July 31, 2019
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), who serves as Chairman of the Rules Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee, and previously served as an election official for 20 years, addressed Senate Democrats’ disingenuous efforts to advance partisan priorities under the guise of election security. Blunt outlined how several bills Democrats have put forward, like increasing federal spending on campaigns, have nothing to do with election security. Blunt also noted how Democrats’ efforts would actually make elections less secure by undermining the diversity of election systems across the country.
Blunt further discussed ways in which federal, state, and local election officials are already working to strengthen election security and what additional steps should be taken.
Following Are Excerpts From Blunt’s Remarks:
“Over the past several weeks, we've seen numerous attempts by our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to take a serious issue and frankly, I think, turn it into a political football. It's an issue you and I both spent a lot of time on, having served on the Intel Committee, and in my case, on the Rules Committee, looking at what we need to do to be sure that people have maximum confidence that what happens on Election Day is reflected exactly in the results.
“Now, our friends came to the floor last week and they sought unanimous consent to make sweeping changes in the election laws of the country and then somehow suggested there was a conspiracy that anybody would say no to that. Mr. President, unanimous consent means exactly that. It's what we do when we name a post office. It's what we do when we make decisions that are unanimously agreed to and, usually, that's all it takes to get that issue settled. It is not how we shape the laws at the heart of our democracy, nor is it what we do when we try to make a point about that, in my opinion.
“In fact, one of the bills they sought unanimous consent on had passed the House. It got exactly one Republican vote in the House. So it clearly was not unanimously consented to over there and would not be unanimously consented to here. This is about press releases, not policy. …
“Now, these attempts have all been brought to the floor on the basis of saving democracy, ‘this is what we need to do to save our election, this is in the name of election security.’ But really, it's not what it's about at all. Three of the bills were about campaign committees, which are managed by lots of laws and may need to be managed by more, but how you run a campaign committee is not how you secure what happens at the voting place on Election Day. …
“There was one proposal in these bills that were rejected to secure elections – that for every one dollar contributed at a certain level, there would be six federal dollars given to the campaign. That was one of the ‘secure election’ things that wasn't accepted by unanimous consent. “You know, at this point it does seem to me, and if you're not willing to accept all these things, there was this sort of hair on fire moment where somehow if you're not willing to accept anything somebody else says would secure elections, that you're undermining the election system.
“You know, we really undermine the system when we say this kind of thing helps it. Frankly, I’ve been watching this for a while, and that list of things I gave you, that's been on every Democrat wish list of what would advantage them in the election for about 20 years. Never before did they purport that it made a more secure election. They just said they thought it was a better system and more fair. It was obvious to them it would help them. It was obvious to us it would help them. And we haven't done it. And we're probably not going to do it right now.
“You know, there are people in this building, Mr. President, who just simply won't accept the fact that there is not a federal solution for every problem. And sometimes if there is a federal solution, it's not the best solution.
“Frankly, I think the diversity of the election system that we have is one of the strengths of the system. I may get back to that later but that's what president Obama said in October of 2016. He said the fact that we don't have a federal structure made it really more difficult to impact our elections than if we did. …
“Critical infrastructure declaration came from the Obama administration in October where, frankly, they terrified most state election officials that suddenly the federal government, with about two weeks left in the election, was going to federalize a system that they were personally responsible for. So, recently, the Intelligence Committee that started this process, Mr. President, when you and I were both on it, and I’m still on it, released some key findings about what the Russians had done.
“They found that the Russians had worked hard to find the seams between where the federal government could be helpful and state and local governments. It found that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warnings to local officials came way too late in the process and were not well thought out.
“It scared the wrong people and confused more people when the FBI and DHS did what they did. And while there's no question that both of those agencies have redoubled their efforts to build trust with the states and deploy resources to help secure elections, that we have to remain vigilant to see that they continue to do that.
“Even when you and I worked on a bill together last year that local officials continued to have some problems with, even after we worked on it. I know I said at the time I believe we're doing everything this bill would do, but I’m not sure we'd still be doing it ten years from now. So we need to memorialize that. I haven't significantly changed my view on that, but I haven't changed my view, most importantly, that we're doing what we need to do now. But Congress needs to be vigilant.
“We have to insist that state and local officials have the clearance levels they need. Frankly, let me say this, too. On that topic, I’m not sure you can legislate that. I'm not sure you can legislate ‘here’s what you have to be willing to tell state and local officials.’ I'm not sure you can ever put that in writing, but you can ask them what they are telling people.
“I talked to one of our state election officials just last week, and I said ‘how is this going?’ He said, ‘well, everything we request seems to be one level above the security clearance I have, too many of the things we ask meet that criteria.’ We're going to have to insist that that not be the case. While this is not likely to be solved by legislation, I think it can be solved by congressional oversight and inquiry.
“The intelligence committee also found that Russian activities demand renewed attention to vulnerabilities in the U.S. voting infrastructure. Certainly agree with that. We even said in that report we should replace out-of-date machines with improved ways to vote and improve cyber security. I think that's happening. Election officials have been taking this threat very seriously. DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, has reported that all 50 states and more than 1,400 local jurisdictions have signed up for the cyber threat information sharing program. We've had reports to the Senate on that. The Rules Committee has had hearings on that. Intel has asked repeatedly about that - the Intel Committee.
“The monitoring sensors that help detect malicious activity have been deployed to election infrastructure in most states. Remember, in 2016, we had a cyber-defense, but we didn't have a cyber-offense. And early in the Trump administration, I remember people being asked in an open hearing, ‘do you have any direction now to be fighting out there, to have a cyber-offense?’ Well, that was about five months into the Trump administration when the person said, ‘no, you'd think that somehow the old cyber-offense had been turned off.’
“In fact, there had been no cyber-offense. Sometime in 2017, the cyber fighters were given what they needed and they're out there helping. They're fighting back, too. And we had a report on that just recently that all the senators are aware of.
“We need to look and see what happened with the states that were given $380 million in 2018. Forty-nine states took the money immediately. One state, Minnesota, has some glitch with their legislature, so they don't have their money yet. But of the $380 million that states have, they've only spent 25% of it. So there's still $285 million that states have to do the kinds of things that the Congress thinks that states should be doing.
“Now, there may be some states that have already spent all their money and need more. That's something that in appropriations process I’m sure we'll look at again, just like that money, that $380 million came through the appropriations process. Mr. President, as I recall, you were pretty involved in that discussion at the time.
“The federal government's role isn't to run elections for the state, but it certainly has a place in trying to be a valued partner ensuring that the states have all the help they need. In fact, I believe that a larger federal role requiring a one-size-fits-all approach to the election would be a big mistake. I'm not for federalizing the elections.
“I spent 20 years as an election official, either as the individual responsible for the elections in the third most populous county in our state or the chief election official as the secretary of state. And in 20 years of doing this, I guarantee you that the person on the ground generally elected by the voters that he or she is trying to secure their election that day is intensely interested in that election going well and people having confidence in it. There is very little kicking the buck up to some federal official in a faraway place and saying, ‘well we can't prepare for that because we haven't been told that we can prepare for that.’
“Public confidence in elections is fundamental. It is the central thread in the fabric of democracy. Elected officials take it seriously when they're elected to do this job or supervise this job, just like appointed officials and boards of election commissioners do. That system would not be improved if it was directed from Washington, D.C., in a one-size-fits-all world.
“These public servants undertake an important job and they understand it's an important job. We need to support them. We are supporting them. We need to have oversight. There may be a time when that oversight has produced a system that's so finely honed that we're ready to make it permanent. But every time you put something in law permanently, you reduce a lot of your flexibility to insist that something be done differently that needs to be done right now.
“Both the Intel Committee report, and both Senator Warner and Senator Burr have done a good job keeping our committee on a bipartisan, nonpartisan track in this report, but both that report and former FBI Director Mueller focused on the insidious efforts to confuse voters. This is a much bigger question than what we can do at the government level at election security. Let's not confuse that certain fight about bad information that's out there with a fight about whether our elections are secure or what happens on Election Day.
“Frankly, much more attention on what we can do about information that’s out there, and put people on alert. Sometimes even your political opponent says things that aren't true. And they don't have to be Russian to do that. People need to be on alert about information that's out there. But they also don't need to be scared to death that somehow we're not taking seriously the important moment of democracy when people decide.
believe we're doing that. I'm committed to it. I believe this Senate is
committed to it. I think this effort to make everything that might advantage
one side an election security issue is something that people need to be
thoughtful about and, Mr. President, it needs to stop.”