Lawmakers introduce bill to help election officials address cyber vulnerabilities

Lawmakers introduce bill to help election officials address cyber vulnerabilities

Reps. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoSenators introduce bipartisan bill to secure critical groups against hackers House erupts in anger over Jan. 6 and Trump's role McCarthy yanks all GOP picks from Jan. 6 committee MORE (R-N.Y.) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceOvernight Health Care: White House signals new COVID-19 strategy as delta variant spreads | McConnell urges vaccinations | Maryland says all COVID-19 deaths last month were among unvaccinated House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill House GOP campaign arm adds to target list MORE (D-N.Y.) on Friday introduced legislation to provide election officials with enhanced cybersecurity resources, as authorities ramp up warnings of foreign interference in U.S. elections this year. 

The Cyber Navigators Act would provide funds for states and local authorities to hire cyber professionals to provide election-related cybersecurity support. The funds would be distributed to states by the Election Assistance Commission as part of a grant program.

Katko, who serves as ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee cybersecurity subcommittee, said in a statement that the legislation marked a “continuation” of efforts to work with Republicans and Democrats to address election security concerns. 

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“As we quickly approach November’s General Election, state and local governments must have the resources to ensure the integrity of their election systems,” Katko said. “This bipartisan bill authorizes a grant program to enable state and local governments to hire cybersecurity professionals capable of detecting and addressing vulnerabilities within election systems to strengthen our election security.”

The cybersecurity of elections has been an area of concern since the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, when Russian agents targeted election infrastructure in all 50 states, successfully accessing systems in Florida and Illinois, among other hacking and disinformation efforts. There is no evidence that any votes were changed. 

A senior intelligence official warned last week that Russia, China and Iran were attempting to interfere in the U.S. presidential election this year as well, with Russia favoring President TrumpDonald TrumpPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Has Trump beaten the system? MORE, and China favoring former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden authorizes up to 0M for Afghan refugees Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe MORE

The legislation was introduced the day after a separate group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced legislation that would funnel $28 billion in federal funds to state and local officials to address IT modernization and cybersecurity needs. 

Election officials have begged Congress to appropriate more funds to address election needs, particularly in the wake of new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress appropriated $400 million to states as part of the CARES Act coronavirus stimulus package signed into law in March, but officials have argued this is not nearly enough.

Cybersecurity of systems generally has become a more pressing issue during the pandemic as well, as older systems come under stress from greater online traffic, and as state and local governments face budget shortfalls.