Congress

House passes election security measure requiring cybersecurity safeguards, paper ballots

Republicans, in split with Democrats, call it federal overreach and are pushing their own proposals

Speaker Nancy Pelosi at an event with House and Senate Democrats on Thursday before a House vote on the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House passed an election security measure Thursday that would require voting systems to use backup paper ballots in federal contests, while also mandating improvements to the higher-tech side of the polls.

The full chamber voted 225-184 to send the bill to the Senate where it faces stiff opposition from Republicans. House Democrats fast-tracked the bill to the floor after it cleared the Administration Committee by a party-line vote. 

One Republican — Florida Rep. Brian Mast — voted for the measure Thursday. No Democrats voted against it. 

With just over 200 days until the New Hampshire primary for the 2020 presidential election, Democrats and Republicans, who agree that enhanced elections security is necessary, are still far apart on how to legislate and implement changes to current systems.

The measure, known as the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, passed Thursday would authorize $600 million for states to bolster election security. It also would give states $175 million biannually to help sustain election infrastructure. 

“This bill closes dangerous gaps in our election systems and brings our security into the 21st century,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech in support of the bill. 

It would also require implementation of cybersecurity safeguards for hardware and software used in elections, bar the use of wireless communication devices in election systems and require electronic voting machines be manufactured in the United States.

Republicans acknowledged the urgent need for progress in securing the nation's election systems. But they spoke out against the bill, calling it federal overreach into elections, which are managed by states and localities.

“Democrats’ bill focuses on forcing states to restructure their election systems through federal mandates and ignores states’ rights to choose the election system that best fits their unique needs,” Rep. Rodney Davis said.

The Illinois Republican has proposed his own election security legislation, which he says focuses on empowering states and local election officials to update voting infrastructure.

“There is a reason why the Russians are interfering in our elections, and other countries may be too, but we can document with full confidence from the intelligence community that the Russians are,” Pelosi said. “It is because they want to affect the outcome of the elections so they can affect the policy” 

The California Democrat announced Wednesday that Congress will receive an election security briefing from administration officials on July 10, and she put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up election security measures in his chamber.

So far, McConnell has refused to allow votes on any election security proposals, citing concerns that the measures erode state authority over elections.

But some Senate Democrats are fighting the Kentucky Republican’s position, attempting to force votes on election security bills with procedural moves.

Last week, Virginia Democrat Mark Warner tried to move a bill that would require campaigns to report contact with foreign nationals seeking to meddle in elections, but his unanimous consent request was thwarted by Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn.

Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar tried to force a vote earlier this week on a measure that would require backup paper ballots and would authorize $1 billion in election security grants for states to improve election security issues. Oklahoma Republican James Lankford blocked the move.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden joined Pelosi on Wednesday to advocate the House measure, saying members of his party would spend the July 4 recess “fanning out all across the country” to spread the word about election security efforts. He, too, invoked Paul Revere’s ride during the American Revolution.

“We’re going to have a simple message: pass legislation with provisions of the SAFE Act, and tell Mitch McConnell that the future of our democracy is too important for him to stand in its way,” Wyden said, using the measure's acronym.

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