May 15, 2019

Harris, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Require States to Secure Elections

The Protecting American Votes and Elections Act Mandates Paper Ballots and Risk-Limiting Audits in All Federal Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday joined Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), along with 11 of their colleagues, in introducing the Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act of 2019, a bill to protect American elections from foreign interference by mandating hand-marked paper ballots and setting new cybersecurity standards for all federal elections. The PAVE Act provides the strongest protection for American elections of any proposal currently before Congress.

“We need to be honest about the fact that a foreign government interfered in the 2016 election—and that if we continue to do nothing to improve our election infrastructure, we’re leaving our country vulnerable to attack once again,” said Senator Harris. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation because paper ballots are the single best way to secure our elections. Foreign governments can’t hack a piece of paper.”  

The PAVE Act requires paper ballots and statistically rigorous “risk-limiting” audits for all federal elections – two measures recommended by experts in a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2018? report on election security.

In addition to Harris and Wyden, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)Cory Booker (D-NJ)Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

For full text of the PAVE Act, click here.

For further background on the legislation, click here.

Key Provisions

The new PAVE Act bans internet, WiFi and cellular connections for voting machines, and gives the Department of Homeland Security the authority to set, for the first time, minimum cybersecurity standards for voting machines, voter registration databases, electronic poll books used to 'check in' voters at polling places and election night reporting websites.

The bill also provides state and local governments with $500 million dollars to buy new, secure ballot scanning machines, and $250 million to buy new ballot marking devices to be used by voters with disabilities. It also permits the federal government to reimburse states the cost of conducting post-elections audits, as well as the cost of designing and printing ballots.

These measures, collectively, are necessary to fix the vulnerabilities in our election infrastructure highlighted by Russia in 2016, to secure our elections from foreign hackers and give voters confidence in election results.

Support for the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act

The PAVE Act has been endorsed by leading cybersecurity experts, voting rights groups and fair elections advocates, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, Brennan Center for Justice, Protect Democracy, National Election Defense Coalition, Fair Fight Action and American Statistical Association.

Stacey Abrams, Founder, Fair Fight Action:

“Unfortunately, across the country and in Georgia, too many voters must depend on unreliable, hackable voting machines to try to make their voices heard. In Georgia, the governor has rejected the advice of security experts in favor of rewarding corporations with politically connected lobbyists, and he is not alone in jeopardizing our democracy. We must ensure that every citizen’s vote is protected against hackers who would thwart our constitutional rights as mute the will of the people. The PAVE Act will safeguard the votes of Americans in every state in the union, regardless of whether state elections officials find doing so politically expedient. I am proud to endorse Sen. Wyden’s legislation and bring real security to our elections.”

Sarah Riggs Amico, election security advocate:

“The PAVE Act would prohibit the use of paperless machines, like those used in the 2018 elections here in Georgia, where election security experts found deeply flawed vote counts that could have had a dramatic impact on the outcome of our election. American voters deserve to have voter-verified paper ballots, so they can have confidence that their votes will be counted safely, securely and accurately. That’s the America we deserve, and that’s the America Senator Wyden’s PAVE Act is going to ensure. I'm proud to support it.”

Virginia Kase, Chief Executive Officer, League of Women Voters of the United States:

“American elections should be free from foreign influence and political manipulation. It is clear after the 2018 elections that there needs to be mandatory cybersecurity standards that protect our election infrastructure from hacking. This legislation will build on the work of the Election Assistance Commission and give the resources that elections officials need to protect our election infrastructure.”

Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law:

“Our democracy works best when our elections are free and fair, and when every eligible voice is heard. The PAVE Act would mandate paper backups for every vote, and require that those backups be reviewed through rigorous, risk-limiting audits. It would also create minimum cybersecurity standards for the use of voting machines and other critical election infrastructure. Together these steps would greatly increase the integrity and security of American elections.”

Susannah Goodman, Director of the Election Security program, Common Cause:

“With state election systems facing constant cyber threats, this legislation would institute the most critical safeguards needed to defend against sophisticated cyberattacks. In addition to requiring the critical failsafes for voting systems, this legislation also importantly requires minimum cybersecurity standards for voter registration databases and electronic poll books. These additional measures are crucial. In the last election cycle, we saw too many voters denied the right to vote because their names were suddenly not on the voter rolls or their data was compromised in other ways.”

Lisa Gilbert, Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Public Citizen:

"Public Citizen applauds Senator Wyden's work to secure our elections. The shocking lack of a mandatory minimum election cybersecurity standard has meant that our elections remain incredibly susceptible to interference. If implemented, this commonsense legislation would ensure that elections in all states are protected, taking us beyond just securing the ballot, to protecting voter registration databases and election night reporting websites."

Larry Schwartztol, Counsel, Protect Democracy:

“The PAVE Act takes on one of the most pressing challenges facing our democracy: ensuring that the country's voting equipment counts every vote accurately, free from interference by cyberattackers. It sets baseline standards for responding to a national security risk that strikes at the core of our democracy."

Susan Greenhalgh, Policy Director, National Election Defense Coalition:

"The National Election Defense Coalition applauds Sen. Wyden for his vision and leadership on election security and voter accessibility. The provisions for paper ballots and post-election risk-limiting audits in the PAVE Act reflect the highest standards for providing resilience and transparency in the election process and will enhance voter confidence. We commend Senator Wyden for prioritizing a path to ensure full accessibility for all voters with verifiable elections."

Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, Senior Staff Technologist, Electronic Frontier Foundation: 

“The PAVE Act is a much needed step forward in election security. For years now, security researchers have been raising concerns with outdated voting equipment used across the country. But paper records that can be verified by voters and hand-audited increase the integrity of our elections and ward off potential interference. Now is the time for Congress to act and secure the integrity of the ballot box before we head into the next national election.” 

Gregory Miller, Chief Operating Officer, OSET Institute, Inc.:

“The PAVE Act offers the most innovative plan we’ve seen to improve the security of America’s election technology infrastructure. It’s clear that the cyber threats our country faces extend beyond ballot casting and counting machinery. PAVE addresses these serious threats by setting mandatory cybersecurity requirements for the whole election supply chain, beginning with voter registration databases and going all the way to the government websites that publish the results on election night.”

Ron Wasserstein, Executive Director, American Statistical Association:

“PAVE includes several provisions that the American Statistical Association has endorsed, including voter-verifiable paper ballots and risk-limiting audits (RLAs). We are especially pleased to see PAVE requiring RLAs, which will make U.S. elections more trustworthy. Further, because well-designed RLAs often can confirm a correct electoral outcome after examining only a small fraction of the ballots cast, they use election officials’ time and taxpayers' money efficiently. As an additional benefit, routinely-conducted risk-limiting audits provide a powerful tool for continuous quality improvement because they have the potential to identify the kinds of machines and ballot designs that lead to the fewest errors.”

Wenke Lee, Professor of computer science and cybersecurity researcher, Georgia Tech:

“PAVE will prohibit barcode machines. As we had heard from meetings on voting security in Georgia, this is exactly what our voters have been demanding. I particularly appreciate that PAVE will require that BMD devices be tested by independent user experience research labs in simulated election scenarios to ensure that ordinary voters are able to verify their votes on the BMD printouts. This is the critical requirement to demonstrate that the BMD printouts are indeed voter-verifiable paper ballots.”

Andrew Appel, Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science, Princeton University:

“The PAVE bill secures our elections so voters in every state can know that the computers are accurately counting our votes. PAVE prohibits machines that can print more votes on your ballot without your knowledge, and provides assistance to the states to print paper ballots that are clearly designed. PAVE reduces the risk of hacked voting machines by prohibiting machines that can connect themselves to the Internet, and by mandating state-of-the-art methods to prevent software hacks from being installed. PAVE ensures we can detect (and correct!) hacks, by mandating Risk-Limiting Audits of the paper ballots.”

Philip B. Stark, Associate Dean, Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Professor of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley:

“I strongly endorse the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act’s key election integrity requirements: paper ballots, rigorous ballot accounting, the creation of ballot manifests, and risk-limiting audits. Adopting these sensible standards and practices would greatly reduce the risk that errors or malicious hacking – even by well-resourced nation states – would lead to incorrect election outcomes. Using hand-marked paper ballots (with suitable accommodations to allow voters with disabilities to mark and verify their ballots independently), rigorously protecting the chain of custody of those ballots, and conducting risk-limiting audits using those ballots together provide inexpensive insurance against innocent errors, system flaws, bugs, procedural lapses, and even against advanced cyber-attacks on our democracy from within our outside our borders.”

Matt Blaze, McDevitt Professor of Computer Science and Law, Georgetown University, speaking in his personal capacity:

“The PAVE bill represents an important step toward making voting in the US secure and reliable. As a recent National Academies study made clear, paper ballots and risk limiting audits are the only known viable approaches for ensuring that software and hardware attacks cannot alter election results. As the threats to our elections increasingly includes sophisticated foreign adversaries, it is especially important that these simple, proven safeguards be universally implemented.”