- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2019

Lawmakers advanced election security legislation Friday requiring the use of paper ballots and providing funding for states to safeguard their voting systems.

The Committee on House Administration voted 6-3 along party lines to move forward with the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act of 2019 proposed by committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, putting it on pace to be heard on the House floor as soon as next week.

The bill, also known as the SAFE Act, contains a package of legislative reforms meant to modernize the nation’s election infrastructure and lower the likelihood of it being hacked, including mandating the use of voter-verified paper ballots and authorizing $600 million to assist in upgrading outdated equipment.

“Ultimately, the SAFE Act will improve the resilience of American election — a goal I know that we all share,” Ms. Lofgren said.

Democrats have struggled to find common ground with Republicans on the subject of election security on Capitol Hill, however, where other bills proposed in response to the 2016 race have faced opposition from the GOP.

Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian state-sponsored hackers interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential race by attacking targets including Democratic Party computer systems and various elements of the nation’s election infrastructure, such as state elections officials and voting technology vendors, among other victims.

Several members of President Trump’s administration have since warned that the 2020 race similarly risks being attacked from abroad, raising fears of a repeat attack nearly 500 days until the current White House race comes to a close.

Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, the ranking Republican on the Committee on House Administration, acknowledged concerns about the existing state of election security but called the chair’s proposal a “hyper-partisan” response “that stands no chance of being signed into law.”

“Congress’ role is to assist states to strengthen their election security, not create a federal takeover of their election systems,” said Mr. Davis, who offered a bill of his own Friday, the Election Security Assistance Act, that would provide resources for state to upgrade their voting systems without requiring the paper ballots sought by Ms. Lofgren.

Lawmakers have proposed bills in both chambers crafted in response to the special counsel’s investigation into the 2016 race, which concluded that the Russian government attempted to interfere in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” by using state-sponsored hackers and other operatives to attack the electoral process and the campaign of Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent.

Security concerns notwithstanding, other election reform proposals have faced scrutiny in Washington from Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Mr. Trump, among others, casting doubts on their odds of passing.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, sought unanimous consent last week to pass a bill requiring political campaigns to alert the FBI in the event of receiving any offers of foreign election assistance, but his proposal was rejected by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican. Mr. Trump subsequently thanked both Mr. McConnell and Ms. Blackburn afterward for thwarting the effort.

Addressing election security legislation weeks earlier, Mr. McConnell also raised concerns about increasing federal oversight.

“I’m open to considering legislation, but it has to be directed in a way that doesn’t undermine state and local control of elections,” he said earlier this month.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, has since accused Mr. McConnell of effectively encouraging foreign interference in 2020 by refusing to act.

“It is Congress’s solemn obligation to protect our elections,” Mr. Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “And any leader who doesn’t do that is abdicating their responsibilities to our grand democracy.”

The Russian government has denied meddling in the 2016 race. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have both indicated Moscow is expected to strike again in 2020.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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