A group of congressional Democrats is making a renewed push for cybersecurity in the 2020 election in anticipation of attempted Russian interference, including requiring paper ballots.
Twelve Democratic senators and an independent who caucuses with them – including several presidential candidates – introduced legislation Wednesday that would require hand-marked paper ballots and “statistically rigorous” cybersecurity audits for federal elections. Presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California cosponsored the measure.
The Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2019, spearheaded by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, would prohibit internet-connected voting machines and would direct the Department of Homeland Security to set security criteria for voting machines, voter registration databases, electronic voter check-in tools and election results websites, according to the bill.
The measure would provide $500 million for new ballot-scanning machines to replace states’ paperless voting machines, grant $250 million for new ballot marking devices for voters with disabilities and authorize the federal government to reimburse states for post-election audits and for designing and printing ballots.
It would implement the dual safeguards – paper ballots and cybersecurity audits – on the recommendation of a 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, according to a statement from Wyden’s office. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon will lead a companion bill through the House of Representatives.
Wyden accused the White House of taking insufficient efforts against a demonstrated Russian threat.
“The Russian government interfered in American elections in 2016 and if we don’t stop them, they and other governments are going to do it again,” Wyden wrote in a statement. “The administration refuses to do what it takes to protect our democracy, so Congress has to step up. Our bill will give voters the confidence they need that our elections are secure.”
The bill comes after another Democratic Senate presidential hopeful, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, accused the White House of stonewalling her 2017 election security bill, which would have also required paper ballots.
Speaking during Attorney General Bill Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, Klobuchar alleged that “the White House made calls to stop” some Republican senators from backing it.
Barr told Klobuchar, “I will work with you to enhance the security of our election.”
The intelligence community has long warned of Russia’s long-standing election interference efforts, which show no signs of stopping – and which President Donald Trump has played down and shown little interest in combating.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and a slew of other officials – then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Chris Wray, then-National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley and then-National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo – all confirmed last year the intelligence community’s findings that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and would continue targeting US elections.
In January, Coats warned Congress that Russia and other foreign countries are expected to target the 2020 elections.
“We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests,” Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time. “We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences and efforts in previous elections.”