Funding a strong defense of our nation's democratic process can't wait
The U.S. democratic process is under attack.
“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote at the very beginning of his report. This “allegation deserves the attention of every American,” Mueller reiterated in subsequent remarks at the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials warn of more interference in the 2020 election – attacks the United States is woefully underprepared to withstand.
As a nation, it’s time that we get serious about these threats and vulnerabilities. We must devote the federal funding needed to improve election security, deter attacks from our adversaries, and defend the votes of the American people in the fast-approaching 2020 election. And we must do so immediately.
Despite the looming risks of cyberattacks, the Trump administration refuses to act. In every budget proposal since the president took office, the administration has requested zero funding for election security grants.
The administration has spent more time and energy trying to prove unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud (there isn’t any) and pursuing voter suppression tactics (there are a lot) than they have defending the integrity of the electoral process. The president has denied election interference and refused to condemn Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. Recently, he’s even joked with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia’s attack on our democracy.
At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refuses to consider stand-alone legislation to improve election security. And we’ve seen disturbing reports that the executive director of the Election Assistance Commission – the federal agency responsible for making elections more secure, accurate, and accessible – is actively undermining the agency, leaving it ill-prepared to help protect against foreign interference. The list goes on and on.
There may be a shortage of will in this administration and in the Republican-led Senate, but there’s certainly no shortage of needed election security improvements. In an oft-cited report published in June, experts at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center discussed 45 election security recommendations, including “Commit[ting] regular funding streams to strengthen the cybersecurity posture of the election infrastructure.”
Because “certain measures related to the organizations surrounding election infrastructure would enhance resilience and increase public confidence in the conduct of an election, and all of these measures will require increased funding.”
That’s where we come in. As members of the House Committee on Appropriations, it is our job to produce legislation to fund the federal government – and that includes ensuring the Election Assistance Commission is adequately resourced to assist state and local election officials and to carry out its other critical responsibilities.
In June, we ushered through the House legislation for the upcoming fiscal year – H.R.3351, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2020 – that provides the EAC $600 million for Election Security Grants to augment state efforts to improve the security and integrity of elections for federal office.
We recognize that this $600 million is a down payment – that the government must do more to protect against election interference. But as Lily Hay Newman wrote in WIRED in June:
Replacing insecure and aging voting machines around the country, introducing post-election audits in the dozens of states that don’t yet have them, shoring up election network defenses, and expanding security personnel all take money. And while independent, locally adjudicated elections are a cornerstone of US democracy, researchers say that federal funding is still badly needed to make sure all election systems around the country have high-caliber security defenses in place.
With our bill, states and localities would get these resources. They would be able to upgrade voting equipment, secure voter registration databases that are vulnerable to hackers, conduct cybersecurity training for election officials and poll workers, perform post-election audits to validate election results, and implement other necessary efforts to ensure the integrity of the election process.
There is no single cure-all for our nation’s election security challenges. States and localities will require a steady stream of robust federal funding to adapt to and stay ahead of ever-changing cyber threats.
But the House funding bill would make a badly needed investment to help the U.S. better withstand increasingly sophisticated efforts by foreign powers to hack the election process and influence election outcomes. The Senate and president should work with us to enact this legislation into law. It will take a lot of time for states to prepare for the 2020 election. Funding a strong defense of our nation’s democratic process can’t wait.
Nita M. Lowey is a Democrat representing New York’s 17th District. She serves as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. Mike Quigley is a Democrat representing Illinois’ 5th District. He serves as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.