U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Ted Yoho of Florida are among House Republicans submitting 11th hour election security legislation after a $600 million House bill passed in March along partisan lines was stymied in the Senate.
Time is running out to pass federal legislation to implement election security upgrades with late October targeted as the latest that any enacted bill could distribute allocations to states in time to purchase, install and train on new equipment and procedures before the November 2020 election.
On Sept. 19, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services & General Government unanimously advanced a spending bill that includes $250 million for states to address election security ahead of the 2020 elections.
The proposed Senate elections security bill comes months after the House adopted HR 1, "The For the People Act of 2019," that allocated $600 million for states’ election security upgrades with a requirement that they back up machines with paper ballots.
The House-approved bill idled after Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell refused to take up the measure, calling it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act,” claiming it would “federalize” elections and actually make them more vulnerable to hacking.
In 2017, the federal government classified elections systems as critical infrastructure. In March 2018, Congress appropriated $380 million to states through the Election Assistance Commission [EAC] for election infrastructure and security upgrades through the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
Florida received a $14.5 million Help American Vote Act grant from the EAC.
Since then, Congress has done little, with HR 1 stalled and the Senate only recently responding with a proposed $250 million bill.
Even if adopted, the Brennan Center for Justice estimates it would cost at least $2 billion to secure states’ electoral systems to safeguard them from trespass and manipulation.
The Brennan Center and the Stanford Cyber Policy Center maintain 8,000 election jurisdictions across the country do not have the IT support to ward off cyber intrusion.
There have been notable improvements, according to the Brennan Center, which estimates that nearly 90 percent of Americans will cast their ballots on paper-based systems in 2020, compared with 80 percent in 2016.
Pennsylvania, Georgia and South Carolina will replace all paperless voting machines by 2020, while Arkansas, Virginia and Delaware did so this year.
However, voters in eight states – Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey – will continue to use some form of paperless voting in 2020.
According to a 2018 analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states now require voluntary federal testing and certification of election systems, although eight states do not require any sort of testing or certification.
With the proposed Senate measure only earmarking about $250 million for elections security, House Republicans have submitted a bill boosting that allocation to about $400 million.
Buchanan, of Sarasota, is among 52 Republican co-sponsors of HR 3412, "The Election Security Assistance Act," which would provide $400 million for local and state election officers to upgrade technology and create an Election Cyber Assistance Unit within DHS to offer information and best practices for local election officials nationwide.
Florida Reps. Michael Waltz, Mario Diaz-Balart and John Rutherford have also signed onto the bill.
Rep. Ted Yoho, of Gainesville, is the lead sponsor of HR 1493, "The Cyber Deterrence and Response Act," which would create a three-step DHS process to identify, discourage and respond to state-sponsored cyberattacks.
Buchanan is among nine Republicans and four Democrats who are co-sponsoring Yoho’s bill.
Getting money and resources to states to prepare for the 2020 election is critical – especially for Florida, Buchanan said.
“We need to make sure our electoral process is not jeopardized by Russian meddling or any other state-sponsored hackers or rogue regimes,” he said in a statement.