Congress must secure our elections

Congress must secure our elections
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The 2020 elections were some of the most contentious in recent memory. Lawmakers on the left responded by pushing their For the People Act, the liberal wishlist that will never be enacted. What can Congress really do to ensure safe and secure elections in 2022 and beyond? Instead of pushing partisan bills that have no chance of garnering critical bipartisan support, lawmakers should focus on promoting nationwide use of paper ballots as a simple and cost effective way to safeguard our elections.

Our aging voting infrastructure is an environment for malicious hackers trying to wreak havoc on our elections. All hackers have to do is strike a few swing districts to flip a tight race or at least sow doubt in the results. Experts found vulnerabilities in touch screens, optical scanners, and the registration databases that can let sophisticated hackers mount serious threats. Officials told the Brennan Center that machines bought in 2000 have a lifespan of less than 20 years and that they have to scrounge for replacement parts online to keep older machines running.

Worst of all is that most of these outdated machines do not make voters use paper ballots. When older touch screens fail to count votes properly, it could lead to flipping that causes the machines to incorrectly register votes. Indeed, the more machines age, the more vulnerable they are to hackers. Much attention has been focused on Russia, but threats could come out of China and other foreign or domestic hackers.

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The Constitution grants states and localities primary administration over elections, but Congress should still take cost effective actions to secure elections across the country. Just as federal agencies provide support to states to manage terrorist threats, the federal government has a limited but critical role to play in giving states and localities the tools they need to defend from sophisticated foreign or domestic hackers.

Republican lawmakers have offered numerous cost effective solutions to harden this voting infrastructure. Former Representative Mark Meadows introduced the Paper Act that allows cost sharing with states to upgrade outdated machines with systems that will produce verified paper ballots. Senator James Lankford introduced a bipartisan Secure Elections Act to provide targeted funds to states to upgrade their systems.

Such legislation need not break the bank and should not be delayed by unrelated spending priorities. Leading estimates reveal that this cost to replace all paperless voting machines in the country is like the cost for one fighter aircraft. Supporting cost effective audits, procedures which verify a small random sample for paper ballots to ensure results, would cost little more. Republican lawmakers have set forth bills that include budget offsets that ensure no additional deficit spending.

Americans deserve to know their elections are safe and secure with all ballots counted as cast. Our insecure voting systems are vulnerable to malicious hackers seeking to cast doubt with our elections. Instead of pushing useless partisan bills, lawmakers must focus on targeted bills which secure voting infrastructure without onerous federal mandates. National use of an older technology of paper ballots will serve us with safeguarding all our critical elections in 2022 and beyond.

Grover Norquist serves as the president with Americans for Tax Reform.