Not Going to Happen: Secure Elections Act Won’t Pass Before 2018 Election

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The lead Republican Senate co-sponsor of the Secure Elections Act, federal legislation to solidify election cybersecurity, conceded yesterday that it won’t pass before the November elections. The Hill newspaper has more:

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said Tuesday that a bipartisan election security bill won’t be passed by Congress ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Lankford told The Hill that the text of the bill, known as the Secure Elections Act, is still being worked out. And with the House only being in session for a limited number of days before the elections, the chances of an election security bill being passed by then are next to none.

“The House won’t be here after this week so it’s going to be impossible to get passed,” Lankford said of the bill.

The legislation, which aims to protect elections from cyberattacks, was initially set to be addressed by a Senate committee last month. But the markup was abruptly postponed by Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) over a lack of Republican support and after some secretaries of state shared concerns about the bill, a GOP Senate aide told The Hill at the time.

The White House was also critical of the legislation, saying that it “cannot support legislation with inappropriate mandates or that moves power or funding from the states to Washington for the planning and operation of elections.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has urged lawmakers to take steps to secure U.S. elections.

“With just 42 days until the midterm election, it is critical that we pass the Secure Elections Act as soon as possible,” Klobuchar said in a statement to The Hill. “The bill is supported by both Democrats and Republicans who continue to work to get this done. With our nation under attack from foreign governments every day, there is a federal obligation to act.”

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers also introduced their version of the legislation in August.

Some secretaries of state and election organizations had raised concerns about the legislation, which would have required that states use backup paper ballots and conduct audits after elections to ensure that no votes or voting systems were compromised.

Lankford told The Hill on Tuesday that the lawmakers were working with secretaries of state as well as other groups involved in elections to finalize the bill.

“We ran it through the whole group last time, we’ll run it through everybody else again,” he said.
Congress has not passed another piece of legislation aimed at protecting election systems from cyberattacks since the 2016 election, which the U.S. intelligence community determined was influenced by Russia.

Lawmakers did include $380 million for states to upgrade and secure their voting systems in an appropriations bill passed earlier this year. However, House Republicans thwarted an effort to add more election security funding in a July spending bill, arguing that states has already received sufficient funds.

To be candid, this news isn’t surprising; with Congressional work days dwindling and other issues seizing attention – let alone the need to consult with the elections community – passage would have been difficult anyway. Still, it’s disappointing that any effort to put together a permanent federal response to the election cybersecurity challenge will have to wait (and very likely start over) until a new Congress next year. Keep your fingers crossed – and stay tuned …

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