Senate Panel Poised for Voting Security, Russian Hacking Hearings

Daily Report for Executives provides in-depth coverage of unfolding legislative, regulatory, and judicial news from the nation’s capital, the states, and around the world. This daily news service...

By Katherine Scott

The Senate Homeland Security Committee may finally be poised to hold its first hearing on election security, a full year after the U.S. intelligence community confirmed Russian hackers infiltrated state election systems

“You can probably expect some hearings on this,” Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said after a Sept. 27 hearing on threats to the homeland. “I’m highly concerned about it.”

Johnson said he is not currently working on any election security legislation with the committee.

“I hope so!” said ranking member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) when asked if there were upcoming hearings. “We’re asking for [hearings on] election security, for domestic extremist groups, the white supremacy groups, and also the hurricane response.”

Senators from both sides of the aisle questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray and Acting Homeland Secretary Elaine Duke about election security, with an eye to the 2018 elections.

“What is our strategy going forward?” McCaskill asked Wray and Duke. “I just want to make sure that you all are preparing for this next year, and have a plan.”

Department’s Capacity Questioned

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) focused on the Homeland Security Department’s capacity to conduct on-site assessments of state elections.

“If 10 states all made the request the same time, we couldn’t make it in time for the 2018 election,” he said. “And we’ve got a lot more than 10 states that may make that request. I’m trying to figure out how we can get you ready for that.”

He also asked Duke about states’ cyber preparedness: “Do states understand the significance of the cyber threats they face on their network, from their voter data lists, from the equipment that they’re there?” Lankford asked. “Are they prepared to do an audit?”

A spokesperson for Lankford said that the senator is “thinking about” writing legislation related to election security.

In the wake of a contentious 2016 election, a number of Democratic senators have introduced measures to address election security. Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) authored a bill (S. 1831) that would establish a National Commission on the Cybersecurity of U.S. election systems. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced a bill (S. 1510) that would require the Election Assistance Commission to report on best practices for election cybersecurity and provide grants to states to implement those best practices.

Despite cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, only one measure has been considered in committee. In May, the Senate Foreign Relations committee took up a bill (S. 27) sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) that would establish an independent commission to examine the extent of cyber operations on the 2016 election.

The measure was reported out of committee 20-1, but it has yet to receive floor consideration.

House Bills Stalled

House Democrats also have introduced seven bills related to election security. They’re joined by Republican Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who introduced a measure (H.R. 3751) that would direct the Election Assistance Commission to improve election technology. None of these bills has been considered in committee.

The House Homeland Security Committee has held only one elections-related markup this year. In April, the committee considered Rep. Bennie Thompson’s (D-Miss.) resolution that would direct the Homeland Security Secretary to send the committee documents related to Russian interference in 2016 federal elections. After a contentious markup, the resolution was reported unfavorably to the House on a party-line vote, 14-12, to prevent a Democratic member from forcing a floor vote on the measure. The measure has not received consideration on the House floor.

Democrats have recently taken matters into their own hands by creating a Task Force on Election Security. The task force held a public forum in September, where former Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and former Homeland Security Undersecretary Suzanne Spaulding spoke about the risks to state election systems and the need for more resources.

McCaskill hopes Senate Democrats won’t have to resort to forming their own task force. “I’m going to try and see if we can’t get the hearings before…that. I think it’s more

To contact the reporter on this story:Katherine Scott in Washington at kscott@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Daily Report for Executives