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Schumer calls for funding to harden U.S. election systems against hackers

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)

New York’s senior U.S. senator said that he will push for legislation in the upcoming federal budget to provide funds for local boards of elections to harden their security against potential threats by foreign governments. 

On Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer toured the Center for Internet Security in East Greenbush, just outside Albany. The firm contracts with the federal Department of Homeland Security to provide technical expertise to help local Boards of Elections in all 50 states as well as U.S. territories. It helps them protect their systems from hackers, including potential attacks from Russia and China.

CIS is credited with first discovering evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections in the United States.

"There’s no principle more important to our democracy than free and fair elections," Schumer said.

He said Russia and China want to interfere with U.S. elections and cause Americans to lose confidence in the process.

"If people no longer trust the freeness, fairness, preciseness of our elections, this could be real trouble for our democracy," Schumer said.

The anti-hacking programs that CIS developed are offered free of charge, but the state and local governments need funding to implement the technology.

Schumer is asking Congress to implement the Election Security Act, sponsored by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is also a Democratic presidential candidate. Among other things, the measure would provide $1 billion in grants to local boards of elections to harden their systems and provide cybersecurity training for staff.

Schumer said it should be included in the new federal budget, due this fall.

President Donald Trump has said he does not believe reports of Russian trying to hack into U.S. election systems, and he said if there was meddling, he does not think it influenced the outcome of the 2016 election. 

Schumer said he doesn't believe that the White House is taking potential threats seriously. Schumer pointed out that FBI Director Christopher Wray has said he expects the Russians and others to step up efforts to try to interfere with the 2020 presidential elections.

"The military gets it, the intelligence agencies get it," Schumer said. "But the White House hasn’t risen to their level of alarm." 

Schumer said New York is better prepared than many states to protect its elections from potential hackers. The state several years ago switched from the old-style lever voting machines to paper ballots, which are essential if hacking occurs and a recount is necessary. 

Schumer said some Republicans in Congress are against the additional funding, but he said it’s needed, and it should not become a partisan issue.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.