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Election security advocates see strong ally in Harris

Election security advocates see strong ally in Harris
© Greg Nash

With Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Pelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report How Kamala Harris can find the solution for the migration crisis MORE (D-Calif.) on the presumptive presidential ticket, Democrats are elevating one of the Senate's most outspoken opponents of foreign election interference.

Her selection by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFederal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Biden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Jill Biden gives shout out to Champ, Major on National Pet Day MORE comes shortly after the intelligence community went public about new Russian, Chinese and Iranian efforts to meddle in the 2020 presidential election.

Election security proponents say Harris's track record in Congress shows her commitment to the issue since the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

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“She has been a leader on the issue, and a forceful advocate of greater federal support to states,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerA bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Five ways an obscure Senate ruling could change Washington MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill in a statement on Wednesday.

Harris sits on the Intelligence Committee with Warner.

Warner noted that “she’s been one of a number of members who have constantly pushed the intelligence community, the FBI, and the Administration to do more to stop foreign interference.”

The Intelligence Committee conducted a multiyear bipartisan investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections. The panel has issued several reports detailing Moscow’s efforts targeting election infrastructure in all 50 states, hacking the Democratic National Committee and launching a disinformation campaign aimed at helping President TrumpDonald TrumpGaetz was denied meeting with Trump: CNN Federal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Police in California city declare unlawful assembly amid 'white lives matter' protest MORE.

Harris has sponsored numerous bills aimed at securing elections and boosting resources for election officials.

The Secure Elections Act, introduced in 2017 alongside Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordRubio and bipartisan group of senators push to make daylight saving time permanent Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many MORE (R-Okla.), was a major effort aimed at modernizing election cybersecurity issues and preventing foreign interference. It ultimately failed to move forward in the GOP-controlled Senate, with Republicans saying they were concerned about federalizing elections.

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More recently, Harris was one of more than a dozen senators who co-sponsored the PAVE Act, which would mandate the use of paper ballots and take further steps to secure elections. The bill has not seen action in the Senate.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally A bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure MORE (D-Ore.), another member of the Intelligence Committee and the main sponsor of the PAVE Act, called Harris a “real asset ... with her energy and passion for protecting the integrity of America’s elections.”

Election security in recent months has focused on boosting mail-in ballots and early voting to limit the spread of the coronavirus at the polls.

While Democrats and Republicans have locked horns over providing states with additional funds to address those challenges, Congress did include $400 million for elections as part of a coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Trump in March.

Harris has also addressed mail-in voting concerns by sponsoring legislation alongside Wyden and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLobbying world New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy Bottom line MORE (D-Minn.) that would increase mail-in and early voting during the pandemic. Republicans blocked the bill in May.

Klobuchar, who highlighted election security while running as a Democratic presidential candidate alongside Harris last year, described the California senator on Wednesday as a “strong ally in the fight to secure our elections.”

“She understands how important it is to protect against foreign interference, and we have worked together on bills to require paper ballots, voting system testing, grants for states to improve election security, and more,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “As Vice President, I know she will continue to push forward critical reforms that have been blocked by Republicans for far too long.”

Beyond Capitol Hill, election security advocates and experts are optimistic about Harris’s selection as Biden’s running mate.

Sean Eldridge, founder and president of the advocacy group Stand Up America, called Harris a “powerful advocate” for election security.

“Sen. Harris was one of the first to demand federal action to ensure Americans could vote safely amid the pandemic,” Eldridge said. “As Vice President, we're confident that Sen. Harris will continue to be a fierce champion for restoring the Voting Rights Act, ending voter suppression, and securing future elections from foreign interference."

Others see Harris and Biden complementing each other on the election security front.

Paul Rosenzweig, former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration, said he could see Biden making Harris the point person on election security if he wins in November. 

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“Typically, each vice president gets delegated responsibility for one or two policy initiatives that are within his or her particular purview or wheelhouse, and it wouldn’t surprise me, given Sen. Harris’s background, if a Biden administration were to ask her to take a particular interest in election security and cybersecurity,” said Rosenzweig, who is now resident senior fellow at the right-leaning R Street Institute. 

Biden put out a strong statement last month putting the Kremlin “on notice.”

“If elected president, I will treat foreign interference in our election as an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government,” Biden said.

Rosenzweig noted that while both the Obama and Trump administrations took steps to counter election interference, a Biden administration with Harris as vice president would likely go much further.

“It is a heartening prospect to think that the Biden-Harris administration will have an opportunity to refocus our efforts on election security going forward,” Rosenzweig said.