A Senate committee abruptly postponed a vote Wednesday on a bill to protect elections against cyber threats after it became clear it would not have enough Republican votes to be approved and advance to the floor.
The move frustrated the bill's bipartisan authors who insisted Congress must respond to cyberattacks from Russia and other players by passing their legislation. Concerns over election security have increased as more details of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election have been made public.
"Congressional inaction is unacceptable," said Republican Sen. James Lankford from Oklahoma
Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, the Republican senator from Missouri, explained committee action was scuttled after secretaries of state from around the country raised concerns with aspects of the bill.
"We didn't have the level of Republican support we needed, and we didn't have some secretaries of state that had raised real concerns the last three days and (there was) no reason to go forward if we're not going to have enough bipartisan support to get a bill on the floor," Blunt said.
A GOP aide added that senators are working on changes to the bill to meet those policy concerns and an all-senators election security briefing planned with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI Director Chris Wray might be helpful in that regard.
The legislation, authored by Lankford and Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar would, "streamline cybersecurity information-sharing between federal intelligence entities and state election agencies; provide security clearances to state election officials; and require adequate post-election auditing procedures so each election can be double-checked and verified," according to a summary of the bill from Lankford's office.
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat who chairs the National Association of Secretaries of State, has said he is concerned that the bill's mandates for post-election audits are too stringent and amount to unfunded mandates on the states.
"It's important that any legislation passed by Congress regarding election administration includes funding for states to have the resources which are necessary to continue our work protecting the integrity of our electoral process," Condos said in a statement. "While I applaud the intent behind the Secure Elections Act, I believe that it was correct to delay a vote today as the legislation needs to be worked further."
Aware of that concern, Klobuchar was planning to offer an amendment to provide $250 million to the states to offset those costs, according to a Senate aide.
However, an aide to Condos who asked not to be identified, dismissed that figure as way too low.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a statement raised concerns about the removal of the requirement for a manual tally of paper ballots during post-election audits.
"Given the cyber threats to our voting systems, only audits of physical, paper ballots can provide the security we need and the confidence voters deserve to have in the accuracy and integrity of election results," Padilla said.
Klobuchar said she was "disappointed" action on the measure was put off and said all Democrats on the panel had planned to vote for it.
"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," she said. "To do nothing before the next election would be irresponsible."
Blunt told CNN he did not know when his committee might take the bill back up again.
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