Government

Grassley supports 'greater security' in elections, but doesn't want to federalize process

Senator defends GOP decision to hold up bills arising out of foreign interference concerns

Sen. Chuck Grassley answers a question at a town hall meeting July 2 at the public library in Anamosa. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Sen. Chuck Grassley answers a question at a town hall meeting July 2 at the public library in Anamosa. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Chuck Grassley is supportive of legislation to improve election security, but the Iowa Republican doesn’t want to federalize state election operations.

“To the extent that there are some things in it that would lead to greater security on foreign intervention in our campaigns, I think we’d all be willing to take a look at,” Grassley said Wednesday when asked about legislation being held up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The bills in question, Grassley said, would lead to the federalization of elections, which now are conducted, for the most part, under state laws. In particular, Grassley opposes nationalizing voter registration and mandating the use of mail-in ballots.

“I don’t want to mail out 2 million ballots to Iowans and have everybody vote by mail,” he said.

He favors voting by mail if people can’t go to the polls or choose not to, but he doesn’t support mandating it.

It’s clear that there were attempts by foreign actors to interfere in the 2016 and 2018 elections, Grassley said.

“We had a secret briefing by the highest levels from FBI, CIA, etc., etc., about a month ago,” he said Wednesday on his weekly call with Iowa reporters. “I can tell you we had a lot of attempts in the 2018 election to have interventions in our election” and authorities responded.

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“I’m satisfied that there are a lot more tools to prevent intervention that we don’t want our enemies to know about that have already worked and will continue to work,” he said, adding that he wasn’t making a judgment on whether existing measures are adequate.

Congress has appropriated $380 million allocated for election infrastructure investment, he noted, and passed a number of bills to increase election security. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley led seven hearings on election security.

In guidance to local election officials, the Senate Intelligence Committee has recommended paper ballots and optical scanners because they are the least vulnerable to cyberattack. The panel also said new machines should have a voter-verified paper trail, and any wireless networking capability should be eliminated.

The report also reinforces the “primacy” of states in running elections.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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