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 GonzalezSenators press NCAA on compensation for college athletes World Bank approves billion-plus annual China lending plan despite US objections Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant MORE (R-Ohio) and Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillBiden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Elbow bumps, Spock salutes: How Congress is dealing with coronavirus Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal amid coronavirus threat | Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol | Coronavirus emerges as 2020 flashpoint MORE (D-N.J.), along with committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonTexas House Dems ask governor to issue stay-at-home order Hillicon Valley: Democrats in talks to bridge surveillance divide | DHS confident in Super Tuesday election security | State pledges M cyber help to Ukraine | Facebook skipping SXSW amid coronavirus Markey presses facial recognition company over Middle Eastern marketing, potential child privacy violations MORE (D-Texas) and ranking member Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasHillicon Valley: Democrats in talks to bridge surveillance divide | DHS confident in Super Tuesday election security | State pledges M cyber help to Ukraine | Facebook skipping SXSW amid coronavirus Markey presses facial recognition company over Middle Eastern marketing, potential child privacy violations Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 ThompsonPelosi forms House committee to oversee coronavirus response Democrats introduce bill to set up commission to review coronavirus response Hillicon Valley: HHS hit by cyberattack amid coronavirus outbreak | Senators urge FCC to shore up internet access for students | Sanders ramps up Facebook ad spending | Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline MORE (D-Miss.) previewed legislation not yet introduced that will aim to streamline which House committees have jurisdiction over election security issues. 

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“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.