- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2017

A bipartisan group of senators have introduced legislation meant to strengthen the nation’s voting infrastructure in response to cyberattacks waged during the 2016 election.

The Secure Elections Act announced Thursday would set aside grants for states to upgrade outdated and vulnerable voting equipment and work toward establishing voluntary cybersecurity guidelines intended specifically to prevent repeating the sort of election meddling witnessed during last year’s presidential race.

Russian hackers disrupted the 2016 race by targeting candidates as well as voting systems in several states, according to the U.S. intelligence community, and foreign adversaries risk unsettling the 2018 congressional election and others down the line if lawmakers don’t take action, the bill’s sponsors said in statements.

“Russia tried to interfere in our elections,” said Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill. “Although they didn’t change actual votes or alter the outcome, their efforts were an attack on our democracy. It is imperative that we strengthen our election systems and give the states the tools they need to protect themselves and the integrity of voters against the possibility of foreign interference.”

“With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again,” agreed co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris, California Democrat. “We must act now to fortify our election systems against attacks by foreign powers in a way that is smart, comprehensive and allows for effective communication and information-sharing between election and intelligence officials.”

Mr. Lankford and Ms. Harris are both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee currently investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 race. Their co-sponsors include fellow committee members Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat, and Susan Collins, Maine Republican, as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat.

Four congressional panels and the Department of Justice are currently investigating allegations involving the Russian government’s role in the 2016 election, though U.S. intelligence officials have already assessed that Moscow authorized state-sponsored hackers to meddle in last year’s race.

Along with targeting the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Russian hackers tried to hack election systems in at least 21 states, the Trump administration said previously. Hackers successfully compromised voter registration databases in both Arizona and Illinois, according to state officials, but federal authorities determined those activities didn’t alter the election’s outcome.

The Secure Elections Act could help prevent further interference by giving states the funds needed to upgrade vulnerable systems in addition to streamlining information-sharing between federal and state authorities, according to its sponsors. The legislation would start off by allocating $386 million toward states’ cybersecurity efforts in 2018, and the bill would also expedite the process of giving security clearances to state election officials, effectively giving them quicker access to federal information regarding potential cyberattacks.

The bill “would greatly improve the security of the United States election system” and is a “crucial element in sustainably shoring up election cybersecurity for the future,” said the Center for Democracy and Technology, a D.C.-based digital rights group that praised its introduction this week.

“In the wake of the 2016 election cycle, election officials are on the front lines of cybersecurity, protecting their systems and our votes from nation-state attacks,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, CDT’s chief technologist. “These heroic public servants should not be left in the dark. They need the best advice and dedicated resources in order to adequately defend our democracy.”

The Russian government has denied meddling in the 2016 race.

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