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originally introduced in December, retains its original tenets, including authorizing grants for states to replace outdated voting systems with more secure technology.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 LankfordAbbott slams Ben & Jerry's for Palestine support: 'Disgraceful' Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Republican calls on Oklahoma to ban Ben & Jerry's 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 BurrThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks MORE (R-N.C.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks On The Money: Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds | Trump tells Republicans to walk away | GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden 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 KlobucharOvernight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Four senators call on Becerra to back importation of prescription drugs from Canada Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks 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 HarrisWhy in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act MORE (D-Calif.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Gyms, hotels, bus companies make last-ditch plea for aid MORE (R-Maine), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate panel advances controversial public lands nominee in tie vote A plan to address the growing orphaned wells crisis Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' MORE (D-N.M.), and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks 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.”