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Divided House passes election security legislation over Republican objections

Shown is a paper ballot during a demonstration of the ExpressVote XL voting machine at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia on June 13, 2019.
Shown is a paper ballot during a demonstration of the ExpressVote XL voting machine at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia on June 13, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP)

A divided House passed an election security bill Thursday to strengthen the nation’s voting systems, with Democrats arguing that protecting the nation from another attack like the one Russia waged in 2016 was imperative.

The 225-to-184, near party-line vote came after President Trump arrived in Japan for a meeting of the Group of 20, where he is expected to meet privately with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. Rep. Brian Mast (Fla.) was the only Republican to join Democrats in backing the bill.

In the past, Trump has received bipartisan condemnation for failing during similar summits to challenge Putin over Russian interference in the 2016 election, even as the U.S. intelligence community determined that the Kremlin aimed to boost Trump’s chances of victory and former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted a number of Russian officials.

While members of both parties have warned that the U.S. voting system remains vulnerable to foreign interference, Democrats have been especially frustrated that Republican leaders have not been more focused on advancing election security legislation — particularly in the Senate, which has yet to hold votes on several measures to increase investments and impose new security and election reporting requirements.

“I just would really like to know from my Republican friends, what’s wrong with replacing outdated, vulnerable voting equipment? What is wrong with requiring paper ballot voting systems to ensure the integrity of our elections? What is wrong with enacting strong cybersecurity requirements for elections technology vendors and voting systems?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday during a floor speech before the vote. “We must be relentless in the defense of our democracy, fighting on all fronts to keep America safe.”

House panel backs election security bill in aftermath of 2016 Russian interference

The legislation would authorize more than $600 million to spend on updating voting equipment to comply with new standards between now and 2020, including requirements that voting machines produce a paper record, stay disconnected from the Internet and be produced in the United States. But Republicans have objected to the legislation, arguing that its provisions the interfere with the authority of states and localities to conduct their own elections, Rep. Jim Baird (R-Ind.) said Thursday.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) predicted that the bill stood “no chance of being signed by the president.”

While the president has not formally issued a veto threat, the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has played down the near-panic of Democrats and chided the media for not giving Trump more credit that the 2018 elections were apparently devoid of major security breaches.

This month, the Senate passed a measure to bar people who have interfered with American elections from obtaining visas to enter the United States, and last year, Congress approved $380 million to improve election security systems. But Senate Democrats’ recent efforts to secure votes on legislation requiring campaigns to report foreign interference attempts or to improve voting systems similar to the House’s measure have been stymied by the GOP.

The latest iteration of the election security debate on Capitol Hill is playing out as lawmakers prepare for a high-profile hearing with Mueller next month that is expected to be a pivotal moment in the ongoing investigations of the Trump campaign and possible ties to Russia.

Mueller to testify to Congress in open session about his investigation

A significant portion of Mueller’s report was dedicated to detailing the scope of Russian interference during the 2016 election and, after the election, the Kremlin’s efforts to curry favor with the incoming Trump administration. But his findings have inspired fierce partisan fighting, as Republicans defend claims by Trump that the report found no evidence of obstruction of justice or collusion with Russia and thus fully exonerated him.

Despite opposition from Republican leaders, Democrats are promising to continue seeking passage of election security legislation, expressing little faith that Trump — who said in a recent interview that he might take information from a foreign source in 2020 if it were offered — will do enough to protect the integrity of elections against adversaries such as Russia.

“If past is prologue, the American people will have little confidence that President Trump will stand up to Vladimir Putin,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a news conference Wednesday. “If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans fail to act, you know what they’re going to be saying? ‘Come on Putin, interfere in our elections.’ ”

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