Democrats accelerate push to strengthen election security

Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro
Associated Press
In this Oct. 26, 2009, file pool photo, Larry Leake, right, State Board of Elections Chairman, right, speaks with board member Robert Cordle during board's hearing on in Raleigh, N.C.

Washington – Alarmed by President Donald Trump’s willingness to accept foreign dirt on a political opponent, House Democrats are accelerating their efforts to strengthen election security ahead of the 2020 campaign.

Lawmakers had already been compiling a fresh package of bills in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Trump-Russia probe. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are now pushing ahead with votes because it’s part of “what the American people elected us to do.”

It remains to be seen if a passage of bills through the House will break the stalemate in Congress over what to do about election security. While Russia interfered in the presidential election more than two years ago, lawmakers have yet to act on legislation – and there is no shortage of proposals.

Democrats sped up their efforts after Trump suggested Wednesday in an interview with ABC News that he was open to accepting a foreign power’s help in his 2020 campaign. He appeared to walk those comments back Friday, telling Fox News that “of course” he would go to the FBI or the attorney general if a foreign power offered him dirt about an opponent.

Still, the controversy gave fresh energy to an issue that Democrats have prioritized since they took the House majority in January. Even though the nation’s intelligence agencies said from early 2017 that it was clear Russia tried to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump, Republicans who led both chambers did not move comprehensive legislation to address the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to hold a vote on a Senate election security bill that has bipartisan support.

The House bills seek to secure state election systems, put stricter limits on foreign election interference and provide more oversight of the executive branch, according to aides familiar with the legislation. The House could vote as soon as next week on the first bill in the package, a series of measures to improve state election systems with paper ballots, audits and funding of grants to states.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., among those leading the effort, said Trump’s attitude toward foreign interference was “breathtaking” and, he believes, the president is taking the country in the “opposite direction of where the public wants to go, which is to feel more confident, not less confident” in the vote.

“People should be concerned that we’re going to see another round of attempts to attack our democracy of the kind we saw in ‘16,” Sarbanes said in an interview. He said special counsel Mueller’s report, which extensively detailed the Russian interference, flashed a “neon sign” that Russia was “coming again.”