Election Security Legislation Stalled On Capitol Hill

Jul 14, 2019
Originally published on July 14, 2019 9:06 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

When Robert Mueller gave his only public statement on his report on Russian interference and alleged obstruction of justice, he took special care to emphasize one point.

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ROBERT MUELLER: There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this past week, lawmakers were briefed by the intelligence community and law enforcement about what's being done about it. There's bipartisan concern about the 2020 election, but legislation to beef up security is stalled on Capitol Hill. NPR's Tim Mak joins us now with more.

Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey, there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Tim, we know that Russian agents used disinformation on social media in 2016. There was the hacking of the DNC. There was even the probing of election voting systems in Florida. So what has Congress done to address these issues?

MAK: So Congress has provided close to $400 million for election cybersecurity at the state and local level. Republicans like Senator Mitch McConnell have used this as well as the relative calm that surrounded the 2018 midterms as a reason to argue that no real additional work is necessary.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I would anticipate that every member who attended the classified briefing likely came away feeling confident that big steps forward have taken place in the last two and a half years.

MAK: And this is a bipartisan feeling that there have been improvements over the last two and a half years. Here's Senator Mark Warner. He's the top Democrat on the intelligence committee. He's talking about law enforcement and the intelligence community.

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MARK WARNER: They definitely upped their game in 2018, but the Russians and others will be back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So what are the proposals right now to do something if, indeed, bad actors come back and try and meddle in our elections?

MAK: So while Congress has allocated money to protect cyber systems, there's this entire, you know, information ecosystem out there that is vulnerable. Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen have a proposal that would impose automatic new sanctions against any foreign actors who interfere with an election in the future. Senator Mark Warner - he has another proposal that would require campaigns to report any foreign contacts that they've had to the FBI. And then there's a bill that has already passed the House. And that would authorize money for voting equipment, increase the standards for voting machines and require the use of paper records.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So a lot of proposals - but why hasn't Congress acted on some of these proposals to secure the elections?

MAK: So what's interesting is that Senator McConnell - he's the Senate majority leader. He gets to determine what gets brought up in the Senate. And he doesn't think that a lot of these proposals are necessary.

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MCCONNELL: Make no mistake. Many of the proposals labeled by Democrats to be election security are measures, in fact, for election reform that are part of the wish list of the left.

MAK: So that's not entirely true, right? - that - there are Republicans really concerned about this. Here's Senator Rubio talking about how he thinks election security is going to require constant adjustment.

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MARCO RUBIO: That threat's never going away. And, in fact, the number of actors who could carry it out is only going to increase in the years to come.

MAK: So this is hardly a partisan issue, despite what Senator McConnell has said about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, so, Tim, where does that leave us then?

MAK: It leaves leases really stalled. There isn't a public outcry. There isn't an urgency. And even Republicans who want something to be done on election security say there is no momentum to push it forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Tim Mak.

Thank you so much.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.