Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) hinted that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election will be light on legislative proposals for Congress and focus more on recommendations to state and local governments about how best to protect the integrity of their election systems. “The determination of how states run their elections: states. It’s their responsibility, and we don’t want to do anything to change that,” Burr said during a Dec. 6 Council on Foreign Relations event on hacked elections and online influence operations. While Burr did not give a timeline on when — or if — the final report will be released to the public, he said he expects the committee will make the section on election security available to states before the 2018 election primary season kicks off in earnest. However, he downplayed expectations that the end product would contain recommendations for Congress. “These are not necessarily initiatives that involve federal legislation,” Burr said.
Instead, the report will likely stick to “common sense” recommendations for state and local governments, such as increased election audit capabilities. “I couldn’t in good conscience tell any state that it would be wise not to have a paper trail of the vote total,” he said.
There may be reasons for the committee’s aversion to legislation. Historically, the U.S. election infrastructure has been primarily run at the state and county level. The Constitution vests states with the authority to regulate election systems but allows for Congress to “at any time by law make or alter such regulations.”
This delicate balance of federalism can complicate any attempts to impose a top-down solution. During a Nov. 30 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on election cybersecurity, Susan Hennessey of the Brookings Institution told lawmakers that attempts to regulate the election system would likely not be well received by state governments.