Dems unveil push to secure state voting systems

Dems unveil push to secure state voting systems
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators is introducing a bill aimed at securing U.S. elections from hacking efforts, the latest response to attempted Russian interference in the 2016 presidential vote. 

The bill introduced Tuesday is specifically designed to ensure the integrity of and bolster confidence in the federal vote count.

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It would require state and local governments to take two steps to ensure that votes are counted correctly. Under the legislation, states would have to use voting systems that use voter-verified paper ballots that could be audited in the event a result is called into question.

State and local officials would also be required to implement what are known as “risk-limiting audits” — a method that verifies election outcomes by comparing a random sample of paper ballots with their corresponding digital versions — for all federal elections.

Both steps have been endorsed by cybersecurity professionals as a way to ensure confidence in the vote count. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House MORE has also recommended that states transition to voting systems that generate paper backups that can be audited.

“Congress must act immediately to protect our democracy from cyberattacks. Any failure to secure our elections amounts to disenfranchising American voters,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony MORE (D-Ore.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. 

“For Americans to have confidence that their votes count, and that election results are free and fair, there absolutely have to be paper ballots and mandatory audits for each and every federal election,” Wyden said. 

Currently, five states use paperless voting machines that do not produce a paper backup, and many more have mixed voting infrastructure with some localities using paperless systems. Twenty-two states do not legally require post-election audits.

Revelations of Russian meddling have triggered fears about the possibility of future interference efforts that could cast doubt on the outcome of U.S. elections.

The Department of Homeland Security revealed last year that Russian hackers targeted election-related digital systems, such as voter registration databases and websites, in 21 states as part of a broader plot to interfere in the 2016 vote. In a small number of cases, hackers succeeded in breaking into systems. 

Officials maintain that none of the targeted systems were involved in actual vote counting, and that there is no evidence any votes were changed.

Some security experts say it would be difficult to wage a hacking campaign against voting machines, which are not connected to the internet and are typically stored in secure facilities. Experts say it's unlikely that hackers could actually have a material impact on the vote. Others, however, are more skeptical of the security of voting systems. 

“Why would we give foreign adversaries the opportunity to hack into our voting systems when we have better, more secure alternatives?” Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Warren introduces universal child care legislation Warren introduces universal child care legislation MORE (D-Ore.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said Tuesday. He added that the legislation represents a “critical step toward protecting one of our nation’s most precious assets: the integrity of our democracy.” 

There have been other attempts in Congress to address election security at the state level. A bipartisan group of senators is currently trying to attach election security legislation to a must-pass defense policy bill moving through the upper chamber. 

And Congress already sent $380 million to states to upgrade old voting equipment and shore up cybersecurity as part of a massive funding package approved in March. 

The bill introduced Tuesday is sponsored by Sens. Wyden, Merkley, Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use Overnight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use Trump's 2020 campaign strategy is to be above the law MORE (D-N.Y.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenators weigh potential security risks from Chinese-made drones Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account MORE (D-Mass.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Poll finds most Americans misunderstand scope of 'Medicare for All' | Planned Parenthood chief readies for 2020 | Drugmakers' lawsuit ramps up fight with Trump Overnight Health Care: Poll finds most Americans misunderstand scope of 'Medicare for All' | Planned Parenthood chief readies for 2020 | Drugmakers' lawsuit ramps up fight with Trump Trump's health care focus puts GOP on edge MORE (D-Wash.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Warren introduces universal child care legislation MORE (D-Mass.).