Time is running out for Congress to help states make meaningful security improvements before the 2020 election.
Despite improvements since 2016, including some equipment upgrades, increased data-sharing and training to help elections officers spot and respond to cybersecurity threats, much remains to be done.
Last year, Congress and the president approved $380 million in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grants to help states update equipment and enhance security, with each state receiving between $3 million to $34 million, based on population. In most states, the grants were not enough even to fund statewide replacement of voting equipment that is often more than a decade old. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states still do not require paper backups for electronic ballots, although some states do as a matter of practice. Louisiana continues to use election equipment that leaves no paper record; in three others — Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas — only some elections leave a paper trail.
Washington’s paper ballots and comprehensive election system upgrade, while not without its snags, puts us in a better position than most, but our national elections are only as secure as the weakest link. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, produced what he said was a letter from 21 state attorneys general saying they need more help.
Also last week, special counsel Robert Mueller warned of ongoing Russian threats to election security, and the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that attempts to meddle in the 2016 elections was more far-reaching than previously known. So it is difficult to feel sorry for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who is reportedly fuming over harsh criticisms of his refusal to allow consideration of election security bills.
For their part, Schumer and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, should have known their requests to pass such bills by unanimous consent were symbolic motions doomed to fail, as McConnell noted. The first — a version of the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act — had been sent to the Senate after passing the Democratic-led House with only one Republican backer. But McConnell also has stymied bipartisan efforts to shore up elections security. Plenty of blame to go around.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, has said he believes the Senate overwhelmingly would approve basic “common-sense” election security measures that came to a vote.
“We all agree that the federal government, state governments and the private sector all have obligations to take this threat seriously and bolster our defenses,” McConnell insisted in his umbrage-fueled speech from the Senate floor on Monday. When do they intend to make good on that obligation?
We’ve had enough of accusations. It’s time to get to work.