As the House Homeland Security Committee meets for the first election security hearing of 2019 today, Congress is still far away from a grand bargain to help protect state election systems from foreign hackers. But the goalposts may be changing with Democrats in charge of the House. The new top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (Ala.), tells me he’s ready to impose requirements on states to secure their election systems against hackers. He called for a baseline of security states must meet before receiving money from the government to upgrade outdated and vulnerable voting machines and secure other election infrastructure. “We want to get some minimum standards that have to be adhered to,” Rogers tells me. And he says he’s willing to work with Democrats to get it done.
This is a step forward from last Congress when many Republicans — including governors– balked at the idea of imposing serious mandates on states after an initial delivery of $380 million for security with no strings attached. House Republicans last session largely evaded the question of election security; they did not offer any major proposals or hold any hearings on the topic until well into 2018.
But the terrain looks different in Washington now that Democrats are exercising their new power in the House to push for a broad overhaul in U.S. elections — and security mandates are starting to look more like the middle ground.
House Democrats’ first bill of the new Congress mandates states use paper ballots rather than digital ones and make other security upgrades in exchange for $120 million. But it also pushes for a whole host of progressive priorities opposed by many Republicans. H.R. 1, also known as the For the People Act, would expand automatic voter registration, restore felons voting rights and make Election Day a national holiday, among other things.