Two US senators on Tuesday introduced a bipartisan bill that seeks to enhance security around state election systems in an attempt to stave off foreign interference.
The Securing America's Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act would, among other provisions, authorise the Director of National Intelligence to share classified information with state officials related to threats facing the election process; grant the Department of Homeland Security additional authorities by designating voting systems as critical infrastructure; and authorise a grant program to help states to upgrade their voting systems in response threats assessed by DHS.
The bill would also create a "Hack the Election" program, partnering state election authorities with private security vendors to uncover new threats by penetration testing voting systems.
SAVE is cosponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico, and Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. Both senators serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is currently investigating the breadth of Russian government efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election.
"Our democracy hinges on protecting Americans' ability to fairly choose our own leaders," Sen. Heinrich said in a statement. "We must do everything we can to protect the security and integrity of our elections. The SAVE Act would ensure states are better equipped to develop solutions and respond to threats posed to election systems."
Last month, DHS notified election officials in 21 states of Russian efforts to hack their voting systems. An overwhelming majority of the states were targeted but not breached, officials said. In at least one instance, hackers gained unauthorised access to voter databases: A security contractor in Illinois discovered a breach last July, though there was no evidence of votes being altered — only voter data, such as driver's licenses and Social Security numbers, being accessed.
Gizmodo reported exclusively in August that a leading US supplier of voting machines exposed the personal information of more than 1.8 million Illinois residents from Chicago this year. The breach was first detected by UpGuard, a California-based cyber resiliency firm.
"The fact that the Russians probed the election-related systems of 21 states is truly disturbing," Sen. Collins said. "And it must serve as a call to action to assist states in hardening their defences against foreign adversaries that seek to compromise the integrity of our election process. Our bipartisan legislation would assist states in this area by identifying best practices to protecting voting equipment, and ensuring states have the resources they need to implement those best practices."
As lawmakers endeavour to operate in a gridlocked Congress, it remains unclear - even with bipartisan backing - how much support Heinrich and Collin's can drum up. Many Republicans supportive of President Donald Trump are currently struggling to strike a balance between confidence in the outcome of last year's election and concern for the integrity of the midterm contests next year.