Cybersecurity

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 Mueller’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.

{mosads}Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), at the Democratic debate on Wednesday, blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Lankford (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 Yang 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 Bennet (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 Trump 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 Putin 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 Booker (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 Warren (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 Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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.

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

Sen. Mark Warner (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 Blackburn (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 Whitehouse (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 Kennedy (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.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Andrew Yang Charles Schumer Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren James Lankford John Kennedy Mark Warner Marsha Blackburn Michael Bennet Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Robert Mueller Sheldon Whitehouse Vladimir Putin

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