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2020 Democrats accelerate push for action to secure elections

 2020 Democrats accelerate push for action to secure elections

Democratic presidential candidates are seizing on election security to attack Republicans for not doing enough to safeguard the country against foreign interference.

The attacks were also part of this week's Democratic debates, when a few candidates cited the threat posed by Russia, including their interference in the 2016 election as spelled out in 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's report released earlier this year. 

The calls for action comes as Mueller prepares to testify before Congress next month and as Democrats' push for enhanced election security has stalled because of Republican opposition.

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Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar Klobuchar offers tribute to her father, who died Wednesday The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill MORE (D-Minn.), at the Democratic debate on Wednesday, blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Washington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden MORE (R-Ky.) for preventing passage of election security legislation.

“We let the Republicans run our elections, and if we do not do something about Russian interference in the election, and we let Mitch McConnell stop all the back-up paper ballots, then we are not going to get to do what we want to do,” Klobuchar said.

McConnell has consistently refused to allow Senate floor votes on a number of election security bills in recent weeks, citing concerns that these bills would federalize elections and take oversight away from states.

Earlier this week, Klobuchar attempted to force a vote to allow the Senate to consider her Election Security Act, but was blocked by Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordTop border officials defend Biden policies Rubio and bipartisan group of senators push to make daylight saving time permanent Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session MORE (R-Okla.).

Her legislation would require back-up paper ballots and provide $1 billion in election security grants for states to improve election security issues. 

Lankford called Klobuchar's proposal a "partisan bill," while noting he's still hoping to work with her on re-introducing the Secure Elections Act, a bill that would strengthen cybersecurity information sharing and require all election jurisdictions to perform post-election audits to verify Election Day results.

The Oklahoma senator added that he has not talked to McConnell about potentially supporting passage of this bill. 

On Thursday night's debate, technology entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangJeffries endorses Wiley in New York mayor's race Yang: 'Defund the police is the wrong approach for New York City' HuffPost's Daniel Marans discusses fallout from Yang's comments on Israel MORE echoed Klobuchar’s concerns about foreign interference in elections, naming Russia as the greatest geopolitical threat to the United States, while noting the country “has been hacking our democracy successfully.”

“They’ve been laughing their asses off about it for years,” Yang added. “We should focus on that before we start worrying about other threats.”

Similarly, Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetNew York, New Jersey, California face long odds in scrapping SALT  Overnight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move MORE (D-Colo.) said during the debate that Russia poses a greater threat to the U.S. than China “because of what they’ve done with our election.”

President TrumpDonald TrumpFranklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Man suspected in wife's disappearance accused of casting her ballot for Trump Stefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' MORE has resisted stronger action on election security, while accusing Democrats of politicizing the Mueller report in order to de-legitimize his win in the 2016 elections.

On Friday, Trump stirred some controversy after being asked by a journalist whether he would address Russia's interference in 2016 during a sit-down with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinTime for jaw-to-jaw with Moscow Hillicon Valley: Colonial pipeline is back online, but concerns remain | Uber, Lyft struggle with driver supply | Apple cuts controversial hire Menendez calls on Biden to support Armenia amid rising tensions with Azerbaijan MORE at the Group of 20 summit in Japan.

Trump turned to Putin and said “don’t meddle in the election please” in what appeared to be a light-hearted manner.

Other 2020 candidates have also vowed to continue calling for tougher election security legislation.

Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Almost 20 advocacy groups team up to pressure Congress to pass health care bill for immigrants Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines MORE (D-N.J.) told reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday that he lamented not having been able to talk about election security during his debate because he was vying for attention with 10 other Democrats on stage.

Booker added that “there will be a lot more opportunities to speak about issues that matter” during future debates. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenLawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats Warren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas Sanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' MORE (D-Mass.) placed a spotlight on election security by releasing a plan on how she will address the topic if elected president. The proposal came the day before she appeared on the debate stage on Wednesday.

Warren wrote that U.S. elections are currently “less secure than your Amazon account,” and vowed to ensure the federal government paid for the replacement of every voting machine in the nation with new machines that allow for hand-marked, voter-verified paper ballots.

The Democratic candidates’ concern over election security comes as Mueller prepares to publicly testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on July 17 in back-to-back appearances.

Mueller's report concluded that Russia conducted a disinformation campaign on social media platforms, and conducted cyber attacks against U.S. election officials and against the Democratic Party. 

This week, the House passed the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act by a party-line vote. House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Lawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats House Republican: 'Absolutely bogus' for GOP to downplay Jan. 6 MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney sideshow distracts from important battle over Democrats' partisan voting bill MORE (D-N.Y.) then held a press conference to put pressure on McConnell to allow a vote on the legislation in the upper chamber.

Pelosi also announced that Congress will receive a briefing on election security on July 10, but did not offer further details. 

On Friday, seven freshman House Democrats announced the creation of “Task Force Sentry,” with the lawmakers teaming up to protect elections from interference.

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Besides Klobuchar, other Senate Democrats are also attempting to force votes on election security bills.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWarner: Hack-reporting law 'one of the few areas left where there's broad bipartisan support' Biden signs executive order to improve federal cybersecurity Overnight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move MORE (D-Va.) tried to pass a bill that would require campaigns to report contacts with foreign nationals looking to interfere in elections, but it was blocked by Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base MORE (R-Tenn.) last week. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told The Hill this week that he would be open to taking a similar approach, forcing a unanimous consent vote on a bill he has sponsored that would criminalize the hacking of voting machines. 

Blumenthal’s Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act is also sponsored by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats Judge's decision on Barr memo puts spotlight on secretive DOJ office On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction MORE (D-R.I), and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. 

Additional election security funding also seems to be a sticking point for Republicans.

This week, the House approved the fiscal year 2020 Financial Services and General Government funding bill with a provision granting the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) $600 million that would be handed over to states to shore up their voting infrastructure.

The bill comes after Congress appropriated $380 million to the EAC last year for the same purpose. 

However, this year's bill has little chance of being approved by the Senate. Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over this funding bill, told reporters this week that he is “very, very skeptical about the wisdom of including” the $600 million in funding to states.

“I admire their zeal, but I’m not certain about their wisdom,” Kennedy said of House efforts to pass election security funding.