House subcommittee approves funding bill with $600 million for election security

House subcommittee approves funding bill with $600 million for election security
© Greg Nash

A House Appropriations subcommittee approved a bill Monday night that includes $600 million in funding for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) meant for states to bolster election security, with the money specifically earmarked for states to buy voting systems with “voter-verified paper ballots.”

The approval comes as recent remarks by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE emphasizing the dangers posed by foreign interference in U.S. election systems injected new life into the election security debate on Capitol Hill.

The Senate already approved a bill Monday night to ban foreign individuals who meddle in U.S. elections from entering the country.

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The funds are part of the Financial Services fiscal 2020 budget, and were approved by voice vote by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. 

The bill now goes to the full House Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Should the funding bill be signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE, it would be nearly double the amount of the most recent election security funds states receive from Congress.

The EAC last received these funds as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which set aside $380 million to assist states in updating and securing their voting systems.

This new potential election security funding is designated “for necessary expenses to make payments to States for activities to improve the administration of elections for Federal office, including to enhance election technology and make election security improvements.”

But subcommittee members added clauses to the bill that require the money to be used by states to replace voting systems which use “direct-recording electronic voting machines with a voting system which uses an individual, durable, voter-verified paper ballot which is marked by the voter by hand or through the use of a non-tabulating ballot-marking device or system.”

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The goal of this is to allow a voter to “inspect and confirm the marked ballot before casting." 

Should the funding bill be approved, states would not be allowed to use any of the election security funds to “purchase or obtain any voting system that is not a qualified voting system.” The legislation notes that a voting receipt generated by an electronic voting machine does not count towards making that machine a qualified voting system.

Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDemocrats vow court victories won't slow impeachment timeline Most US birds are facing extinction unless we take action Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE (D-Ill.), the chairman of the subcommittee, cited Mueller’s focus on election security in his remarks on the findings of his report last week as being a major reason for his support of the election security funds.

“Mr. Mueller concluded by saying that the efforts of a foreign government to interfere in our elections deserves the attention of every American, and I couldn’t agree more,” Quigley said during the markup of the Financial Services funding bill on Monday.

“This is not a partisan matter. If anything, the challenge of securing our election systems should be a uniting force among Americans.”

The bill now heads to the full House Appropriations Committee for a vote, where it is likely to be approved by the Democratic majority. Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyCongress races to beat deadline on shutdown Congress braces for chaotic December Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings MORE (D-N.Y.) expressed her support for the bill following its approval by the subcommittee on Monday, saying in a statement that “this bill would invest in a future that supports the security of our data and our elections and sets our communities up for success.”

But the bill could face tough Republican opposition in the House and Senate, both due to the election security funding and other measures on immigration and abortion services funding in the bill.

A spokesperson for Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), the chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government, told The Hill there would be more information on Kennedy’s thoughts on the issue “in the coming weeks.”

Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerCongress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Lawmakers dismiss fresh fears of another government shutdown MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said bluntly that the level of spending overall in the bill is “excessive,” and the language is “unrealistic” for what actually stands a chance of being signed into law.

The proposed funding bill approved by the House Appropriations subcommittee also highlights election security by significantly increasing the EAC’s fiscal 2020 budget.

The subcommittee designated over $16 million for the EAC’s fiscal 2020 budget, a large increase from the Trump administration’s proposed $11.9 million for the EAC in its budget proposal.

This budget increase comes after EAC commissioners have made clear the need for a higher level of funding in recent weeks.

EAC Chairwoman Christy McCormick told the Senate Rules Committee earlier this month that the EAC does not have full-time employees devoted to election security because of funding shortages and noted that the EAC’s budget had been slashed by almost 50 percent since 2010. That year, the agency received $16.5 million.

“Without additional resources, we simply will not be able to provide the breadth of support election officials need and expect from the EAC to ensure secure, accessible, and efficient elections,” McCormick said at the Rules Committee hearing.

Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice, told The Hill that moves by lawmakers to increase funding for election officials is “good news.”

“Election officials have been clear that they need additional funds beyond what Congress provided last year,” Norden said. “This money would allow them to buy machines that produce back-up paper records, which is a critical step in protecting our democracy against foreign interference, and adopt other key measures that will prevent, detect and recover from cyberattacks or other malfunctions.”