Durbin Calls On Senate Republicans To Support Election Security Funding For States

Calls out Senate Majority Leader’s continued silence on Russia

WASHINGTON—In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today urged his Republican colleagues to support an amendment that would offer an additional $250 million in election security grants for states to protect their election systems.  The amendment, which was prepared by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), is being offered to the appropriations legislation the Senate is considering this week. 

"Every member of this chamber will have an opportunity to vote to ensure that state and local election officials have the resources to stop any other effort by the Russians to interfere in our election.  We know full well in Illinois what the Russians could have done to us.  I urge the adoption of the Leahy-Klobuchar amendment,” said Durbin.

Durbin also called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to urgently move legislation to protect America’s membership in NATO, ensure the integrity of our upcoming election, and fully implement last year’s Russian sanctions bill given President Trump’s bizarre actions and disastrous summit in Helsinki last week. 

“As President Trump weakens a great military alliance like NATO, bullies our allies of seven decades, cozies up to a foreign dictator, and talks in circles about his bizarre tweets and actions, what has been the priority of the Republican Party on the floor of the United States Senate? Well, the Republican leader, Senator McConnell, has not spoken on the Senate floor on this issue since the Helsinki summit, not even one time,” said Durbin.  “Why aren’t we urgently moving legislation to protect America’s membership in NATO, ensure the integrity of our upcoming election, and fully implement last year’s Russian sanctions bill?  I can’t answer that.  I don’t think the Republican leader can answer it either.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here. 

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 omnibus spending bill provided $380 million to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which is responsible for distributing the money to state election authorities.  The bill requires states to use the money to improve the administration of Federal elections, including to enhance election technology and make election security improvements.  The grant funding gives states the flexibility to use these grants to address the most critical priorities in their own election security, including:

  • Replacing outdated voting machines that do not provide a voter verified paper record;
  • Implementing a post-election audit system that provides a high-level of confidence in the accuracy of final vote tallies;
  • Upgrading election computer systems to address cyber vulnerabilities;
  • Facilitating cyber security training for the state chief election official's office and local election officials;
  • Implementing established cybersecurity best practices for election systems; and
  • Funding other activities that will improve the security of elections for federal office.

Illinois received $13.2 million from this federal funding to enhance election technology and improve election security.  The state budget, enacted last month, authorized the Illinois State Board of Elections to spend the funds and provided the required five percent state match of $661,615.  The budget legislation also required the Board to spend at least half of the funds ($6.9 million or more) on a Cyber Navigator Program.  The remaining funds will go toward a state grant program.  Local election authorities will be able to apply for the grants if they participate in the Cyber Navigator Program.  While the FY18 funding was important, Illinois will likely need ongoing federal resources to maintain the Cyber Navigator Program and provide local jurisdictions with assistance to update their voting equipment. 

The Cyber Navigator Program is designed to support the efforts of local election authorities to defend against cyber breaches and detect and recover from cyberattacks.  The Cyber Navigator Program will have three components:

  • A secure communications network that will connect local election authorities with the Board and other state agencies;
  • An outreach manager who will facilitate information sharing between local officials, state agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies; and
  • A team of cyber navigators, who will work with the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology to provide cyber protection services to local officials.

Beginning in June 2016, the Illinois State Board of Elections was the target of a malicious, month-long cyberattack that enabled the intruder to access confidential voter information and view the registration data of approximately 76,000 voters in Illinois. Earlier this month, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russians for their activities to interfere in the 2016 election by engaging in a sustained operation to hack into the computer networks of Democratic campaign organizations, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and state and local election administrators and vendors. The indictment specifically included charges related to the Russians’ attack on a state board of elections, which is presumed to be the Illinois State Board of Elections.