GOP lawmakers offer new election security measure

GOP lawmakers offer new election security measure
© Stefani Reynolds

A group of House Republicans introduced legislation Friday to reduce foreign interference in U.S. elections, including by making online political ads more transparent.

Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisReps ask Capitol Police Board for information on 'insider threat awareness program' Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down House passes voting rights package, setting up Senate filibuster showdown MORE (R-Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee and the primary sponsor of the bill, told The Hill in a statement that he was putting forward the legislation due to the “unacceptable” nature of Russian misinformation efforts in the lead-up to the 2016 elections. 

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“We may never be able to prevent criminal activity, whether that’s in our elections or in our day-to-day lives, but we can provide our law enforcement with the best tools and resources available,” Davis said. “It's imperative that our elections systems are free from foreign influence, and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support this legislation and put the needs of the American people first." 

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The Honest Elections Act would expand the prohibition on foreign nationals contributing to campaigns to include state and local initiatives and referendums.

It would also codify existing Federal Election Commission guidance to require that all online political advertisements include a disclosure of who paid for them, such as with a “click-through” option, where the individual could click to a second page for information on who purchased the ad. 

The bill would also prohibit any federal dollars for election security to go to states that allow noncitizens to vote in elections, and would require states to forfeit all federal election security grants unless they ban “ballot harvesting,” which allows mail-in ballots to be collected without a verification system to determine who was in possession of the ballots.

Ballot harvesting is already illegal in many states. The law would allow family members or caretakers to collect ballots.

Former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate 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 MORE found that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections in a “sweeping and systematic way,” including through hacking operations and disinformation campaigns that were intended to sway the vote in favor of now-President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE

A bipartisan report on Russian disinformation efforts in 2016 released by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week urged Congress, the Trump administration and social media platforms to take action to prevent similar interference during the 2020 elections. 

The bill’s introduction comes on the heels of a heated debate between Davis and Democratic members of the House Administration Committee over the SHIELD Act earlier this week. That legislation, which the committee approved in a 6-1 vote, required that political ads on social media platforms be subject to the same rules that those on television or radio are. 

Davis pushed back against the SHIELD Act during the committee markup, describing it as “unfixable in its current form.” Davis proposed numerous amendments, most of which were voted down by the Democratic majority, including one that would have taken out the language on new online political advertisement rules. 

One of Davis’s primary concerns with the SHIELD Act was that it might violate free speech, particularly through the regulation of online political advertisements.  

The House is expected to vote on the SHIELD Act next week, which will mark the third major election security bill to be pushed through the chamber this year. 

The first two bills, the For the People Act and the SAFE Act, were passed by the Democratic-controlled House along party lines, but have since stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate due to concerns that they may federalize elections, and that they include non-election security language. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' It's time for 'Uncle Joe' to take off the gloves against Manchin and Sinema Democrats should ignore Senators Manchin and Sinema MORE (R-Ky.) had labeled the For the People Act the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”

Both of these bills were marked up by the House Administration Committee, which has made voting rights and election security key issues during this Congress.