WASHINGTON—At a Senate Committee on Rules and Administration hearing titled the “Administration of Upcoming Elections,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections, led the discussion about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on elections, the need for election administration funding, and protections for state and local election officials. Download a recording of Senator Klobuchar’s opening statement here.

“More Americans than ever have cast a ballot in recent elections, and it is in large part because of the work of state and local officials. These elections have run smoothly, and top security officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations alike have confirmed the security of recent elections, including last week's primary elections,” said Klobuchar. “Eighteen states have already held primaries this year. With voting already underway, we are here to discuss the key issues facing the state and local election officials on the front lines of our democracy.” 

Witnesses included:

  • The Honorable Jocelyn Benson – Secretary of State of the State of Michigan
  • The Honorable Wes Allen – Secretary of State of the State of Alabama
  • Mr. Isaac Cramer – Executive Director at the Charleston County, South Carolina Board of Voter Registration and Elections
  • Mr. Brian Kruse – Election Commissioner, Douglas County, Nebraska Election Commission
  • Ms. Janai Nelson – President and Director-Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Klobuchar has continuously worked to safeguard free and fair elections.

Earlier this week, Klobuchar and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the bipartisan Preparing Election Administrators for AI Act to require the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), in consultation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to develop voluntary guidelines for election offices. These guidelines will address the use and risks of AI in election administration, cybersecurity, information sharing about elections, and the spread of election-related disinformation.

Earlier this month, Klobuchar and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the bipartisan AI Transparency in Elections Act to require disclaimers on political ads with images, audio, or video that are substantially generated by AI. The bill also requires the Federal Election Commission to address violations of the legislation quickly.

In February 2024, Klobuchar and Collins successfully called on the EAC to assist state and local election officials in combating the spread of AI-generated disinformation about our elections by allowing election officials to use federal election funds to counter disinformation in our elections caused by artificial intelligence. This decision comes after Klobuchar and Collins’ letter calling on the EAC to take action to address AI-generated disinformation in elections. 

In November 2023, Klobuchar and Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, held a hearing on “Ongoing Threats to Election Administration,” where election officials from both parties testified about threats and other challenges that election workers are facing.

In September 2023, Klobuchar and Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO), Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law; Chris Coons (D-DE), Chair of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property; and Collins, introduced the Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act, bipartisan legislation to ban the use of AI to generate materially deceptive content falsely depicting federal candidates in political ads to influence federal elections. This legislation has also been cosponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Pete Ricketts (R-NE).

In July 2023, Klobuchar introduced the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense federal election standards and campaign finance reforms, and protect our democracy. 

In July 2023, Klobuchar, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján, and Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) wrote to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) encouraging it to begin a rulemaking to regulate fraudulent AI-generated campaign ads.

In March 2023, Klobuchar and Fischer held a hearing on “State and Local Perspectives on Election Administration,” including the impact of increasing threats directed at election officials on the ability of states and local governments to administer elections.

In February 2023, Klobuchar reintroduced the Honest Ads Act with U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Mark Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to improve the transparency and accountability of online political advertising by requiring online political advertisements to adhere to the same disclaimer requirements as TV, radio, and print ads.

A rough transcript of Klobuchar’s full opening statement is available below. Download a recording HERE

Sen. Klobuchar: Good afternoon. I would like to thank Ranking Member Fischer and our colleagues for joining us. Our witnesses, who I will introduce shortly, are Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Isaac Cramer, Executive Director of Charleston, South Carolina's Board of Voter Registrations and Elections, and Janai Nelson, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. 

We are also going to hear from our other witnesses. I left them last not because of omission, but because Senator Fischer will be introducing them, and that includes Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen and Brian Kruse, Election Commissioner for Douglas County, Nebraska’s Election Commission.

More Americans than ever have cast a ballot in recent elections, and it is in large part because of the work of state and local officials that these elections have run smoothly, and top security officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations alike have confirmed the security of recent elections, including last week's primary elections. 

Eighteen states have already held primaries this year. In fact, three of our witnesses, Secretary Benson, Secretary Allen, and Mr. Cramer, have overseen primary elections this year already, and there are many more to go before the general election in November, including three states, Georgia, Mississippi, and Washington, in which voters are casting ballots today. With voting already underway, we are here to discuss the key issues facing the state and local election officials on the front lines of our democracy. 

One area of particular urgency is artificial intelligence. We have already seen how AI can be used to spread disinformation about elections, like the fake robocalls using the President's voice telling people not to vote in New Hampshire, which is now under investigation by the state's Republican attorney general. 

We must work across the aisle to protect our elections from these threats. And all of the witnesses at our hearing last fall agreed that we need to put guardrails in place when it comes to AI. That is why I am leading a bipartisan bill with Senators Hawley, Coons, and Collins; we’ve been joined by Senators Bennet and Ricketts, and it has broad support on both sides of the aisle to prohibit fraudulent AI-generated deepfakes in our election. We do this within the framework of the Constitution, which, of course, allows satire and the like. But we are very concerned with what we have seen with snippets of ads that attack candidates on both sides of the aisle, but they are deepfakes and not the actual candidate, and you cannot even tell it is not the candidate. 

We need to, in addition to banning deceptive deepfakes, we also need disclaimers when AI is used in other ways. Last week, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Lisa Murkowski to require transparency in ads substantially generated by AI so that whether you are a Republican or Democrat, voters will know if the ads they see are making use of this technology. We got some guidance from the hearing we had earlier last year in that we don't want those labels to apply to every single thing when AI is used. So, we have defined that in a way that I think will pass muster and make it easier to pass that bill. But I cannot emphasize how important I believe it is to also pass the deepfake bill. 

Finally, since AI can make it so much easier to spread disinformation about things like voter registration, deadlines, or polling locations, I myself called ChatGPT or wrote in a question, I should say, and asked: “Well, what about this polling place in Bloomington, Minnesota? They often have lines. Where should they vote?” And it answered -- I’m making up the numbers now -- 123 Elm Street. It didn't even exist. Clearly, they have work to do. So we have concerns about that as well. 

We must tackle these issues head-on. One way is the work Senator Collins and I are doing to require the Election Assistance Commission to issue guidelines so election officials are prepared to meet these challenges. Six states, including my state of Minnesota and Secretary Benson's state of Michigan, have passed new laws to address AI in elections, and more than three dozen states have bills pending, both red and blue states. But we cannot rely on a patchwork of state laws, and Congress must act. 

Election workers, including volunteers, also continue to face a barrage of threats and intimidation. We have heard testimony in this committee from officials from both parties about threats targeting them and their families. It is no surprise that a survey last year found that nearly one in three election officials said they had been abused, harassed, or threatened, and one in five said they know someone who left their job due to safety concerns. This has a real impact on how elections are run, including efforts to recruit poll workers and volunteers. 

Last November, more than a dozen anonymous letters, some containing fentanyl, were sent to election offices in at least six states, leading to evacuations and delays in ballot counting. That is why Senator Fischer and I called on the Justice Department to prioritize investigating these incidents and why I lead a bill with Senator Durbin and 26 cosponsors to protect election workers from intimidation and threats. 

In addition, it is critical as ever that state and local governments have reliable federal funding to maintain election infrastructure, keep pace with the new technology, and combat cyber security threats. Election security is truly national security. These investments must be prioritized as our intel agencies continue to warn about foreign adversaries trying to influence our elections. I have heard from officials in red, blue, and purple states about the need to get steady funding when it comes to elections. 

Finally, I will note that in many states, voters continue to face new laws that make it harder to vote. We had a major hearing on that this morning in the Judiciary Committee with Senator Warnock launching off the hearing to talk about the John Lewis Voting Rights bill. We also need basic federal standards like those contained in the Freedom to Vote Act that I lead, along with many of my colleagues, including the Democrats on this committee. I will not give up until these bills become the law of the land because I believe we truly need to have federal voting rights protections for the citizens of this country. 

I want to thank our witnesses for being here, and I look forward to hearing your testimony about your work year-round to prepare for our elections. I will now turn it over to Ranking Member Fischer.