Senators, state officials to meet on election cybersecurity bill

Senators, state officials to meet on election cybersecurity bill
© Greg Nash

Two senators sponsoring legislation to secure digital election systems from cyberattacks are meeting Monday with state officials on the details of their proposal. 

Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Lankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman Trump to sign order penalizing colleges over perceived anti-Semitism on campus: report MORE (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Booker says he will not make December debate stage Yang: 2020 rivals in Senate should be able to campaign amid impeachment MORE (D-Minn.) are scheduled to meet with secretaries of state to discuss the Secure Elections Act, a spokesman for Lankford confirmed. 

The bipartisan bill, originally introduced last December, is designed to help and incentivize state officials to make cybersecurity upgrades to their election infrastructure following Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The senators rolled out a revised version of the proposal in March, after some state officials, who are responsible for administering federal elections, expressed concerns with the effort. 

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At least four secretaries of state are attending Monday evening’s meeting with Lankford and Klobuchar, according to a spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). These officials include NASS president and Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R), Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R), Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (D) and Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R). Politico first reported the meeting.

“During the meeting a variety of bill specifics will be discussed including information sharing protocols, formalizing communication channels and potential funding mechanisms in the future,” the NASS spokeswoman said.

The bill would set up a grant program for states to make election cybersecurity upgrades, including replacing paperless voting machines with those that produce a paper backup. It also aims to strengthen information sharing between federal and state officials on cyber threats to elections. Several states have complained that the Department of Homeland Security was slow to share information on the 2016 threat before the election.

The latest version of the bill, which contains minor modifications that appear designed to address states’ concerns, has picked up support from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (D-Va.).

NASS has not taken an official position on the bill. 

The Homeland Security Department revealed last year that Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 states before the 2016 election and in a small number of cases were able to breach systems — such as Illinois’s voter registration database. Officials maintain that actual voting tallying machines were not targeted and that there is no evidence any vote counts were changed. 

The revelation has triggered various efforts in Congress to address election cybersecurity ahead of the 2018 midterms. Last month, lawmakers allocated $380 million in the omnibus appropriations bill for states to make pressing election cybersecurity upgrades. 

Homeland Security has been working with state officials to share sensitive threat information and provide cyber scanning services in the wake of 2016 election, as part of a decision to designate election systems as critical infrastructure.