Cybersecurity

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originally introduced in December, retains its original tenets, including authorizing grants for states to replace outdated voting systems with more secure technology.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 Lankford (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 Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (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 Klobuchar (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 Harris (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Lindsey Graham (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.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Cyberwarfare election infrastructure election meddling James Lankford Lindsey Graham Mark Warner Martin Heinrich Richard Burr Senate Intelligence Committee Susan Collins
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