House Democrats Introduce Sweeping Election Legislation as H.R.1

[Screenshot image via congress.gov]

As promised, the new House Democratic majority has made election reform a top priority, introducing a huge (571-page) election bill as H.R.1 in the 116th Congress. The Hill has more:

House Democrats on Friday unveiled several election security measures as part of their first sweeping legislation of the session.

The bill, H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, mandates that states use paper ballots in elections, which must also be hand-counted, or by “optical character recognition device,” the bill states.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced the legislation, which he and other Democrats have described as a comprehensive anti-corruption package that will set the tone for their time in control of the House.

The bill will also allow the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) — the small federal agency tasked with helping officials carry out elections — to hand out funding to states for the improvement of their elections systems.

The Department of Homeland Security would also be required to conduct a threat assessment ahead of elections and that voting systems be tested nine months before any national election.

And the legislation creates security standards for voting machine vendors, including that they must be owned by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The EAC has had voluntary voting system guidelines for vendors in place.

There are also several provisions included on helping Americans to vote, like offering online voter registration, shoring up the Voting Rights Act and ending voter roll purges.

While the bill has a decent chance of moving through the House, where Democrats hold the majority, it may face a more difficult path to passage in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The Senate is also home to the now-dead Secure Elections Act, sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), aimed at securing election systems from cyberattacks. The senators have said they will reintroduce the legislation this legislative session.

Congress failed to pass any election security legislation after Russia was determined to have interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said late last month that Russia conducted influence campaigns targeting the 2018 midterms, but that there were no compromises of U.S. election systems.

As the article notes, the bill itself has very little chance of enactment – but it’s a useful indicator of Democrats’ priorities and will help set the agenda for negotiations on topics that may gain consensus like election cybersecurity. If nothing else, election policy is likely to have a higher profile in the new Congress than in previous years. Stay tuned …

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