Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
According to a new report from Yahoo News, a potentially groundbreaking bill to secure U.S. elections from hostile attacks like those carried out by Russia in 2016, known as the Secure Elections Act, is now stalled and effectively dead.
The amazing part is that for a while, Senate Republicans actually seemed to be on board. The bill was introduced by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), and had a mixed company of co-sponsors including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Susan Collins (R-ME).
But then, President Donald Trump’s White House intervened.
Before the bill could be marked up in committee, however, officials in the Department of Homeland Security intervened, prompting Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) to cancel any further action on it:
In a statement to Yahoo News, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says that while the administration “appreciates Congress’s interest in election security, [the Department of Homeland Security] has all the statutory authority it needs to assist state and local officials to improve the security of existing election infrastructure.”
Under current law, DHS is already able to work with state and local authorities to protect elections, Walters wrote. If Congress pursues the Secure Elections Act, it should avoid duplicating “existing DHS efforts or the imposition of unnecessary requirements” and “not violate the principles of Federalism.”
“We cannot support legislation with inappropriate mandates or that moves power or funding from the states to Washington for the planning and operation of elections,” she added. However, the White House gave no specifics on what parts of the bill it objected to.
The bill, had it passed, would have improved information sharing on election security between the states and the federal government, given a security clearance to secretaries of state to receive classified threat information on election risks, mandated states conduct audits for irregularities after any federal election, and provided financial incentives for states to replace paperless electronic voting machines, which are broadly considered unsecure and hackable by experts.
While there is no evidence so far that electronic voting machines themselves were hacked in the 2016 elections, experts believe Russian hackers penetrated the election websites or voter registration rolls of at least 7 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and Wisconsin.
The White House has refused to take seriously the threat of election hacking. Instead, insofar as they have discussed election security at all, it is about the fictional threat of millions of people illegally casting second votes in person — which Trump wants to address with strict rules forcing people to show duplicative ID at the polls, regardless of the difficulty or cost of obtaining them for poorer voters.
Needless to say, this would have no bearing on the risk of election hacking. But it has been an obsession for Trump, who formed an “Election Integrity Commission” to look into the matter, only for the group to collapse amid a bipartisan state refusal to submit data and a lawsuit from one of its own members.
Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.