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 LofgrenCoronavirus anxiety spreads across Capitol Hill Congress tiptoes toward remote voting House passes key surveillance bill with deadline looming 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 DavisHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting Democrats introduce bill to promote mail-in voting amid coronavirus crisis 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 MastBipartisan lawmakers ask NIH for information on 'disturbing' studies on monkeys Overnight Defense: Lawmakers clash during Pompeo hearing on Iran | Trump touts Taliban deal ahead of signing | Trump sued over plan to use Pentagon funds for border wall GOP rep, Democrats exchange heated remarks during Pompeo hearing on Iran 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 PelosiAn insecure America and an assertive China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA —US now leads world in known coronavirus cases | Unemployment claims soar by over 3 million | House to vote on stimulus Friday | Ventilator shortage sets off scramble MORE (D-Calif.) said that the SAFE Act is intended to “further strengthen the defenses of our democracy,” while Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerCOVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition Cuomo calls T stimulus 'reckless,' says it fails to meet New York's needs Government oil purchase in jeopardy without stimulus funding 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 McConnellOn The Money: Senate unanimously passes T coronavirus stimulus package | Unemployment claims surge to 3.3 million | In three-day surge, stocks recover 20 percent of losses Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill 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 KlobucharDemocratic senators call on FDA to drop restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting Klobuchar says her husband has been released from hospital, 'recovering at home' 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 LankfordBurr requests ethics investigation into stock sale, denies wrongdoing Senior GOP senators object to direct payments at caucus meeting Senate passes House's coronavirus aid bill, sending it to Trump 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 WarnerHillicon Valley: Coronavirus deal includes funds for mail-in voting | Twitter pulled into fight over virus disinformation | State AGs target price gouging | Apple to donate 10M masks Senator sounds alarm on cyber threats to internet connectivity during coronavirus crisis Senator calls for cybersecurity review at health agencies after hacking incident 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 BlackburnSenate passes House's coronavirus aid bill, sending it to Trump Nikki Haley expected to endorse Loeffler in Senate race The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders top target at CPAC MORE (R-Tenn.).