House approves legislation making hacking voting systems a federal crime

a voter behind the screen of a voting booth

The House on Monday unanimously approved legislation that would make hacking federal voting systems a federal crime. 

The Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act, approved by the Senate last year, would make hacking federal voting infrastructure a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is commonly used by the Justice Department to take action against malicious hackers.

The bipartisan bill was introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last year. It will now be sent to President Trump’s desk for signature. 

Blumenthal applauded the bill’s passage Monday, saying in a statement that “as foreign adversaries seek to undermine our democracy, our election systems are in dire need of strong safeguards.”

“Our adversaries have shown a willingness and capability to hack the infrastructure that powers our democracy, however, our laws and enforcement lag far behind this dire threat,” Blumenthal said. “This bill must now quickly become law so every vote counts. Nearly a month out from our 2020 elections, there’s no time to waste.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) described the bill on the House floor Monday as “an important legislative initiative” in advance of the November general election. 

“All of us want a fair and just election system, voting is an essential part of our democracy, we must ensure that our citizens have confidence in our electoral systems,” Jackson Lee said. 

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) also praised the bill, describing it as a way the federal government could play a role in helping states defend against threats to elections. 

“Protecting our nation’s election process from bad actors must be a top priority of Congress,” Armstrong said on the House floor Monday. “Bad actors who attempt to interfere in our elections must be punished for their actions.”

The bill was the result of a 2018 report compiled by the Justice Department’s Cyber Digital Task Force, which evaluated ways the federal government could improve its response to cyber threats.

The legislation was passed by the House four years after Russian agents targeted voting infrastructure in all 50 states, successfully accessing systems in some cases, as part of a wider effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. There is no evidence that any votes were changed.

Efforts by foreign hackers to target the 2020 elections have already been documented. Microsoft announced earlier this month that it has seen evidence of hackers in Russia, China, and Iran targeting political groups, including the presidential campaigns of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

A senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence also released an assessment last month warning that Russia, China, and Iran are actively seeking to interfere in the presidential election this year.

-Updated at 6:25 p.m. 

Tags Donald Trump Election Security House of Representatives Joe Biden Kelly Armstrong Lindsey Graham Sheila Jackson Lee Sheldon Whitehouse

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