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House passes sweeping Democrat-backed election security bill

House passes sweeping Democrat-backed election security bill
© Greg Nash

The House passed a Democrat-backed bill that would require election systems to use voter-verified paper ballots as an attempt to avoid election interference by a party-line vote of 225-184 on Tuesday, with only one Republican voting in favor. 

The Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act — spearheaded by Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenHillicon Valley: Four major tech issues facing the Biden administration | Pressure grows to reinstate White House cyber czar | Facebook, Google to extend political ad bans House report says lawmakers could securely cast remote votes amid pandemic Why prevailing wage reform matters for H-1B visas MORE (D-Calif.) — would authorize $600 million for the Election Assistance Commission, which would be allocated to states to enhance their security ahead of 2020 and includes language that would ban voting machines from being connected to the internet and being produced in foreign countries.

In addition to the $600 million, the bill would provide $175 million biannually for “sustainment” funds aimed at maintaining election infrastructure.

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It would also create a $5 million grant program administered by the National Science Foundation to research accessible paper ballot verification methods to address the needs of voters with disabilities and voters who speak English as their second language. 

Republicans blasted the bill, arguing Democrats politicized legislation they feel could have passed the chamber without certain polarizing provisions. 

“Mandating the exclusive use of paper ballots will create longer lines at polling places and can be lost, destroyed or manipulated far easier than electronic voting machines with a paper trail backup,” Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Biden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond MORE (R-Ill.) said earlier this week on the floor. 

“I want to highlight the fact that there's no evidence of voting machines being hacked in 2016, 2018 or ever,” Davis added. “So why are we forcing states to get rid of what they deem the safe technology? We should work together to safeguard technology, not abandon it.”

Davis is the ranking Republican of the House Administration Committee, which approved the bill along party lines late last week. During the committee markup, Davis repeatedly tried to introduce amendments, with the Democratic majority voting down all of them. 

Rep. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members Mast fends off Democratic challenge to retain Florida House seat Warren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates MORE (R-Fla.) was the only Republican to vote for the bill.

Prior to the vote, congressional Democrats held a press conference to push for passage of the bill.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.) said that the SAFE Act is intended to “further strengthen the defenses of our democracy,” while Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.) added that “we're standing with our House colleagues today — we're standing with the American people today, to protect the integrity of our elections.”

The bill now joins a growing pile of legislation awaiting a vote in the Senate.

But few of these bills stand a chance in the face of Republican pushback against Democratic election security measures.

Schumer last week vowed to continue pressuring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE (R-Ky.) to either allow floor votes on election security bills or outright block the various pieces of legislation. McConnell has so far stood firm in resisting votes on election security bills, citing concerns around federalizing elections.

On Tuesday, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (D-Minn.) attempted to force a vote to allow the Senate to consider her Election Security Act, but was blocked by Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordEthics experts ask Senate to investigate Graham's probe of mail-in voting The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Pfizer unveils detailed analysis of COVID-19 vaccine & next steps GOP senators congratulate Harris on Senate floor MORE (R-Okla.). This legislation would require backup paper ballots and provide $1 billion in election security grants for states to improve election security issues. 

This came a week after Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract MORE (D-Va.) also attempted to force the Senate to pass his legislation requiring campaigns to report contacts with foreign nationals seeking to interfere in elections, but was blocked by Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnSunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Senate Judiciary to vote on subpoena for Twitter CEO next week MORE (R-Tenn.).