House Democrats came out swinging on election security in their first bill of the new Congress on Friday, promising at least $120 million for new voting machines — so long as they use paper ballots rather than digital ones. The move suggests the new House majority plans to push for the strongest election security measures they can get rather than seek compromise with the GOP-controlled Senate or the Trump administration. The paper ballot mandate puts the new House majority at odds with the Department of Homeland Security, which has left the door open for machines that record votes digitally but print out a physical paper trail so votes can be audited if there’s any suspicion of hacking. It also tees up a fight with the Republican-controlled Senate, which has been wary of imposing strict requirements on states.
Still, the push for paper ballots was met with applause and optimism by some election security advocates who hope the 2020 election will be more secure than the midterms.
“Paper ballots, that’s the biggest win in this bill,” said Matt Bernhard, an election security advocate with the group Verified Voting. “This is about as aggressive as you can see anyone at the federal level being in terms of actually passing meaningful legislation.”
It may face an uphill climb, though: The For the People Act, which also includes provisions to expand voting access and increase campaign finance disclosures, is an early peek at Democrats’ top priorities for the session — but bipartisan cooperation is more stalled than ever as large parts of the federal government are still shut down amid a dispute with President Trump over border funding.