Plan to Secure Our Elections and Defend Democracy

As early as 2014, the Russian government began a sweeping effort to undermine our democracy. Through cyberattacks and disinformation, they sought not only to sway the 2016 election, but to stoke dysfunction, division, and doubt in democracy itself. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Russian hackers sought to access voting systems in all 50 states, and they successfully accessed a database containing records for 14 million voters. They also sowed division through a secretive disinformation campaign on social media, the propaganda from which Michael Bennet has compiled into a graphic book, “Dividing America: How Russia Hacked Social Media and Democracy.”

As the evidence of foreign interference mounts, the Trump administration continues to dither and divide, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to bring bipartisan election security bills to a vote.

Unlike the current administration, the Bennet administration will take immediate action to defend our democracy.

First, we will secure our elections. Our plan raises standards and increases resources to protect every precinct in America with new voting machines, mandatory audits, improved election procedures, and stronger cybersecurity.

Second, we will fight foreign interference by closing campaign finance and other loopholes that allow foreign actors to distort our media, elections, and campaigns.

Third, we will open a dialogue with the American people about ongoing threats to our democracy and steps our government is taking to protect it. Foreign adversaries want to undermine the public’s faith in democracy; we must restore it.

Finally, we will reclaim America’s historic leadership role by mobilizing our allies to push back against threats to democracy worldwide. We will work with our partners in Europe, NATO, and elsewhere to respond forcefully to those who attack democracy, strengthen election security, and support civil society.

Democracy is under attack at home and across the globe. We must rise in its defense.

Secure Our Elections

Across the country, election security often hinges on machines, practices, and software that are outdated or insecure. Officials in 31 states want to update their voting equipment before the 2020 election, but two-thirds lack the resources to do so. Many voter registration systems still run on outdated software, like Windows 2000, that is extremely vulnerable to modern cyber threats. But across the board, resources for cybersecurity are woefully inadequate.

Despite progress, communication among local, state, and federal governments needs improvement, as does coordination among federal agencies responsible for protecting elections from foreign interference. All of this leaves us vulnerable.

To secure our elections, the Bennet administration will:

  • Provide $1 billion to replace every paperless, outdated, and insecure voting machine nationwide.
  • Provide dedicated, recurring grants to modernize election systems and keep pace with new threats, with an emphasis on the most vulnerable and under-funded electoral precincts.
  • Require paper ballots for federal elections, with federal resources to help cover costs.
  • Ensure that every American has the right to vote with a hand-marked paper ballot, which experts recommend as the most secure way to vote.
  • Require risk-limiting audits for federal elections, with federal resources to help offset costs.
  • Provide $180 million to help every state create “cyber-navigators” to provide cybersecurity and I.T. support, especially in vulnerable rural areas.
  • Provide $85 million to help every state purchase intrusion detection services for county election offices. 
  • Create a federal “white hat” team to conduct random cybersecurity tests of local, state, and federal election systems.
  • Establish a process, led by the Department of Homeland Security, to improve voluntary information sharing on security breaches and best practices among private, election-related vendors.
  • Strengthen cyber capabilities of DHS and the FBI to identify threats and provide support to the state and local levels.
  • Allow national political parties to provide limited cybersecurity support to campaigns and state parties without counting against campaign finance limits, with safeguards to prevent abuse. This would build on recent rulings by the Federal Election Commission.
  • Establish mandatory cybersecurity standards for ballot-counting machines, voter registration databases, and other election-related systems.
  • Provide $250 million to states to buy new, accessible machines that help voters who cannot read or have disabilities to mark their paper ballots.

Fight Foreign Interference

Three years after the attack on our elections, our democracy remains vulnerable to foreign interference. Hostile foreign actors like Russia remain undeterred by the weak response of the current administration. Unregulated social media platforms, outdated campaign finance rules, and porous registration requirements for foreign agents remain ripe targets for foreign actors seeking to distort our politics and sow division. Compounding the problem, oversight and regulation remain weak across the board.

To fight foreign interference, the Bennet administration will:

  • Impose tough new sanctions on Russia to hold them accountable for past election interference.
  • Deter future interference by making clear that, as president, Michael Bennet will treat attacks on our elections by a foreign adversary as a hostile act to make Russia—or others—think twice before trying it again.
  • Publicly articulate a response policy on foreign interference in our democratic process or that of our allies.
  • Develop a menu of offensive and defensive measures to respond swiftly to future interference.
  • Strengthen Cyber Command’s ability to address and proactively disrupt cyber and information operations.
  • Establish a Foreign Interference Threat Center to coordinate U.S. intelligence response to foreign interference, ensuring that experts across disciplines such as cyber, finance, and information operations work in tandem.
  • Create a Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator on the National Security Council to coordinate a whole-of-government effort to identify, counter, and deter foreign interference.
  • Prohibit foreign governments and nationals from buying ads in any medium that names a candidate, with exceptions for dual nationals and persons lawfully admitted for permanent residence.
  • Ban foreign governments and lobbyists from buying “issue ads” in an election year.
  • Prohibit political spending by U.S. corporations that are owned or controlled in significant part by foreign interests.
  • Require organizations that spend significant amounts in our elections to disclose foreign funding.
  • Work with social media companies to develop standards for disclosing foreign funding for “issue” advertisements.
  • Hold social media companies accountable for proactively removing bots, sockpuppet accounts, and disinformation created by hostile foreign actors to deceive Americans.
  • Encourage a partnership with social media companies to prevent election interference through improved sharing of threats and breaches on their platforms.
  • Identify areas of development for artificial intelligence programs to detect and disrupt foreign disinformation campaigns, including deep fakes.
  • Reform the Federal Election Commission so it can vigorously enforce campaign finance laws by expanding professional staff and reducing the number of commissioners to five, breaking the current 3-3 deadlock.
  • Eliminate loopholes that let foreign agents avoid registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) while establishing a new enforcement unit within the Department of Justice and requiring foreign agents to disclose their status in public communications like TV and radio broadcasts.
  • Pass and sign the FIRE Act requiring campaigns to report to the FBI offers of assistance or collaboration from foreign nationals or governments.

Reinforce Public Trust

Russia wants us to doubt the security and integrity of our elections. They are trying to separate the American people from our government. Our government must be forthright with the American people about threats to our democracy and steps our government is taking to protect it.  We must restore and reinforce the public’s confidence that our democracy will remain secure, representative, and resilient.

To reinforce public trust, the Bennet administration will:

  • Share with the American people steps taken to defend our democracy at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Enhance public communication surrounding attempts by foreign actors to interfere in our democracy.
  • Create avenues for citizens to report incidents of suspected foreign interference to social media companies and the federal government.
  • Strengthen media literacy so the American people can help identify disinformation campaigns, with grants from the Department of Education to equip young people with the skills to distinguish credible news sources from disinformation.

Support Democratic Allies 

Democracy is under attack not only in America but across the globe. We must work with our allies to defend our bedrock democratic values and unite against foreign interference. Together, we can work to strengthen our systems and stand up to foreign interference.

Over the past 15 years, Russia has engaged in a brazen and systematic effort to undermine democracies. There is evidence of Russian interference in at least 27 countries since 2004—including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Russia tried to sway the British public towards Brexit in 2016, leaked material related to French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign days before the 2017 election, and tried to influence the E.U. elections this spring.

The threat to democracy is global, and America must lead the defense.

To secure our democratic allies, the Bennet administration will:

  • Form an International Coalition to Defend Democracy, as the Alliance for Securing Democracy has recommended, to include NATO, the E.U., European governments, Canada, and the Five Eyes alliance. The new Coalition would offer a regular platform for our democratic allies to share intelligence, develop integrated policy, strengthen cybersecurity capabilities, and coordinate multilateral responses.
  • Double to $4 billion U.S. foreign assistance to support civil society, the rule of law, and press freedom across the globe, with an emphasis on vulnerable democracies.
  • Appoint an Ambassador-level representative for election interference to coordinate international responses and strengthen norms about non-interference.
  • Build support for European sanctions against the Russian government in response to interference in their elections similar to those imposed by the United States.
  • Assist partners and allies to stem the flow of illicit and foreign money into political systems used by foreign governments to gain political influence and undermine the strength of the democratic process.
  • Initiate conversation within NATO about modernizing Article V for emerging threats.

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