Senators introduced revised version of election cyber bill

Senators introduced revised version of election cyber bill
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday unveiled revised legislation to secure U.S. voting systems from cyberattack.

The bill, originally introduced in December, retains its original tenets, including authorizing grants for states to replace outdated voting systems with more secure technology. However, it contains several revisions that appear designed to address individual states’ concerns with the bill.

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The new bill, like its predecessor, aims to address future threats to voter registration databases and other systems following Russian interference in the 2016 presidential vote.

The Department of Homeland Security has said that Russian hackers tried to break into election systems in 21 states before the election, as part of a broader interference plot. In one case, hackers successfully breached a voter registration database in Illinois.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordHillicon Valley: GOP hits back over election security bills | Ratcliffe out for intel chief | Social media companies consider policies targeting 'deepfakes' | Capital One, GitHub sued over breach The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden camp feels boost after Detroit debate GOP punches back in election security fight MORE (R-Okla.), a lead co-sponsor of the “Secure Elections Act” bill, said Thursday that the revised version “adequately helps the states prepare our election infrastructure for the possibility of interference from not just Russia, but possibly another adversary like Iran or North Korea or a hacktivist group.” 

With the revisions, the bill now has the support of Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Trump withdraws Ratcliffe as Intelligence pick MORE (R-N.C.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces MORE (D-Va.).

Specifically, the bill aims to streamline information sharing between federal and state election officials, revise the delivery of security clearances to state officials to allow them to view sensitive cyber threat information related to elections and provide aid to states to bolster the security around digital election infrastructure.

However, the new bill modifies the reporting requirements for state election officials to share information about suspected cybersecurity incidents with the federal government; it says that states should provide the notification “in the most expedient time possible” but drops the original mandate that states share the information within three calendar days.

The revised legislation also says that local jurisdictions are eligible for federal grants to boost security around digital voting infrastructure.

The legislation would also establish an advisory panel to develop recommendations for election cybersecurity that states that receive grants will adhere to, but under the new bill the panel would be housed at the Election Assistance Commission, rather than the Department of Homeland Security.

States, which are responsible for administering elections, have voiced concerns about some efforts by the federal government to bolster election security, fearing it would mean federal takeover.

“The bipartisan group of co-sponsors on the Secure Elections Act have been working with state election officials and the Department of Homeland Security to improve this bill and ensure those on the front-lines of administering elections are equipped with the information and resources necessary to keep them safe,” said Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE (D-Minn.), another lead co-sponsor, on Thursday.

“There are 227 days until the next federal election and primaries have already begun. Congress should pass the bipartisan Secure Elections Act immediately,” Klobuchar said.

Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Volatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties Conservative commentator rips Shapiro over criticism of people with multiple jobs MORE (D-Calif.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (R-Maine), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Senate committee advances nomination of general accused of sexual assault House passes bill requiring CBP to enact safety, hygiene standards MORE (D-N.M.), and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE (R-S.C.) are also supporting the bill.

The lawmakers reintroduced the bill one day after the Senate Intelligence Committee held an open hearing on election security, during which several senators voiced the need for federal officials to tackle the issue with more urgency ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Meanwhile, the House passed a massive appropriations bill Thursday that contains $380 million in grants for states to make security upgrades to voting technology. However, Lankford said that his bill is still necessary “to put needed election improvements into law.”