US House Unanimously Passes Election Security Bill

September 17, 2020 Updated: September 18, 2020

A bipartisan bill designed to bolster election security and election security infrastructure research was unanimously passed in the House Wednesday.

The Election Technology Research Act of 2019 was sponsored by a group of 4 bipartisan lawmakers including Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), and Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).

Sherrill said it is “incumbent” upon Congress to pass this bill.

“The security and sanctity of our elections are at the very core of our democracy,” said Sherrill.  “Amidst a global pandemic, targeted attacks on our democracy by our adversaries and political unrest, Americans deserve to know that our elections are secure,” Sherrill said.

The legislation provides funding to establish a Center of Excellence in Election Systems and authorizes research to be conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Science Foundation (NSF) to modernize election systems across the United States.

Sherrill said there are over 10,000 voting jurisdictions and her legislation will modernize the 20-year-old provisions “to reflect the state of today’s technology and the nature of today’s election security challenges.”

The bill requires updating voting machines, electronic poll books, and voter registration.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, election infrastructure includes: voter registration databases, information technology infrastructure and systems used to manage elections, voting systems and associated infrastructure, storage facilities, and polling places.

A crucial element of the bill is fostering collaboration with the new Center for Excellence in Election Systems with universities, nonprofits, private organizations, and state and local election officials.

The bill also requires a Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess and report the impact of NIST’s efforts.

The FBI Director Christopher Wray said at an August press briefing his department is actively working with technology companies to ensure election security.

“Technology companies have a front-line responsibility to secure their own networks, products, and platforms. But we’re doing our part by providing actionable intelligence to better enable them to address abuse of their platforms by foreign actors,” said Wray.

During the debate of the bill, Lucas said, “The security and integrity of elections are fundamental to American democracy and should not be a partisan issue.”

Despite Lucas’s comment on election security being important for all parties, Republicans and Democrats have been accusing each other of tampering with election security and sowing discord about election integrity via the U.S. postal service, mail-in ballots.

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) assessed in July that China, Russia, and Iran are actively attempting to influence the outcome of the 2020 election. NCSC Director William Evanina said last month that China prefers for President Donald Trump to lose the 2020 election, while Russia is working to boost Trump’s chances.

Despite the foreign influence, the U.S. electoral system is uniquely resilient to foreign interference, due in part to the diverse systems employed by each state. According to the NSCS, state-level checks and post-election auditing make it virtually impossible for a foreign adversary to broadly disrupt the electoral process or change vote tallies without detection.

The recently passed bill aims to shore up any weakness in U.S. election infrastructure from internal and external tampering.

“This bill, which was developed and written with strong input from experts and members on both sides of the aisle, will allow NIST and the NSF to conduct key research into the threats our election technologies face, and how best to modernize them,” said Sherrill.