Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is tired of Republicans ignoring election security.
“[W]hat happened in 2016 could be really small potatoes compared to 2020,” said Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the Intelligence Committee.
Wyden is especially concerned that, as he said, “all of the political muscle is on the other side trying to protect the status quo.” Now he’s hoping to take his message straight to voters.
Fourteen other Democrats joined Wyden earlier this month to sponsor legislation that would force states to use hand-marked paper ballots and audit their election results. The bill, called the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act, would also set cybersecurity standards for voting systems and provide funding for states to implement the changes.
A similar bill died in committee last year. No Republicans have signed onto the new legislation, and Wyden said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not supported strong election security measures.
Last year, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) accused McConnell of blocking other election security measures from coming to the floor, explaining that McConnell believed the issue “reaches no conclusion.”
McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
“[McConnell] has a long history of opposing election reform,” Wyden told ThinkProgress. “And he’s got people in his caucus who’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for him.”
This, despite special counsel Robert Mueller’s finding that Russia engaged in “sweeping and systematic” interference in the 2016 presidential election, including efforts to hack into dozens of state election websites, malicious emails to state election officials, and installing malware on the computers of a voting software manufacturer.
The U.S. Intelligence Community confirmed Russian interference in the election in January 2017, and the IC confirmed again to Congress this year that it expected Russia to interfere in the 2018 and 2020 elections in a concerted and systematic manner.
Just last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) confirmed that Russia hackers had been “in a position” to change some of his state’s voter rolls in 2016. The state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, later confirmed that the Russians infiltrated election systems in two Florida counties during the last presidential election.
There’s no indication Russia successfully infiltrated voting machines themselves or that Russian hackers could have altered votes or ballot counting in any state. But experts have long warned that security issues like remote access software in some electronic voting machines make them easy targets for hackers.
“I’ve compared that to the equivalent of putting ballot boxes on the streets of Moscow,” Wyden said of the lax security in some electronic voting machines.
Wyden introduced a separate bill Tuesday that he says would amend federal campaign laws to let national party committees help state parties and individual campaigns with their cybersecurity.
There are currently 14 states using electronic voting machines that don’t have a voter-verifiable paper trail. In Georgia, broken electronic voting machines contributed to chaos in and around Atlanta on Election Day last November. Voters had to stand in line for longer than four hours in one majority-black district in Snellville, Georgia, as election officials rushed to replace malfunctioning machines.
“I know of at least four majority-black polling places in Snellville that had machines that didn’t work for hours, and people left,” local resident Jaime Winfree told ThinkProgress at the time as she stood outside the polls at Annistown Elementary School.
The 2018 governor’s race in Georgia saw Stacey Abrams, a progressive black Democrat and former minority leader in the statehouse, challenge Brian Kemp, a conservative white Republican who aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump. Kemp, who was then Georgia’s secretary of state, oversaw his own election. Critics say machine failures combined with Kemp’s last-minute purges of the voter rolls helped him win.
Wyden’s bill would mandate the use of paper ballots, rather than the kind of electronic voting machines that failed in Snellville and elsewhere in Georgia last November. A federal judge in Georgia ruled Tuesday that a lawsuit challenging the security of the state’s electronic voting machines can move forward, citing a “concrete risk” to election security from the machines.
Since her loss last November, Abrams has become vocal advocate for election reform, founding the group Fair Fight Action and coming out strongly in favor of Wyden’s election security bill.
Abrams “believes that Senator Wyden’s bill will go a long way to helping secure our elections, particularly in places like Georgia where local leaders have failed,” Abrams spokesperson Seth Bringman told ThinkProgress in a statement.