Election Security, Paper Ballot Measure Advanced by House Panel

  • Democrats say changes needed to stem foreign interference
  • Legislation heads to House floor; it faces obstacles in Senate

A House committee approved legislation Friday that would authorize new funds to upgrade election security and mandate paper ballots as Democrats push for more voting safeguards heading into the 2020 elections.

The House Administration Committee approved the measure (H. R. 2722) on a 6-3 party-line vote, underscoring partisan divisions over the role the federal government should play in helping local governments prevent hacking.

Democrats have cited the Russian interference in the 2016 election documented in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report as a reason for helping to pay for election protections.

“When outsiders meddle in our elections, it’s an attack on our country, and we cannot leave states to defend against the sophisticated cyber attacks of state actors on their own,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), committee chairwoman and author of the bill.

House Democratic leaders have scheduled a floor vote on the measure next week.

It faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republican leaders say the $380 million for election security appropriated in fiscal 2018 (Public Law 115-141) is sufficient. They also say oversight of elections primarily is a state and local matter.

Chairman Says States Don’t Need More Election Anti-Hacking Money

Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Voters cast ballots in Santa Ana, Calif., in 2018

The bill would require that paper ballots be used and stored in case of the need for a recount or audit. It would authorize $5 million in grant money for at least three organizations to study, test and develop such accessible paper ballot systems.

The bill would require that each eligible state be given grants to replace voting systems that don’t meet accessibility requirements and guidelines, as well as to make voting system security improvements.

It would authorize $600 million in fiscal 2019, and $175 million every even-numbered year from fiscal 2020 through 2026, for grants to states to strengthen their election systems.

Senate Fight

House appropriators have included $600 million in election security grants in the Appropriations Committee-approved Financial Services spending bill (H.R. 3351) for fiscal 2020.

Election security requirements also are part of a broader ethics and election bill (H.R. 1)that the House passed in March. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t bring up that bill in the Senate.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) the committee’s ranking member, said that while election systems need to be updated, officials should consider new technology and not just rely on paper ballots.

He offered an amendment that included election infrastructure funding, security clearance assistance for election officials and a way to report election cybersecurity issues. His amendment was defeated on a 3-5 vote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Elkin in Washington at eelkin@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com