Bipartisan bill to secure election tech advances to House floor

Bipartisan bill to secure election tech advances to House floor
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The House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Thursday unanimously approved legislation intended to secure voting technology against cyberattacks.

The Election Technology Research Act would authorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation to conduct research on ways to secure voting technology. 

The legislation would also establish a Center of Excellence in Election Systems that would test the security and accessibility of voting machines and research methods to certify voting system technology. 

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The bill is sponsored by Reps. Anthony GonzalezAnthony GonzalezSix takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections Pro-impeachment Republicans outpace GOP rivals in second-quarter fundraising Governors' races see flood of pro-Trump candidates MORE (R-Ohio) and Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillDemocrat unveils bill to allow only House members to serve as Speaker Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections Moderate Democrats call for 9/11-style panel to probe COVID-19 origins MORE (D-N.J.), along with committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHouse passes bills to boost science competitiveness with China The Chinese-Russian Lunar Axis adopts a plan from the late Paul Spudis Congress and DOT should ensure a data-driven transportation infrastructure MORE (D-Texas) and ranking member Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasRepublicans divided on how hard to push vaccines On The Money: Schumer pressured from all sides on spending strategy | GOP hammers HUD chief over sluggish rental aid | Democrat proposes taxes on commercial space flights Republicans hammer HUD chief over sluggish rental aid MORE (R-Okla.). 

All four sponsors enthusiastically praised the bill during the committee markup on Thursday, with Johnson saying that “transparent, fair, and secure elections are the bedrock of our democracy,” and that attacks in 2016 on online voter registration databases “have increased Americans’ concerns about the integrity of our elections.”

Concerns around the security of voting infrastructure have been an increasing topic of interest on Capitol Hill since the 2016 elections, when, according to former 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, Russian intelligence officers were able to hack into an Illinois State Board of Elections database that included the voting information of millions. 

Mueller’s report on Moscow’s election meddling also said hackers were able to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county due to spear-phishing emails sent to more than 120 accounts used by Florida election officials. 

Another concern is that many election systems in the U.S. are old and outdated, an issue highlighted by a report released by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice this week that called for more federal oversight of companies that manufacture voting equipment. 

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Pushing forward election security-related legislation has been a key priority for the Democratic-controlled House, which has passed three major pieces of legislation related to election security since March. 

These bills have been passed along party lines in the House and stalled in the GOP-majority Senate, with Republicans citing concerns that the legislation would federalize elections and take power away from the states, along with other issues. 

Lucas noted these concerns on Thursday, saying during the markup that “the U.S. Constitution vests the responsibility of administering elections with state and local governments,” but adding that “the federal government has an important role to play, in providing guidance and assistance to states on election systems.”

Lucas added that “the federal government can and should also work closely with state and local election officials to deal with foreign and domestic cyber threats. This bill provides the research tools to do that, without imposing costly or burdensome mandates on states.”

The bill was approved the same day that House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDemocrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe, eyeing new GOP reinforcements Pelosi considering Kinzinger for Jan. 6 panel: report House erupts in anger over Jan. 6 and Trump's role MORE (D-Miss.) previewed legislation not yet introduced that will aim to streamline which House committees have jurisdiction over election security issues. 

“There are four committees in Congress, in the House, that have part jurisdiction on elections,” Thompson said during Georgetown University’s State of Cyber conference. “We are going to do an election bill there shortly to try to manage some of that, and we are working out the differences, but the jurisdictional issues continue to confront us.”

Thompson told The Hill that the legislation will be comprised of “a broader package to make sure that we can get whatever done in a faster period of time,” but did not offer details on when the legislation would be formally introduced.

The House Homeland Security Committee will zero in on the issue of election security next week, when its cybersecurity subcommittee holds a hearing on ways to defend against interference headed into the 2020 elections.