Rep. Bennie G. Thompson had called for greater resources toward election security.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson had called for greater resources toward election security.

Lawmakers applauded the inclusion of $380 million for election security in the FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act passed by the House Thursday but called the funding just the beginning while rights activists expressed dismay that the CLOUD Act tacked onto the end of the bill.

“With the inclusion of election security funds, Congress is finally starting to recognize that protecting our elections must be a national security priority,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, who called the House's action a “bipartisan rejection of President Trump's appalling budget” and the gateway to replacing voting machines and using paper ballots. “The use of paper ballots is a bipartisan priority and is the prime recommendation of House Democrats' Election Security Task Force.”

Calling the funds for election security “just down payment towards securing our elections,” Thompson said in a statement that “continued investment will be necessary to keep up with technology and ever-changing threats.”

While securing “elections is not cheap,” he said, “but the integrity of our democracy is at stake.”

Thompson has been an advocate for securing additional monies to harden and protect voting systems and has expressed frustration that the administration and some members of the GOP have not been aggressive enough in addressing the vulnerability of U.S. elections, particularly after Russia interfered in 2016. If the U.S. falls short in addressing election security, “Russia will continue to interfere in our election for years to come,” Thompson said.

The Committee on House Administration Democrats - Ranking Member Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.,- praised “Democratic leadership and budget negotiators for securing this much-needed funding for the Election Assistance Commission to help states upgrade their most at-risk voting equipment.”

Since “the Election Assistance Commission is the only federal agency charged with making American elections more secure, accessible, accurate, and transparent,” they said in a statement, “it is vital to helping states understand and respond to the threats confronting their election infrastructure, and for years, the EAC has worked diligently – despite a bare-bones budget – to provide guidance on cybersecurity and election technology.” 

The bill's passage came on the heels of the Senate Intelligence Committee releasing a six-point plan to boost election security that centers on increasing deterrence capabilities and better communications between the federal and state levels.

While lawmakers rejoiced over a larger budget for election security, rights activists took them to task for inserting the CLOUD Act, which will significantly amend the at the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) but falls short on privacy protections, at the end of the 2,232-page bill.

"While the passage of the CLOUD Act will help the U.S. Department of Justice and foreign governments access evidence and communications content held outside of the U.S., it's a shame that the bill does nothing to extend long-overdue privacy rights for the digital age to ordinary Americans. This is a lost opportunity for what could have been a win-win-win, especially at a time when Congress should be looking for clear ways to protect the privacy of Americans' data," Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) Vice President for Policy Chris Calabrese said in a statement. "While it's too late to include in this spending bill, the Senate should take up the Email Privacy Act to complement this legislation."

The bill leaves it "in the hands of the Department of Justice to determine whether countries that have weak surveillance standards and procedures will be empowered to serve direct surveillance demands on U.S. providers," according to Greg Nojeim, director of CDT's Freedom, Security & Technology Project. "DOJ could use this legislation to diminish privacy rights worldwide or to persuade other governments to raise their surveillance standards in order to qualify for an agreement. We fear the U.S. Congress hasn't done enough to require DOJ to make the right decisions."

Fight for the Future Deputy Campaign Director Evan Greer said in a release, “The CLOUD Act would recklessly expose the sensitive information that we entrust with big tech companies, creating loopholes for police in the U.S. and other countries to access our information without judicial oversight.”

She said the act effectively “creates an end-run around the Fourth Amendment and endangers all internet users' basic right to privacy, security, and free expression.”