Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2722, the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, after a highly contentious display of partisanship in the Committee on House Administration, right as our Nation is faced with continuing threats to our elections. While all indicators point to this legislation having little chance of passing the Senate, liberals in the House of Representatives are seeking to enact provisions of the poison-pill H.R. 1, and individually push its provisions through piecemeal legislation such as this. The bill mandates paper ballot voting systems in all states and territories, federally mandated post-election audits, and strict federal cybersecurity mandates for both election technology vendors and for voting systems.
In response to this legislation, House Administration Committee Ranking Member Rodney Davis introduced the Election Security Assistance Act, H.R. 3412, which would respect local autonomy by providing security enhancements and creating partnerships with state and local governments. The spirit of this legislation would further allow localized solutions for the diverse needs of various communities, and respect key tenets of federalism. While H.R. 2722 centralizes federal power, and mandates that the partisan Secretary of Homeland Security act as a key official in federal election oversight, H.R. 3412 would create a cybersecurity commission to assist states under the auspices of the bipartisan Election Assistance Commission to recommend cybersecurity standards, ballot design, and overall elections logistics.
When comparing both pieces of legislation side by side, the contrasting views on federalism are clear; H.R. 2722 limits the power of the states of oversee their elections, and H.R. 3412 creates a stronger partnership between levels of government. H.R. 2722 hands down mandates, while H.R. 3412 provides support. H.R. 2722 dictates the type of equipment used in elections, while H.R. 3412 provides resources and allows states to exercise greater autonomy in elections- preserving the delicate balance of federalism in the process.
H.R. 2722, The SAFE Act:
- Mandates $600 million in Voting System Security Improvement Grants for states to modernize and secure their election infrastructure based on federal guidelines
- Mandates $175 million every two years for states to implement technologies compliant with federal standards
- Mandates that voting systems use voter-verified paper ballots
- Surrenders state autonomy to the Department of Homeland Security
- Sets strict cybersecurity standards for both election technology vendors and for voting systems.
H.R. 3412, The Election Security Assistance Act:
- Provides Federal grants to states to update their aging and at-risk election infrastructure: $380 million (25% match from states) to assist states with cybersecurity enhancements and additional improvements to meet the needs of aging election systems. The amount was determined based on what was adequately appropriated for states last Congress.
- Expands the definition of election infrastructure to include e-poll books to shield voter registration data from potential cyber security attacks.
- Empowers state officials and increases reporting requirements for DHS
- Provides Top Secret Clearance to election officials to better facilitate the sharing of sensitive election security information among Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Commissioners, EAC Executive Director, EAC General Counsel and chief state election officials.
- Increases reporting requirements for the Department of Homeland Security to notify state election officials of a cyber intrusion and reports on any foreign threats in a state.
- Increases resources for election officials
- Creates the first-ever Election Cyber Assistance Unit, to connect state and local election officials with leading election administration and cybersecurity experts from across the country.
- Requires the Election Assistance Commission to conducting a study on the best ways to design ballots to maximize voter participation by minimizing confusing ballots and user error.