House Democratic leaders want the federal government to approve more than $1 billion to help states improve ballot security, part of a set of measures they say are necessary to mitigate foreign interference in future election cycles.
The proposals are part of a new report from a task force House Democrats convened last year to examine responses to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. They include establishing grant programs to help states update voting machines and improve cybersecurity protocols, adopting basic standards for voting systems, requiring the federal government to issue regular pre-election threat assessments, and designing a national strategy to counter foreign interference.
“This issue is simply too important to sit back and watch state governments and the federal government pass responsibility back and forth,” Democrats wrote in their report. “The federal government should provide the funds necessary for states to defend themselves.”
But the hefty price tag could make it difficult to secure support for the measures in Congress, where lawmakers are bracing for bitter budget battles and staring down the start of primary election season next month.
Democrats accused the GOP on Wednesday of not expediting election security measures to help states counter foreign interference.
“It’s been over a year since the intelligence community presented its assessment to the Congress, to the world,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), referring to the January 2017 intelligence community assessment that determined Russia had attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. “We need full accounting for Russia’s attacks.”
The Democrats’ report does not focus solely on Russia — North Korea, Iran and China are also mentioned as potential aggressors in future election cycles — and lawmakers acknowledged there was “no evidence” Russia had tampered with ballots in 2016. But they noted that Americans “do now question” whether there could be such meddling in the future.
Across Congress, Republicans and Democrats have been warning the public that Russia will attempt to influence future U.S. elections — and could stage even-more-devastating attacks.
“We assume there’s still the intent and we certainly know there’s the capability,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), whose panel is aiming to release recommendations about election security in the coming weeks. He added that it was up to lawmakers to “review and try to figure out if they’ve [Russia] gone into a different gear,” and “to make sure that at the end of the day states can certify to voters, everything that we printed as far as results are accurate.”
But Burr questioned whether there was more Congress can do “in addition to what we’re currently doing to assure election security because the majority of that’s going to have to be done at the state level.”
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said that the GOP would defer to the House Intelligence Committee to dictate the right approach. Lawmakers on that panel are trying to wrap up an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, but the process has been mired in discord.
Panel members openly feud over whether alleged Russian interference worked to the advantage of President Trump or his challenger, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They’ve also argued over a pair of memos, written by both parties, that address a dossier alleging Trump has ties to Russian officials.
Trump approved public dissemination of the GOP-drafted memo, but held up the release of a Democratic rebuttal over concerns that it would reveal classified information.