A bipartisan group of three senators–Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Cardin, D-Md.–last week introduced Protect Our Elections Act, which aims “to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require states to take steps to ensure domestic ownership and control of election service providers.”

“Our intelligence chiefs have made it clear that hostile foreign actors continue to work to disrupt our democratic process by any means possible,” the senators wrote in a release. “This common-sense legislation–with public disclosure and annual reporting–is essential in ensuring that our elections are free from foreign influence.”

Unsurprisingly, the senators bluntly called out Russia and its President Vladimir Putin as a top concern for election meddling.

“We cannot allow Russia or any other foreign adversaries to own our election systems,” said Sen. Van Hollen. “This isn’t just a hypothetical issue–it happened right here in my home state of Maryland. The bipartisan Protect Our Elections Act would take simple but critical steps to ensure that the nuts and bolts of our elections are secure.”

While the legislation has no chance of passing before the midterm election in a few weeks, Sen. Collins urged the Senate to act quickly nonetheless.

“We know that the Russians were relentless in their efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections, and that those efforts are ongoing,” said Sen. Collins. “The Protect Our Elections Act would help strengthen the integrity of our election process and instill confidence among voters by requiring election infrastructure vendors to be owned and controlled by American citizens or our closest allies. The need to act is urgent, and I encourage our colleagues to support this commonsense legislation.”

According to its authors, the new legislation has two central provisions:

  • “Mandates disclosure of foreign ownership or control: The bill requires the companies that provide elections services to report to the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Election Assistance Commission, and appropriate state or local governmental entities any foreign national who owns or controls their firm. It also requires elections service providers to notify the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Election Assistance Commission, and appropriate state or local governmental entities of any material change in ownership or control. It mandates a $10,000 fine for any election service provider that fails to submit the required information.
  • Prohibition on foreign ownership and control of elections systems: The bill requires state and local governments to conduct an annual evaluation of their election service providers to ensure that each election service provider is solely owned and controlled by U.S. persons. The legislation includes an exception for election service providers created or organized under the laws of our Five Eyes allies–Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.”

“Elections are a cornerstone of the rule of law in America and foreign governments will continue to attempt to attack our election systems and work to undermine Americans’ faith in their government and the sanctity of the results of a free and fair election contest,” said Senator Cardin. “All levels of government must, therefore, implement immediate safeguards to preserve the security and integrity of America’s ballot box, whether it is a paper or electronic ballot.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.