House passes legislation to boost election security research

The House on Wednesday unanimously passed bipartisan legislation intended to boost research into the security of election infrastructure. 

The Election Technology Research Act would establish and fund a Center of Excellence in Election Systems at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to test the security and accessibility of voting equipment, along with authorizing NIST and the National Science Foundation to carry out research on further securing voting technology. 

The bill is primarily sponsored by Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) along with House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), ranking member Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), and almost a dozen other bipartisan sponsors. 

Sherrill said on the House floor Wednesday that it was “incumbent” on Congress to pass legislation enhancing election security given the increasing concerns around election interference efforts.

“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 House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved the bill last year. Both Johnson and Lucas spoke in the bill’s favor on the House floor, with Johnson arguing the bill was necessary “to help modernize and secure our election systems and ensure they are accessible to all.”

“The security and integrity of elections is fundamental to American democracy and should not be a partisan issue,” Lucas added. 

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Administration Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections, issued a statement expressing support for passage of the legislation and describing the bill as a “commonsense step to ensure the safety and reliability of our election systems.”

“I am pleased the House is considering this legislation to authorize new research on cybersecurity and other important issues concerning the security of voting systems at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, foster collaboration between NIST and state and local governments, and authorize new federal grants for research on voting systems,” Lofgren said. “This research will help to inform our efforts to modernize voting systems and strengthen election practices.”

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, expressed reservations about the legislation on the House floor Wednesday, saying that his panel had not held a markup or hearing on the bill and noting concerns about the legislation potentially undermining work by the Election Assistance Commission. 

“This House should work in a real bipartisan fashion to create the election reform the American people deserve. I am willing and ready whenever my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are willing to do this,” Davis noted. 

The timing for consideration of the bill in the Senate is unclear. 

The spotlight has been on election security since 2016, when Russian agents targeted voting infrastructure in all 50 states, successfully gaining access to some systems, though there is no evidence any votes were changed. 

In the lead-up to the 2020 elections, a senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned last month that Russia, Iran and China are actively attempting to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, with Microsoft announcing last week that it had seen efforts to target U.S. elections from hackers in those three countries. 

Pushing forward legislation to increase election security has been a priority for the Democratic-controlled House over the past year, with the House passing three major bills intended to secure and reform the elections process. All three bills have stalled in the Senate amid Republican objections.

Tags Anthony Gonzalez Eddie Bernice Johnson Election Security Frank Lucas House of Representatives Mikie Sherrill Rodney Davis Zoe Lofgren

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