WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) have formally unveiled bipartisan legislation to require the Department of Homeland Security to notify state and local officials, certain Members of Congress, and potentially affected voters when federal agencies identify an election system breach.
The legislation, H.R. 3529, the Achieving Lasting Electoral Reforms on Transparency and Security (ALERTS Act), follows reports revealing Russian infiltration into the computer networks of two Florida counties in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. election.
“The one thing that is indisputable in the Mueller report is the fact that Russia interfered in our election. In Florida, it is unacceptable that the Russians know which systems were hacked, but not the American voters who are the true victims of this intrusion,” said Murphy. “Just like consumers expect credit card or social media companies to disclose when their personal data has been compromised, voters also expect their government to notify them when their voting information is improperly accessed. Strengthening the security of our elections, especially from attacks by foreign adversaries, needs to be a top priority.”
“It has now been nearly two months since Florida delegation members were briefed by the FBI on the two hacked counties in Florida – and the voters in these counties still don’t know if Russians have accessed their personal data,” Waltz said. “Our elections system is perhaps the most critical of all infrastructure to our democracy – and it is constantly under attack from foreign powers who do not share our values. After we adequately harden our infrastructure, the federal government needs to have an honest conversation about deterrent strategy. We need to not only secure our elections for our defense but for the security of other democracies around the globe facing the same threat.”
Under the bill, federal officials would be required to promptly alert appropriate state and local officials, as well as Members of Congress, if there is credible evidence of an unauthorized intrusion into an election system and a basis to believe such intrusion could have resulted in voter information being altered or otherwise affected. The bill would also require state and local officials to alert potentially affected voters.
The bill does, however, create a narrow exception to public alerts if federal officials determine notification would compromise intelligence sources or methods or cause harm to an ongoing criminal investigation.
In addition to Waltz and Murphy, the bipartisan bill is cosponsored by 18 Members of Congress: Florida Reps. Vern Buchanan, Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch, Mario Diaz-Balart, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala, Darren Soto, Ross Spano, John Rutherford, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Ted Yoho, along with Reps. Jodey Arrington (Texas), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), and Kendra Horn (Okla.).
In March 2019, the Mueller Report concluded that Russian military intelligence officers sent spearphishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county elections officials in the months leading up to the 2016 election. This operation “enabled [Russian military intelligence officers] to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government.”
In May, Murphy and Waltz, both former national security specialists at the Pentagon, requested a classified briefing by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the Florida congressional delegation on the nature and extent of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in Florida during the 2016 presidential election.
During the briefing on May 16, federal officials informed the Florida delegation that Russia infiltrated a second county, but federal officials did not authorize members of the delegation to disclose that information to the public. The counties’ names still have not been released.
“We need a notification standard for election hacks, which will increase public transparency on the vulnerabilities of our election infrastructure and help strengthen our democratic process,” said Murphy.
“The FBI’s notification protocol is inadequate and unacceptable. Voters and state and local officials have the right to know when personal information has been compromised,” Waltz said.
A summary of the legislation can be found here. The full text can be found here.