Mr. President, I rise today to discuss a very important amendment that has broad support. That is the Klobuchar-Graha, amendment on election cybersecurity. It is an amendment that Senator Lindsey Graham and I are working to include in the National Defense Authorization Act. Senator McCain is supportive of this bill, and I understand why he is. And that's because he understands that our election infrastructure is a major part of our national security.
If we can allow foreign countris to influence our elections, to hack into our local state election equipment, then we do not have a secure America. And as we know, recent reports show that there were 21 different states in which Russians attempted to hack into their actual election software and their equipment. This is not the focus on fake news right now. This is not the focus on e-mails. This is a focus on actual intents to hack into state election equipment. It is very straightforward.
And that is why there is bipartisan support to pass this amendment to help states to simply strengthen their election equipment. This is not a partisan amendment. Some that come before this body are. And as you'll soon find out, this had broad support on the Republican side. And I'm asking my colleagues to help me pass it to over come the objections from one senator.
First of all, I would like to thank my colleagues, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Lankford, for their efforts on this issue. Senators Harris and Lankford have been working with Senator Graham and myself, and I really appreciate their work on this issue. Senator Schumer has mentioned this bill in his remarks yesterday. He said securing our election infrastructure is a top priority, and I'm thankful that he is a champion for this amendment. As I mentioned, Chairman McCain and Ranking Member Reed, who are the two top senators on the Armed Services Committee. That should matter. I appreciate their work for our nation's defense and their work on the NDAA and the fact that the legislation today includes an important provision championed by Senator McCain. That provision says that it is the policy of the United States to defend against and respond to cyber threats to our Democratic system, to our system of Democracy. Senator McCain understands that election security is national security. They are forever intertwined. If the people of this country do not have the freedom to have their say about who should be elected--Democratic, Republican, Independent--then we have a breach to our national security. And that is why we have such broad support to simply authorize states grants so they can upgrade the security of their election equipment. And I'm here today to fight for a vote, a simple up and down vote supported by this amendment--both members that lead this committee.
Our election systems have been under attack. They have been under attack, and it will happen again. And if this body just wants to sit there and pretend it doesn't happen, pretend not to believe 17 intelligence agencies and everything else, that is up to them. But I'm not going to go home and tell my constitutents that I didn't try everything I could to get this amendment included.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Russian hackers attempted to hack at least, as I mentioned, 21 states' election systems in 2016. Earlier this year, we also learned that Russia launched cyber attacks against a U.S. voting software company and the e-mails of more than 100 local election officials. Last month, the Chicago Board of Elections reported that names, addresses, birth dates, and other sensitive information from about 1.8 million registered voters were exposed. U.S. national security officials have been sounding the alarm that our voting systems will continue to be a target in the future. The former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently testified that Russia will continue to interfere in our political system. As Senator Rubio noted, maybe one time it was on party and one candidate, and the next time it will be another. This is what former Director James Clapper said: "I believe Russia is now emboldened to continue such activities in the future both here and around the word. And to do so even more intensely. If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it."
Vigilance. That's what this is all about. In order to safeguard future elections, state and local officials must have the tools and resources they need to prevent hacks and safeguard election infrastructure from foreign interference. They don't need those resources in 2025. They need these resources now. The next federal election is just 419 days away. No, we cannot wait another year to do this. We cannot wait two years to do this. We cannot wait to see if some of our states who have less money and less resources are able to do this on their own. This is a national issue. Four hundred and nineteen days. Maybe it sounds like a lot of time to some people, but it isn't.
It takes time for state and local election officials to come up with plans for their best practices, to shore up their cybersecurity, to buy new election equipment, to hire cyber experts to make sure their systems are secure. Do you want to go vote and not know if the Russians are hacking into your election, into your data and finding out your address and who you voted for? I don't think so. Time is of the essense if we want to improve election cybersecurity ahead of 2018 and 2020. That's why I'm fighting so hard for a vote on this amendment.
It's that simple. If we do not act now, we leave state election officials, the people on the front lines of our democratic process, without the reosurces they need to combat cyberattacks. That's not just wrong, that is unconsionable. And it is against the very principles of our Constitution. We are supposed to be a government for the people, by th epeople, not by a foreign entity.
In order to protect our election systems, we need to do three key things. First, we need to bring state and local election officials, cyber security experts, and national security personnel together to provide guidance to our states on how they can best protect themselves from cyberattacks. Just try to picture a local official in Thief River Falls, Minnesota or Lanesboro, Minnesota. Are they supposed to have the most updated data on how they protect their elections on what they're supposed to do? No, they need guidance from the federal government. Those recommendations should be easily accessible so that every official and election official in the country can access them. Many state officials I have talked to feel like they are in the dark about threats to our election system. That can't continue. We need our national security officials to be sharing information about the potential for attacks with state officials in real time.
By the way, a lot of those states that were hacked into, they still don't know it. That information still is not out there like it should be. So this means creating a framework for information-sharing that acts as an alarm system against cyber intruders. We put alarm systems on our homes but not for our election equipment. Our amendment would establish that alarm system.
Second, the federal government must provide states with the resources to implement the best sacrifices developed by states and cybersecurity experts. A meaningful effort to protect our election systems will require some resources. I think most Americans would agree with me when I say that protecting our democracy from foreign cyberattacks will be money well-spent. Think about money that we put into our national defense. It's important. We want to have a strong defense. We want to have those aircraft carriers. Think about that and how important that is and how much money that costs. And then think about these ballot boxes in local places, where literally a foreign entity can just hack in like that.
Finally, we need better auditing of our elections. That means voter-verified paper ballot backup systems in every state. This is fundamental to protecting our elections and improving public confidence in the reliability of elections. Our amendment would accelerate the move to paper ballots as backup by providing states with the resources that they need to get there. In short, our amendment would help states block cyberattacks, secure voter registration logs and voter data, upgrade election auditing procedures, and create secure and useful information-sharing about threats.
This is a bipartisan amendment. I keep saying that because so often this discussion of the elections has turned partisan on both sides. This is bipartisan. I'm doing this with Senator Graham, and we are not alone. Senator Harris of California, Senator Lankford of Oklahoma are also pushing for the Senate to do its job and address election cybersecurity. Representative Meadows, the leader of the House Freedom Cacucus, Mr. President, and Democrat Jim Langevin introduced companion legislation in the House. The leader of the Freedom Caucus. Why do you think that they are interested in this bill that I'm doing with Lindsey Graham? Well, because they believe in this idea that states should be able to have their own elections, understand that they shouldn't be federalized. They believe that we should have safe and secure elections.
There is strong bipartisan support for this effort outside the halls of Congress as well. Dozens of former Republican national security officials are pushing for the Senate to pass this amendment. They have written op-eds, called their representatives, and worked to inform the public about the need to take action now. Michael Chertoff, who served as Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, published a piece this month in The Wall Street Journal calling on Congress to take action. He noted that our amendment would address the cybersecurity challenge in a way that is "fiscally responsible, respectful of states' policymaking powers and proactive in dealing with the most pressing vulnerabilities." Bruce Fein, a former Reagan Justice Department official, said the amendment would enormously strengen defenses against cyberattacks that could compromise the integrity of elections in the United States and undermine the legitimacy of government. A bipartisan group former national security officials sent a letter to Senate leadership pushing for a vote on this amendment. They noted that attacks on U.S. voting systems threaten the most basic underpinnings of American self-government and these attacks growing in sophistication and scale. States administer elections, and if you talk to a local election official--and I have throughout my state--you will find out that they are adamant about protecting states' rights in this area. Well, guess what? No surprise, we have their support, too. A bipaprtisan group of ten Secretaries of State sent a letter urging the Senate to pass this amendment. They want this amendment passed because it would provide vital resources to states to support growing security demands of our nation's election infrastructure. The National Association of Counties, a group that united America's 3,068 counties--these are county governments big and small that serve people on the grassroots level that know what it means to be having people sitting at those election booths doing their job for little pay, just making sure for the reason that we have free American elections. They support this, too.
They need resources and cyber expertise and they need them now. Our decentralized election system is both a strength and a weakness. It's a strength because we have multiple systems that house all of our information so it isn't in one place, right? So if there is a hack in Ohio, maybe you don't have the hack in Minnesota. If there is a hack in one state, in one city, maybe you don't have it in another. But we don't want to have a hack anywhere.
American elections are increasingly an easy target because, on the other hand, many local election systems are using election technology that is completely outdated. Forty-three states rely on electronic voting or tabulation systems that are at least ten years old. Think about it--so we want to have these decentralized elections. That's what we want. But we just simply have to make sure that our states, when they're voting in both state and federal elections for senator, for governor, for their local mayor, for their school board, that their election equipment is safe and secure. And that's where we come in. We don't run their local elections, and I think a lot of Americans wouldn't want us to run their local elections.
But what we do is make their elections safe because those hackers in Russia or wherever they are trying to influence our election, they don't know the jurisdictional boundaries. They commit crimes across county lines, across international lines. They don't care. So we have to allow our state and local elections and the people that run it to be as sophisticated as the Russians that are trying to break our backs. That is what this is about. So the fact that we have so many security experts supporting this, so many local election people supporting this, the fact that Senator McCain is more than happy to have this included in his bill because he sees it as a national security issue. How can one senator stand up and say no to this amendment?
Well, that's what the American people should be asking. Local election officials are the place to start. They are passionate about keeping the federal government out of state elections. And they support our election and our amendment because it strikes the balance that our federal system demands when it comes to the administration of elections.
Despite the strong bipartisan support for this amendment, again, I asked the people or person who is blocking this vote to allow this vote to go forward. I think it is an embarassment to this body if we allow it to continue. Republican and Democratic senators support this amendment. Cybersecurity experts support this amendment. Republican and Democratic former national security, major national security officials, support this amendment of the Freedom Caucus supports this amendment. This is a bipartisan amendment in the House.
So why is it being blocked? I actually can't tell you. It's not one of those things where someone says, oh, it isn't worth putting millions of dollars into this. No, when you look at all the moeny we're spending on other forms of defense, this is just dwarfed by that. No one can actually in good faith say that that's the reason. And they're not actually saying that that is the reason. They are giving me no reason. So I think they need to come out and tell us why they are against our elections. I think the American people deserve an answer for that.
The integrity of our election system is the cornerstone of our democracy. The freedom to choose our leaders and know with full confidence that those leaders were chosen in free and fair elections, that is something that Americans have fought and died for since our country was founded, right? That's why our country came into existence, because we didn't want to have another country control our citizens' economy. We didn't want them to control where they went to school. My relatives came over from Slovenia and other places because they wanted to be able to choose where their kids went to school. That's the freedom of voting, and that's what this amendment is about.
Members standing in the way of this bipartisan amendment to protect our election infrastructure are literally committing malpractice on our Constitution. They will have to explain to the American people why, and to the Freedom Caucus, and to all the supporters that we have across the aisle, why they didn't just do something. Why they stood idly by and ignored the warnings of our intelligence officials? Because you know what? They are going to have to be able to say next summer, I'll do something now. It will be too late now.
This is the time to authorize this and then to get the money in place by the end of the year. And it is the only legal way we can do this. When it comes to our election infrastructure, we are only as strong as our weakest link. A threat to one country, to one city, to one state's election infrastructure is an assault on our entire system because it fundamentally threatens the very foundation of our political system. We must be a united front in fighting against those who interfere with our democracy. And we must do everything in our power to prevent foreign interference from ever happening again.
In the 21st century, our adversaries will continue to use entire warfare. Everyone knows that. Anyone that's had an account at a store hacked into, anyone that's had someone get into their account with spam or send them some fake addresses or a fake link. Everyone knows that this is happening.
In the 21st century, our adversaries will use cyberwarfare and we need to be prepared to defend our networks against this growing threat to our democracy, especially our elections. Our attitude must be to roll up our sleeves to get this done. And whoever is blocking this bill better come forward and just explain why because the American people are going to demand an answer now. But they're really going to demand and answer when things go bad.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.