Senate Passes Durbin, Graham Bipartisan Election Interference Bill

DETER Act would block threats like Russians who Putin sent to the U.S. to interfere with the 2016 election

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes (DETER) Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in order to prevent foreign governments from exploiting our immigration laws to advance their efforts to undermine our democracy.  This bill, the first Senate Judiciary Committee legislation to pass the Senate in response to Russia’s attack on our democracy, will make “improper interference in U.S. elections” a violation of U.S. immigration law, and violators would be barred from obtaining a visa to enter the United States. 

“In 2016, Russia committed an act of cyber war against our country.  Unfortunately, Congress has done little to prevent efforts by Russia or others to influence and disrupt the 2020 elections.  But the Senate took a positive step by passing my bipartisan DETER Act, which would prohibit foreigners who improperly interfere in our elections from coming to the United States to further their schemes, and bar them from entering our country in the future.  I’m thankful for Chairman Graham’s partnership in this effort and look forward to this bill being signed into law.”  

“I’m very pleased that the Senate passed the DETER Act sponsored by Senator Durbin and myself.  The DETER Act will deny visas to any foreign person found to have interfered in our electoral process,” said Graham.  “This legislation will up the ante against those who wish to interfere in our elections by permanently barring them from entrance into the United States.  This is a strong bipartisan signal being sent by the Senate and hopefully will be taken up by the House and be signed into law by President.”

Along with Durbin and Graham, the bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). 

The bill responds to threats like those revealed by the Special Counsel’s indictment of Russians who traveled to the United States with the explicit purpose of learning more about American political and electoral processes and how they could interfere with such processes.  The Special Counsel’s indictment described how two of the thirteen individuals gathered intelligence during a three-week trip in June 2014. 

According to the indictment, the individuals “falsely claimed they were traveling for personal reasons.”  While in the United States, the individuals traveled to Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and New York “for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform the [Internet Research Agency’s] operations.”  A third individual attempted to travel to the United States, but did not receive a visa, and an additional co-conspirator, who is not listed in the indictment, traveled to Atlanta in November 2014.

The bill defines “improper interference in United States elections” as conduct by an alien that (1) violates federal criminal, voting rights or campaign finance law or is under the direction of a foreign government; and (2) interferes with any general or primary Federal, State, or local election or caucus, including the campaign of any candidate; or any ballot measure, including an amendment, bond issue, initiative, recall, referral, or referendum.