Menendez Drops Election Security Bill in Wake of Mueller Report

Menendez Drops Election Security Bill in Wake of Mueller Report

Legislation provides federal funding to states working to shore up their voting systems

 

HACKENSACK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the architect of Russia sanctions legislation, today cited the Mueller Report findings that Russia and other foreign adversaries interfered in the 2016 elections, in demanding Congress act where the Trump Administration has failed and secure our nation’s election infrastructure. The Senator announced legislation to provide robust funding to states to safeguard their voting systems.

“We must treat the Mueller report like a preview of what’s to come.  Russia-linked actors will target our election infrastructure in 2020—perhaps with even greater sophistication.  With the election a year and half away, we don’t have the luxury of time,” said Sen. Menendez, who has also been personally sanctioned by Vladimir Putin. “Without action, we may be even more vulnerable in 2020 than we were in 2016.  We face evolving cyber threats from many foreign actors, from Russia to Iran, China, North Korea, and beyond.  It’s time for Congress to do what President Trump will not: Defend the security of our elections, defend our democracy, and defend the sovereignty of this nation.”    

The Mueller Report crystalized the previous findings of 17 independent U.S. intelligence agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia engaged in a systematic attack against our democracy and the 2016 presidential election to benefit the candidacy of Donald Trump, which included hacking 21 state election systems. The Mueller Report further detailed how Russian intelligence officers targeted employees of a voting technology company and installed malware on the company’s computer network, and gained access to the network of at least one Florida county government. 

Sen. Menendez’s Protecting the Right to Independent and Democratic Elections (PRIDE) Act establishes an election security grant program under which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awards grants to states to carry out one or more the following activities:

  • Implementing or improving the use of auditable paper ballots: An auditable paper trail is critical to ensuring that votes can be correctly counted.  If voter machines are hacked, paper records produced by direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines provide a record of voter intent.  And paper ballots are necessary in order to conduct post-election audits to confirm election outcomes.
  • Conducting post-election risk limiting audits: Risk-limiting audits offer election administrators an effective and efficient way to test the accuracy of an election without breaking the bank.  They allow election officials to catch and correct incorrect election outcomes, and are designed to confirm the outcome of an election, by utilizing an initial sample of ballots, based on the margin of victory, which are interpreted by hand, and may then expand depending on the initial audit results. 
  • Implementing cybersecurity standards and best practices: Cyber security is integral to protecting our voting systems, and some states are already taking steps to protect against hackers.  The National Institute for Standards and Technology provides a framework for critical infrastructure to guard against cyber threats.  In addition, special consideration should be given to the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Controls, a non-profit organization that promotes cybersecurity readiness and response by identifying, developing, and validating best practices.  

“The ability to accurately cast a vote during an election is the paramount right of all citizens and the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Jared M. Maples, Director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.  “With the continued support of federal, State, county, and local officials and law enforcement partners, our Office remains committed to ensuring the security and integrity of our election process.” 

A February 2018 report from the Center for American Progress gave New Jersey a “D” for election security.  The state is developing an intrusion detection system that monitors incoming and outgoing traffic for irregularities and enlisted DHS to help assess and identify potential threats to its voter registration system, but New Jersey remains one of just five states that use exclusively paperless machines with no independently verifiable paper trail.  The Brennan Center for Justice estimates it would at least $40 million to upgrade entirely to optical scan machines that produce a paper trail.  

Sen. Menendez first introduced the PRIDE Act in the last Congress following a report by the U.S. intelligence community outlining our election vulnerabilities and the continued threat of foreign interference. The Senator also supported a spending bill last year that included $380 million for state grants to improve election infrastructure, as well as $307 million above what the Trump Administration had requested for the F.B.I. that can be used to combat cyberattacks, election fraud and other crimes. 

In January 2018, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that he had “every expectation” that the Russians would continue to attempt to interfere in our elections.  The next month, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the U.S. faced the challenge of shoring up the defense of our electoral systems.

 

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