A new bill from three House Democrats would codify elections as critical infrastructure.
Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Keith Ellison (Minn.) and Hank Johnson (Ga.) introduced the Securing America’s Future Elections (SAFE) Act, which would launch several cybersecurity programs, including codifying the decision from former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to reclassify elections as critical infrastructure.
Designating a sector as critical infrastructure gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) additional leeway to provide assistance and training toward its security. The label currently applies to 16 sectors, including power, telecommunications and emergency services.
“One thing Democrats and Republicans should agree on is that we should be doing everything in our power to guarantee the sovereignty of our county and the integrity of our elections. This bill will do just that,” said Pocan in a written statement.
Johnson made the move in the waning days of the Obama administration in the wake of the Russian influence and hacking campaign directed at helping President Trump get elected. Many state secretaries of state criticized the designation, saying that it was the first step toward federalizing elections.
The SAFE Act, introduced Friday, takes several other steps to ensure election security. It would reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission, which helped set up infrastructure to test voting machines for security.
The act would also require the National Institute of Standards and Technology to work with the DHS on security standards for third-party contractors, fund voting machines that leave an auditable paper trail — making it difficult to influence election results through hacking — and require that 5 percent of those machines be checked each election to ensure accuracy.
Most experts agree that it is unlikely elections can be hacked on a national scale. Different communities use different kinds of voting machines, none of which are connected to the internet, making it tough to tamper with machines in bulk.
But voting machines are still vulnerable to attack, if on a smaller scale. Researchers have demonstrated in-person methods to hack a number of machines and, in one model, have demonstrated the ability to infect the drives distributed to set the names of the candidates with malware to affect voting results.
Though intelligence agencies believe Russia committed several brazen cyberattacks during election season in an attempt to sway the election for Trump, there is no evidence they attacked voting machines.
“The SAFE Act makes our elections a top national security priority, creates cybersecurity standards to protect our voting systems, and ensures accountability to voters. The American people must have full confidence that their votes are protected and counted,” Ellison said in a written statement.