On Wednesday morning, the Secure Elections Act appeared to be the best hope Congress had to fight election hacking in November’s midterms. Its bipartisan sponsors, Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican senator James Lankford, had spent months building support for the bill, which would set new standards for election cybersecurity and require audits after federal elections. They were confident it would become law — and then Republicans abruptly walked away.
Roy Blunt, chairman of the Rules Committee, said he postponed Wednesday’s vote on the bill because concerns raised by secretaries of State left it without enough GOP support to pass. Those concerns included the cost of strict postelection audits and the removal of a requirement to use paper ballots.
On Thursday, a report in Yahoo News suggested that it wasn’t just the secretaries of State that influenced Senate Republicans though. The White House opposed the bill too, congressional sources said. In a statement to Yahoo News, White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters said the Trump administration’s opposition to the bill was based on its overlap with existing Department of Homeland Security initiatives and its violation of “the principles of Federalism.”
“We cannot support legislation with inappropriate mandates or that moves power or funding from the states to Washington for the planning and operation of elections,” Walters said.
Democratic senator Jeff Merkley corroborated the Yahoo News story in an appearance on MSNBC Thursday. “The hearing was canceled on this bill because the White House weighed in and said they don’t want it,” he said.
Following the announcement of the delay Wednesday, the bill’s sponsors issued annoyed statements. “With only 76 days before the election, with cyberattacks from Russia and other countries and criminal enterprises being revealed every day, with no national requirement for critical security protocols such as audits or backup paper ballots for our nation’s election infrastructure, we must take action before the next election,” Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the committee, said Wednesday.
“Congressional inaction is unacceptable,” Lankford said in a statement of his own. “This problem has been at the forefront of many Americans’ minds as more news has come to light about the extent of the threats we face.”