House Intel lawmakers introduce bipartisan election security bill

House Intel lawmakers introduce bipartisan election security bill
© Greg Nash

Four lawmakers on the powerful House Intelligence Committee, including two Republicans, are introducing legislation to help states secure the nation's digital election infrastructure against cyberattacks following Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

The bill, which is a companion to a measure in the upper chamber spearheaded by Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Hillicon 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 MORE (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSteyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Gabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch MORE (D-Minn.), is a direct response to the effort by Moscow’s hackers to target state websites and other systems involved in the electoral process in the run-up to the 2016 vote. 

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“Although the Russian government didn’t change the outcome of the 2016 election, they certainly interfered with the intention of sowing discord and undermining Americans’ faith in our democratic process,” said Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons MORE (R-Fla.) in a statement Friday.

“There’s no doubt in my mind they will continue to meddle in our elections this year and in the future.” 

According to the Department of Homeland Security, Russian hackers targeted election-related systems in 21 states before the 2016 vote. In a small number of cases, the hackers were actually successful in penetrating systems; Illinois saw its state voter registration breached, though officials say no data was altered or deleted. 

While officials say no actual voting machines were tampered with — experts say those would be much harder, if not impossible, for remote hackers to breach — the development has prompted widespread concerns and debate about the security of U.S. election infrastructure.

The Secure Elections Act, introduced by Reps. Rooney, Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Cummings announces expansion of Oversight panel's White House personal email probe, citing stonewalling Pelosi says it's up to GOP to address sexual assault allegation against Trump MORE (R-S.C.), Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress MORE (D-Conn.) and Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea Sewell'Raise the Wage Act' would drop the hammer on the most vulnerable workers Ocasio-Cortez distances herself from ex-staffer's controversial tweet Mueller says political campaigns should report offers of foreign assistance MORE (D-Ala.), would set up a voluntary grant program for states to replace outdated, paperless voting machines with those that provide a paper trail that can be audited in the event a result is called into question. 

The bill, like its companion in the Senate, is also designed to improve information sharing between state and federal officials on cyber threats to elections. It would codify into law many of the steps Homeland Security is already taking to share sensitive details on threats and award security clearances to state elections officials.

“Hostile foreign actors have attempted and will continue to attempt to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy by attacking our electoral process,” Gowdy said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to take every precaution necessary to safeguard our elections and ensure no vote count is ever interfered with.”

Lankford and Klobuchar led a bipartisan cadre of senators introducing the original version of the Secure Elections Act back in December. The senators have been working with state elections officials to adjust and improve the bill, introducing a revised version in March that picked up support from the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

However, the development Friday is the first clear sign of the measure gaining traction in the House.

The issue of Russian interference has inflamed partisan divides in Washington as a result of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow interfered in the election in part to help President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE win. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee questioned that judgment in their final report on Russian interference, though some, like Gowdy, have broken with that finding. The Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, has judged the intelligence community’s assessment as sound. 

Trump has railed against special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the election, which includes examining whether there was collusion between his campaign and Moscow. 

Last month, Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for breaching the Democratic National Committee and trying to hack into systems involved in the electoral process.

Congress has already taken some action to address election security, allocating $380 million for states to improve cybersecurity around their voting systems earlier this year. While Democrats have pushed to send more immediate money to state election officials, Republicans in both chambers have rejected those efforts.