Pa.’s Shapiro joins 21 AGs urging U.S. Senate to take up election interference bill

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The U.S. Senate must act to protect the 2020 elections from interference, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and attorneys general from 21 states said in a letter to key committee chairs this week.

The U.S. House has passed election protections of its own. Following President Donald Trump’s statement to ABC News last week that he would accept information on political opponents from foreign governments, the majority-Democrat House is planning to move more election security measures in the coming days.

Despite that action, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has dismissed such election security legislation, tarring virtually everything supported by Democrats as “socialism” and embracing the nickname “Grim Reaper,” a nod to his commitment to kill any legislation passed in the U.S. House by refusing to allow it to be voted on in the Senate.

In their letter, the attorneys general note that “Intelligence officials and the Department of Justice continue to warn that our election systems have been a target for foreign adversaries and that those same adversaries are currently working to undermine the upcoming elections.

” … In the wake of these attacks on our democracy, Congress and the federal government have taken some important steps to address the threats facing our democracy,” the letter, led by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, reads.

The AGs add, “The Special Counsel’s Report concludes that Russia interfered in our elections in a ‘sweeping and systematic fashion.'”

“Russia successfully breached election systems in Florida and the Department of Homeland Security is reviewing computers used in North Carolina after the state experienced irregularities on Election Day. In addition, documents leaked by the National Security Agency show that hackers working for Russian military intelligence installed malware on a voting systems software company used in eight states,” it reads.

The AGs ask for additional election security funding for states and localities to upgrade election equipment, systems, and databases. They also want the establishment of cybersecurity and audit standards for election systems.

And they reiterate support for the Secure Elections Act, bipartisan U.S. Senate legislation that was first introduced in 2017 that would help states get rid of paperless voting and mandate improved audits of elections results.

In 2018, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, announced that his office intended to investigate whether state voter records were secure from hackers and other tampering, the Associated Press reported.

As a part of this year’s budget debate, Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly and the Democratic Wolf administration are sparring over a $15 million funding request to help Pennsylvania counties replace their voting machines before the 2020 elections, the Associated Press reported.

More from The AP:

Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s Legislature say that a roughly $34 billion budget counterproposal they are finalizing does not include the $15 million Wolf requested, and that they want Wolf to back off his stated intention to decertify voting machines in use last year.

Republicans never agreed to require counties to replace voting machines, and helping finance the purchases is Wolf’s problem, not theirs, said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre.

“This was a crisis that the governor created, and he needs to resolve it,” Corman said in an interview. “I feel bad for the counties, because he put a huge unfunded mandate on the counties, but that’s his responsibility.”

Wolf last year began pressing counties to buy machines with a paper-based backup, following warnings by federal authorities that Russian hackers had targeted delegate-rich Pennsylvania and at least 20 other states during 2016’s election.

Wolf’s office told the AP that election security is “everyone’s responsibility,” and that it would continue pressing for funding.

“If they elect not to support protecting Pennsylvania’s votes, Governor Wolf will assess the best path forward for the commonwealth,” Wolf’s office said in its statement, according to the AP.

Susan J. Demas, of the Michigan Advance, a sister publication to the Capital-Star, contributed to this story.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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