House Democrats voted Thursday to improve election security, including requiring states to maintain a paper trail for all votes cast, as they sought to stiffen defenses against potential cyberattacks.
The bill would also promote stress testing of voting systems, and would decertify technology that doesn’t meet guidelines.
The measure passed 225-184, with Democrats saying it was a major step to close system weaknesses exposed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Our national security is being threatened and the American people need answers,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the floor. “We cannot just talk about the Mueller report and saying what it says about the Russian interference in our elections unless we are ready to do something about it.”
Democrats previously passed the paper ballot provisions as part of a massive campaign and election overhaul earlier this year. That bill would have canceled voter-ID laws, created a public financing system for campaigns, forced new disclosure rules on interest groups and made numerous other changes to the way elections are run.
Senate Republicans made clear it had no future in their chamber, so House Democratic leaders figured they’d slice the bill down into pieces and try to pass them individually.
The push for paper ballots comes less than two decades after Congress, in the wake of the 2000 Florida presidential-election snafu, pushed for states to move toward electronic records.
But the threat of cyberattacks have shifted lawmakers’ thinking.
“It does seem ironic that our answer to cybersecurity, in fact, is old school, but we know what works,” said Rep. Susan Davis, California Democrat. “We can recount and audit paper ballots with a certainty we just don’t have with machines.”
Republicans said they support shoring up election security, but said there was no evidence that election results were actually hacked in 2016 or 2018.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk, Georgia Republican, said paper ballots could actually cause more problems and cited the issues election officials had in Florida’s Broward County last year because paper ballots were miscounted.
“Look, if the Russians were physically invading our nation with bombers and tanks, this bill would be the equivalent of giving our military pellet guns and paper airplanes to thwart the attack,” he said.
Republicans said their biggest issue with Democrats’ bill was that it amounted to a federal takeover of how states operate their elections.
GOP lawmakers suggested a better option would be expanding communications between the Department of Homeland Security and local election officials in the case of an attempted attack.
“Those state officials deserve the right to know who is trying to attack their elections in each state of this great nation,” Rep. Rodney Davis, Illinois Republican and the ranking member of the House Administration committee, said.
It’s unlikely the bill will make progress in the Senate.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, attempted to bring a similar version of the bill to a vote on the Senate side with unanimous consent, but Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma blocked the movement.
Like his Republican colleagues in the House, Mr. Lankford objected to Ms. Klobuchar’s bill because he felt it federalized elections and stripped power from the states.