The bill, introduced by the bipartisan team of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, would require the Director of National Intelligence to make a determination about foreign interference within one month after every federal election.
"Protecting the integrity of our elections is an issue that knows no party. And with the midterm elections less than a year away, we have no time to waste," Van Hollen said in a statement. "The DETER Act sends an unequivocal message to Russia and any other foreign actor who may follow its example: if you attack us, the consequences will be severe."
"We cannot be a country where foreign intelligence agencies attempt to influence our political process without consequences. This bill will help to ensure the integrity of our electoral process by using key national security tools to dissuade foreign powers from meddling in our elections," Rubio said in a statement.
The Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines, or DETER Act, comes a week after Senate Democrats issued a report
warning that the US is ill prepared to deal with possible Russian meddling in the 2018 midterms or the 2020 presidential election.
The senators note that Russia isn't the only potential threat to the integrity of US elections. The intelligence community has identified China, Iran and North Korea as other major actors who may seek to exploit vulnerabilities in the next US election cycle.
Unlike other legislation that focuses on protecting state and local election infrastructure, Van Hollen and Rubio's bill is the first that would focus on punishing foreign actors by laying out severe consequences, staffers say.
The DETER Act would bar foreign governments or agents working on their behalf from purchasing adverts to influence an election or using social media to spread false information to Americans.
It would also explicitly bar foreign governments from hacking, releasing or modifying voter registration databases and campaign emails, or from blocking access to websites that provide information about polling locations.
And should intelligence officials determine that Russia has once again tried to shape an election, the bill calls for severe sanctions on Russia's financial, energy, defense and mining sectors to be implemented within 10 days.
Senior Russian officials named in the DNI report would be blacklisted from entering the US and have any assets in the country blocked.