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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 LankfordSenate passes resolution condemning recent rise in antisemitic attacks Police reform negotiations enter crucial stretch GOP turns against Jan. 6 probe as midterm distraction MORE (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl Hillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC 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 RooneyRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides 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 GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.), Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesPelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality House panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps COVID-19 could complicate Pelosi's path to Speaker next year MORE (D-Conn.) and Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellAlabama museum unveils restored Greyhound bus for Freedom Rides' 60th anniversary Rep. Terri Sewell declines to run for Senate in Alabama Amazon union battle comes to Washington 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 TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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.