Lawmakers Push for the State Department to Help Secure Foreign Elections

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., questions Attorney General nominee William Barr during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 15.

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., questions Attorney General nominee William Barr during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 15. Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Dan Sullivan resurrected a bill that would allow the agency to share information on election threat with foreign countries.

As misinformation campaigns and cyberattacks threaten to undermine democracy around the world, lawmakers want the State Department to play a bigger role in helping other countries secure their elections.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would create a program at State to share information about election threats with other countries. Through the Global Electoral Exchange Program, the department would assist allies in adopting best practices around election cybersecurity, transparency and auditing. It would support work to combat misinformation campaigns and end discriminatory voter registration practices.

An earlier version of the bill passed the House in September but was never put to a vote in the Senate.

“Our election systems—and those of our allies—have become a target for foreign adversaries,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Safeguarding our democracies must be a priority for us all.”

The legislation would also allow the agency to support nonprofit groups that are involved in efforts to support international election integrity.

Under the bill, State would award grants to groups that bring foreign election officials and polling workers to the U.S. to study election procedures. It would also open up funds to send U.S. officials to study the election processes of other democratic countries.

The Rules and Foreign Relations committees for both chambers of Congress would have oversight of the program, and the Secretary of State would be required to submit a report on the program’s activities every two years.

The bill comes amid a growing push for the international community to agree on rules of the road for cyberspace and information warfare.

In December, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called on State Department officials to build consensus on how nations should respond to digital assaults on their critical infrastructure. The U.S. has for years been a “consistent dissenting voice” on international cyber norms, Warner said, but the rise in misinformation and cyber threats should push diplomats to change their tune.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, lawmakers like Warner and Klobuchar have grappled with how to best protect the country’s democratic process from interference by Russia and other foreign adversaries. Though proposals to monitor online advertising and strengthen voting infrastructure gained traction during the last session, Congress has yet to approve any substantive upgrades to election security.