Vice Chairman Leahy Remarks on the Leahy/Shelby/Coons Election Security Amendment

Chairman Shelby, Senator Coons, and I would like to offer an amendment to provide $250 million for grants to help states secure their election infrastructure.  I am pleased we were able to come to a bipartisan resolution to this issue, and I appreciate the Chairman working with me on this issue. 

These funds will allow states to upgrade election technology, improve cybersecurity, and help prevent future cyberattacks.  We know from both the Mueller report and from the report recently released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election, targeted our election infrastructure, and did so, according to Mr. Mueller, in “sweeping and systematic” fashion. 

According to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Russian government targeted all 50 states, conducting reconnaissance, probing and mapping systems, looking for vulnerabilities to exploit. 

Not only did the Russians target all 50 states, they gained access to election systems in two states, including successful extraction of voter data.  Illinois’s voter registration database was successfully penetrated, and up to 200,000 voter registration records were accessed.  There is no evidence this data was manipulated, but this breach should terrify us all.  Much of the debate surrounding this issue has focused on the voting machines themselves, but if we do not have confidence in our voter registration rolls, we cannot have confidence in the election. 

Not only do we need to invest in state-of-the-art cybersecurity, we must modernize our infrastructure.  We know that aging voting equipment, especially those that do not produce a paper ballot, leave us particularly vulnerable.  Yet to this day, at least eight states still use paperless voting machines in at least some precincts. 

In fiscal year 2018, Congress provided $380 million to states for election security grants.  This was a good start.  However, we need to do more to ensure that we protect our elections from interference by foreign adversaries who we know are intent on attacking us. 

Some on the other side of the aisle have made much of the fact that not all of the $380 million has yet been spent, but that does not trouble me at all.  In fact we designed it that way.  We provided a five-year window to use this money because it takes a long time.  Many jurisdictions require approval from their state legislature on how to spend the money before they can move forward and must comply with complicated procurement processes.  Further, we should all have confidence that our states have plans to spend this money, as they were required to submit them, and they are publicly available, through the Election Assistance Commission.

It is exactly because spending this money takes time that we should not shut off the pipeline of funds.  States need to plan now.  We know they still have needs that they cannot address with the funds provided in fiscal year 2018.  We do not need to wait another two or three years to confirm that. 

We received a letter from the National Association of Secretaries of State urging that we provide additional funds now to address these needs, and a similar letter from 22 State Attorneys General.  These are the folks on the front line, and we should listen to them.  I ask unanimous consent that these letters be put in the record. 

This problem was not isolated to 2016, and we must not become complacent now.  Russia certainly isn’t, nor are our other foreign adversaries.  The threat remains, as do our vulnerabilities.  We have a presidential election coming up in 2020, and another one four years after that.  We must be prepared. 

Some say this is a matter that should solely be left to the states, but to the contrary, this is a matter of national security and of utmost importance for our democracy.  We need to work together at all levels of government – federal, state, and local – to protect America and our democracy.    

Again, I thank the Chairman for his partnership on this issue, and I hope all Senators will support this amendment.

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