Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is confident Congress will deliver another surge of funding to help states run safe and secure elections in November despite opposition from many Republicans and a barrage of attacks on mail voting by President Trump.
The main driver, she says, will be state and local election officials of both parties convincing lawmakers and the public the money is necessary to manage massive increases in voting by mail and to buy protective equipment and other resources to ensure in-person voting doesn’t become a hotbed for spreading the coronavirus.
The last chance for any significant election funding boost before November’s contest is approaching quickly: a massive coronavirus relief measure that lawmakers are struggling to pass before millions of Americans are hit with a drop in unemployment benefits.
Republicans didn’t include any money for elections in their $1 trillion first draft of that bill. But Democrats are pushing hard to add funding in a compromise measure. And Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees election issues, has acknowledged states may need more help for elections. Klobuchar is the top Democrat on that committee and has been working with Blunt on funding plans.
If the money doesn’t come through, Klobuchar said, she fears the sort of Election Day breakdowns that took place during primaries in Wisconsin, Georgia and the District of Columbia, where voters didn't receive mail ballots they requested, were stuck in long in-person voting lines and even risked contracting the coronavirus.
In Wisconsin, 71 people who voted in person on primary day or worked at polling places later tested positive for the virus, the state’s health department said.
“My concern is that we’re going to have Wisconsin on steroids,” Klobuchar told me. “You’ll have so many more people voting than you did in the primaries…[and] you’re going to have people that get sick from voting.”
Klobuchar has led Senate Democrats in pushing for another $3.6 billion to protect elections during the pandemic.
She declined to say how much election money she believes will emerge from negotiations but it’s unlikely to be nearly that high.
Republicans have repeatedly balked at Democratic efforts to increase federal spending to protect elections against digital threats from Russia and China and more recently to ensure safe voting during the pandemic. And during two other rounds of negotiations over cybersecurity money in the past two years, Republicans have always agreed to more funding at the last minute. In total they've delivered about $1.2 billion for election security and safety, including $400 million in the first coronavirus relief bill in March.
It's also unlikely the latest measure will include mandates that are in a Senate bill Klobuchar sponsored and a House-passed coronavirus relief bill that states must offer mail voting to all residents in future elections and provide early voting days.
Whatever money does reach states can be extremely useful before November, she said.
Mail voting is expected to rise significantly across the country, especially in about half of states that allow all residents to vote by mail without an excuse and about a dozen more that are allowing no-excuse mail voting during the pandemic.
Time’s running short for some of those states to buy some specialty equipment such as high-speed scanners and drop-off boxes for mail votes, according to a timeline prepared by the Election Reform Program at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.
But there’s still plenty of time for election officials to buy vital materials that are in much broader supply, she said. And the money could help reimburse states that have drained their limited funds preparing for the pandemic and are now short in other areas.
“There are a lot of things that are pretty fundamental,” she said. “You can buy stamps in three months. You can buy envelopes. You can buy training for poll workers. You can buy [personal protective equipment] for poll workers.”
Klobuchar also thinks Trump’s persistent attacks on voting by mail are likely to backfire.
The president has claimed without evidence that voting by mail will lead to widespread fraud, despite having voted by mail himself this year.
But that message is unlikely to resonate with the presidents’ opponents who are likely to take advantage of mail voting in record numbers, Klobuchar said.
“They won’t have an effect on Democrats and independent voters,” she said. “I suppose he might scare some of his own base from wanting to vote by mail. I don’t understand what he’s doing. Nor do [many] Republicans.”
In fact, a Washington Post analysis found possible voter fraud cases in states that vote primarily by mail accounted for just 0.0025 percent of ballots in 2016 and 2018 — or about one out of every 39,000. And primary turnout suggests Trump’s attacks on mail voting may already be dissuading Republicans from using the system.
Trump expanded his attacks yesterday, seemingly pointing to a New York primary contest that has been riddled with problems and delays to argue mail voting will cause confusion and chaos. Voters returned about 403,000 mail ballots in that race compared with 23,000 in the 2016 primary and officials have struggled to process them.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, pointed to the same primary as evidence that states need more money to properly handle mail in ballots. New York has historically had a very low percentage of people voting by mail and lacks much of the infrastructure that helps mail voting go smoothly in states where it’s more common.
“We have the facts on our side,” she said.
A national security review of TikTok will land on Trump’s desk this week.
The inquiry focuses on whether Byte Dance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, might use it to aid Bejing's spying or to spread Chinese propaganda, Katy Stech Ferek at the Wall Street Journal reports. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) requested the review in October. The president recently threatened to ban TikTok over similar concerns.
TikTok is trying to allay concerns by opening up its computer code for U.S. regulators and privacy experts to probe for anything improper, Tony Romm reports.
All House members can view classified intelligence warnings about "disinformation" targeting the 2020 election.
The House Intelligence Committee voted to share the classified information with the entire chamber after first pushing for an FBI briefing for all members, Jeremy Herb, Zachary Cohen and Manu Raju at CNN report. Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) has also pushed for the intelligence community to share more information about election threats with the American public. “We must not have another presidential election marred by foreign interference when there was more we could do to prevent it, deter it and expose it to the American people,” he said.
The classified information may involve a congressional investigation into presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s family involvement in Ukraine led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Biden's campaign slammed Johnson last week for not addressing concerns he was being used in a foreign disinformation campaign. Johnson has said the investigation is proper and Democrats' concerns are misguided.
Zuckerberg said China has "absolutely" stolen technology from U.S. companies. Apple’s Tim Cook punted.
The Facebook CEO was the only tech executive testifying before a House antitrust panel to give an unequivocal answer when Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) asked if the CEOs believe the Chinese government steals technology from U.S. companies,
“Congressman, I think it's well documented that the Chinese government steals technology from American companies,” Zuckerberg responded.
The answer was consistent with Facebook's strategy to position itself as a U.S. alternative to Chinese technology at the hearing. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has estimated that U.S. firms lose at least $200 billion annually to Chinese hackers.
Apple's Tim Cook was more evasive. He simply said Apple had not experienced any theft from China. A large portion of Apple’s hardware is manufactured in China. Google's Sundar Pichai also said his company had not experienced any theft from China but later corrected the record to note a 2009 cyberattack by Chinese actors aimed at stealing intellectual property and spying on accounts of Chinese dissidents.
Amazon's Jeff Bezos said that he had read reports of the behavior but was not aware of any cases involving Amazon. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Hackers manipulated real news sites to plant anti-NATO propaganda.
In addition to hacking into vulnerable news sites, the group used spoofed emails to pose as journalists or local officials, researchers at the cybersecurity firm FireEye report. FireEye doesn't directly say who is behind the propaganda effort, but it says the “Ghostwriter” campaign is pushing narratives aligned with Russian interests and appears to be tied to a broader effort to sow anti-Western sentiment in Eastern Europe.
“These stories are designed to undermine the alliance’s forward-deployed troops, portraying them as thieves and anti-Semites who hit kids with their vehicles and have carried covid-19 into the country,” John Hultquist, senior director of analysis at FireEye's Mandiant threat intelligence division, said in a statement.
“The method of hacking media sites to push fabricated narratives is a powerful one, and we suspect that we will see more of it, possibly before the upcoming elections,” he said.
More cybersecurity news:
Here's a fact check on Trump's latest mail voting attack from Business Insider's Grace Panetta:
CNN's Marshall Cohen:
- The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Security will hold a hearing to examine the China challenge and how to build resiliency and competitiveness today at 10 a.m.
- The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the findings and recommendations of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission on August 4 at 2:30 p.m.
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Members of Congress have tech gaffes too: