Even as she campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president, it’s become apparent that if anyone can get bipartisan legislation passed in the Senate, it’s Amy Klobuchar. In the 2017-18 session, 22 of her bills and resolutions made it passed the Senate, the most of any Democrat. At the same time, Klobuchar introduced 65 bills with a Republican and Democratic co-sponsor, also making her the Democratic Senator to introduce the most bills with bipartisan support.
After all the reports of foreign interference in the 2016 election, presumably no issue would be easier to legislate around than ensuring that election vulnerabilities are secured before the next election. The Mueller report indicated that Minnesota was one of the 21 states probed for elections interference in 2017.
The Secure Elections Act, first introduced by Klobuchar and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma in 2017, was one such bipartisan bill aiming to protect U.S. elections. It would have, in part, provided additional resources shore up election infrastructure, as well as encourage the use of paper ballots and election audits. It had broad support from Democrats and Republicans alike, from California Democrat Senator Kamala Harris to Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
But last year, the Republican-led Senate Rules and Administration Committee abruptly blocked the bill from moving forward.
“The current FBI Director and the current Director of Intelligence have told us that Russia is getting bolder; that what we’ve just seen was a dress rehearsal,” said Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the Rules and Administration Committee.
“And yet, any attempt that I’ve made to pass the Secure Elections Act — a bill that I have with Sen. Lankford — the White House has stopped in its tracks. They made calls to stop that bill despite strong Republican support.”
In April, The New York Times reported that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney believes any discussion of Russian election activity is seen by the President as a problem of legitimacy for his election.
In addition to the Secure Elections Act, Klobuchar has been instrumental in pushing a number of bills that each fulfill a different election-reform related purpose: The Election Security Act, which which would require backup paper ballots and provide additional election security grants; The Honest Ads Act, which would create stricter laws for online political advertisements; and the Global Electoral Exchange Act, which would establish a information sharing program on election security with U.S. allies.
“Hardening our electoral infrastructure will require a comprehensive approach and it can’t be done with a single piece of legislation,” Graham said in a press release, advocating for The Honest Ads Act.
So far, none of the bills have seen any movement.
Ahead of the curve
Minnesota is one of the few states ahead of the curve on some election security. The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in D.C., places Minnesota as one of 11 states with a B rating on election security. The rest of the states received C, D, or F ratings, evaluated on criteria like post-election audits, paper absentee ballots, and cybersecurity for voter registration systems.
Additionally, the state is ahead of the curve in that it uses paper ballots, avoiding the potential security problems with electronic voting.
Nonetheless, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon believes that further spending and analysis of potential security issues is critical to being prepared for future elections. He said he believes that Federal legislation that sets basic standards for election security for states is key to doing this.
“I’m partial of course to Senator Klobuchar and Senator Lankford’s Secure Elections Act,” said Simon. “To set floors, not ceilings, to work with states, and to come up with some common sense consensus about elections administration.”
The Federal government, through the Help America Vote Act, already allocated $6.6 million to modernize election security for the state. There was some initial dissent to allocating the entire amount, but in the end, after finalizing a brokered bipartisan session in the State Legislature, Gov. Tim Walz was able to sign the entire $6.6 million allocation.
“We’ve had multiple people from Homeland Security in our office for days at a time and when they find vulnerabilities, they write up a report and give us recommendations,” said Simon. “And those recommendations cost money.”
But Simon still remains concerned for the long term.
“That $6.6 million is a tremendous boost once we get our hands on it, but it is one time money,” he said. “The fixes that are necessary, the modernation, will require ongoing funding.”
Running out of time
The Senate this month did pass legislation on election security: the Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes Act (DETER Act), which would prevent someone from entering the U.S. if they tried to, or had, interfered in U.S. elections. But beyond punitive security measures, the Senate has done nothing in recent months to shore up election security.
Election security policy experts, like at Verified Voting, an organization that advocates for accurate and transparent elections, believe that interference with our elections is “a risk, not a certainty,” but also that “the federal government can take to get that risk close to zero.”
Verified Voting President Marian K. Schneider Schneider said that congress needs to provide support to replace all remaining paperless ballot systems, as well technical and material support for post-election audits. “Most of all,” she said, “we need to invest in our election infrastructure in order to mitigate any risk of error or attack.”
Beyond the money that was allocated under the Help America Vote Act, it is unclear what a Republican Senate led by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be willing to pass. Earlier last month, when asked if there would be any more election security legislation passed, Roy Blunt, Chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, told reporters: “At this point I don’t see any likelihood that those bills would get to the floor.”
Lankford does plan on releasing a new version of the Secure Elections Act as soon as this week, working with the White House to restructure the language. Although he said the bill would not include election security funding for states, he told The Hill it would still require post-election audits.
Despite this, as the 2020 election approaches and the presidential field (that includes her) narrows, Klobuchar seems intent on pushing bi-partisan election security and reform. And while Republican Senators have offered support for the legislation, the decision ultimately remains with those at the top: namely McConnell and the White House.
“Congress should pass my bipartisan election security legislation now. There are some smaller measures that could be passed by the Senate—but we know Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and we know they’re trying to do it again in 2020,” Klobuchar said.
“The time has come — in fact, we are running out of time — to put the rules in place on issue ads and candidate ads. We need to make sure our next election is protected from foreign interference. Protecting our democracy shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”