In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) introduced this bill to give the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) new resources to conduct research to promote the security and modernization of U.S. voting systems:
“There are few things more central to American democracy than the safety and security of our elections, where citizens from all walks of life can cast their vote and know it will be counted. The election security hearing I held [in summer 2019] underscored the urgent need for federal research and resources to combat the growing threats against the technologies that have become essential to our elections. I’m introducing this bill with my colleagues to help states arm themselves with strategies to prevent interference and the resources and support to ensure voting systems are reliable and secure.”
After this bill’s committee passage, Rep. Sherrill added:
“Election security is a bipartisan concern, and our committee is working together to address vulnerabilities with our voting systems. Our democracy only works if all eligible citizens can participate in elections and be confident that their ballots have been accurately cast and counted. The Election Technology Research Act of 2019 will help to ensure that the technical underpinnings of our election architecture are solid.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) adds:
“With new threats facing our electoral system, it is absolutely imperative that we continue to modernize and improve our election security. Ohio has long been a leader when it comes to election practices, and this bill will update federal laws to reflect today’s technology and encourage innovation on the state and local level to secure our election systems.”
Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) resisted several Democrat-led legislative attempts to pass election reform and security legislation. Explaining his position, he contended that these efforts were partisan, and that they lacked Republican support.
This legislation passed the Committee on Science, Space and Technology by unanimous voice vote and was discharged by the Committee on House Administration. It has the support of 12 bipartisan cosponsors, including nine Democrats and three Republicans.
Of Note: Technology plays a significant role in today’s election process. In 37 states and the District of Columbia, online voter registration is allowed and a transition from paper to electronic poll books has been underway for several years.
Despite technology’s increasing role in elections, current law does not allow the NIST — which has long carrier out research on cybersecurity, privacy, and other topics relevant to voting systems and elections technology — to make recommendations to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) with respect to the security of online voter registration systems or databases, e-poll books, or numerous other systems used before and after the casting of a vote.
Concerns around the security of voting infrastructure have been an increasing topic of interest in Congress since 2016, when Russian intelligence officers were able to hack into an Illinois State Board of Elections database that included millions of voters’ registration information. According to former special counsel Robert Mueller, Russian election interference also included accessing at least one Florida county’s network via spear-fishing emails sent to more than 120 accounts used by Florida election officials.
Some election security proposals center on the importance of encouraging state and private sector collaboration on this issue, rather than federal government efforts. Because state collaboration on technology plays a significant role in addressing domestic threats to elections and the private sector plays a significant role in addressing both domestic and international threats, there is a case to be made that states and the private sector, rather than the federal government, should be the primary parties involved in election security efforts.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: Unsplash / Elliott Stallion)