the Rules Committee,” Blunt said after the briefing. 

Tags Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Election Security Lindsey Graham Mark Warner Mitch McConnell Roy Blunt Sheldon Whitehouse

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