President Donald Trump is objecting to the Senate’s effort to help improve election security, citing concerns about imposing federal burdens on state and local governments.
The Rules and Administration Committee abruptly scrapped a Wednesday markup of bipartisan election security legislation, and there were rumors that the White House might have been at least in part behind the delay.
Some Republican members of the committee were against the bill, including former Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.
Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, confirmed in a statement that the administration believed the Department of Homeland Security had sufficient authorities to ensure the security of election systems.
The White House is asking the Senate, “Do not violate the principles of Federalism — Elections are the responsibility of the states and local governments,” according to the Walters statement. “We cannot support legislation with inappropriate mandates or that moves power or funding from the states to Washington for the planning and operation of elections.”
That echos the concerns of Shelby.
“I have problems with that,” the Alabama Republican told reporters Wednesday. “My problem is that heretofore, for the most part, the states and the counties and some local governments have funded and taken control and run the ballot box, so to speak, state-by-state.”
“This is a big step for the federal government moving in,” Shelby said, before emphasizing that criticism of additional federal involvement was not an expression of opposition to enhancing security.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., meanwhile, one of the co-sponsors of the legislation said he was disappointed in the delay and that states facing complex cybersecurity threats from foreign adversaries cannot be expected to handle them on their own without help from the federal government.
The Constitution requires states and local governments to conduct elections, but “we don’t expect states to protect against a foreign attack,” Lankford said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “That is the responsibility of the federal government.”
Allowing states to have disparate security measures could lead to vulnerable gaps that could undermine all federal elections, Lankford said.
The White House also wants Congress to avoiding legislation that might duplicate or interfere with existing DHS efforts to help state and local stakeholders secure voting systems, as Yahoo reported Thursday.
“While the Administration appreciates Congress’s interest in election security, DHS has all the statutory authority it needs to assist state and local officials to improve the security of existing election infrastructure,” said Walters. “DHS is exercising its existing authority to help state and local authorities confront known challenges and build up the structural resilience to face emerging threats.”
Among the key provisions of the Senate bill was an effort to ensure that voting systems have verifiable paper trails for ballots in order for states to receive federal funds for elections.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic co-sponsor and ranking member of the Rules and Administration Committee, was among the lawmakers complaining after the delay of the Wednesday markup.
“Each and every day Vladimir Putin, hostile nations, and criminal forces devise new schemes to muck up our democracy and other infrastructure. When our nation is under attack from foreign governments there is a federal obligation to act,” Klobuchar said in a statement.
Gopal Ratnam contributed to this report.