Menendez, Durbin, Blumenthal, Hirono Introduce Election Security Bill in Wake of Mueller Report Findings

Menendez, Durbin, Blumenthal, Hirono Introduce Election Security Bill in Wake of Mueller Report Findings

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


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the architect of Russia sanctions legislation, today introduced the Protecting the Right to Independent and Democratic Elections (PRIDE) Act to provide robust funding to states to safeguard their voting systems.  Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) signed on as original cosponsors.

“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 Russians’ successful hack of Illinois’ electronic voter database in the 2016 elections was a wake-up call and demonstrated a clear vulnerability in our election security.  Because of this, both the federal and state governments must continue to work together to implement additional security measures and prevent this sort of meddling in future elections,” Sen. Durbin said.  “I’m proud to introduce this bill with my colleagues to provide additional federal resources to local jurisdictions to update their voting equipment and procedures so that Illinoisans and all Americans can be confident in our democratic process.”

“I am proud to cosponsor the PRIDE Act, which would ensure that our voting systems are safeguarded against foreign governments that wish us harm,” said Sen. Blumenthal. Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. But as the Mueller Report unequivocally demonstrates, neglect and inadequate resources has exposed our sacred institutions to malign intervention and meddling by adversaries.  We must forcefully and effectively defend the democratic process, starting at the ballot box.”

“It is critically important we take action immediately to protect our elections from foreign interference and security breaches.  The PRIDE Act provides states with the resources to protect voters and help ensure that their votes are accurately counted,” Sen. Hirono said.  “The election security measures supported by this bill are important steps to help prevent foreign adversaries from manipulating and undermining America’s political system in elections to come.  This bill will help states to take the action necessary to protect our democracy.”

At an event earlier this week with New Jersey election security officials, Sen. Menendez 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 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. 

The 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 Center for Democracy & Technology is proud to support the Protecting the Right to Independent and Democratic Elections Act introduced by Senator Menendez," said Maurice Turner, Senior Technologist at CDT.  "It elevates both the security and accountability of elections at the state & local level. Implementing modern cybersecurity standards and best practices will provide the necessary foundation for election officials to boost voter confidence by providing voter-verifiable paper ballots and conducting robust post-election audits.  If conducted for every contest, risk-limiting post-election audits have the potential to become one of the most-effective deterrents against malicious interference in our elections."

“With state election systems facing constant cyber threats, this legislation would go a long way toward instituting critical safeguards that must be in place to defend against sophisticated cyberattacks,” said Common Cause Director of Voting Integrity Susannah Goodman.  "By providing states with tools to conduct post-election audits and replace paperless voting systems, this legislation would help ensure that all our votes are counted as cast in this new Code Red cybersecurity environment.”

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.