As First Reports of Meddling in Midterm Elections Come Forward, Cantwell Cosponsors Bipartisan DETER Act to Protect the Integrity of U.S. Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has joined U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and seven of their Senate colleagues in sponsoring the bipartisan Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act. The momentum for the bill comes as Microsoft revealed earlier today the first known midterm campaign hacking attempts.

The legislation sends a powerful message to Russia and any other foreign actor seeking to disrupt our elections: if you attack American candidates, campaigns, or voting infrastructure, you will face severe consequences. The DETER Act uses the threat of powerful sanctions to dissuade hostile foreign powers from meddling in our elections by ensuring they know well in advance that the costs will outweigh the benefits.

“The conclusion of American intelligence agencies is crystal clear: Russian interference in our elections is a fact. We must take immediate action to protect and secure our elections from future meddling by Russia or anyone else. Deterring foreign enemies from attacking our election systems and other critical infrastructure is just the first step we must take to protect our national security and democratic institutions,” said Senator Cantwell.

“In the face of unequivocal evidence that Russia worked to undermine our elections in 2016 and continued aggression from the Kremlin just four months until our next federal elections, we must take action,” said Senator Van Hollen. “The DETER Act would send a clear signal that attacks on our democracy will not be tolerated. We’re proud to announce this new support from our colleagues, and we hope the Senate will take up this bipartisan legislation without delay.”

“The most meaningful measure that we can take right now to protect our democracy is to pass the bipartisan DETER Act, which imposes specific and serious sanctions against foreign countries that meddle in our future elections. We must make sure Putin understands that we will not overlook his hostilities, and he will face punishing consequences if he tries to interfere in our elections again,” said Senator Rubio.

Specifically, the DETER Act would:

Establish Reporting Requirements

  • The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) must issue to Congress a determination on whether any foreign government has interfered in that election within one month after every federal election.

Prohibit Actions by Foreign Governments and Require Retaliation if Certain Actions are Taken

  • A foreign government, or an agent acting on its behalf, cannot purchase advertisements to influence an election, including online ads.
  • A foreign government, or an agent acting on its behalf, cannot use social or traditional media to spread significant amounts of false information to Americans.
  • A foreign government, or an agent acting on its behalf, cannot hack and release or modify election and campaign infrastructure, including voter registration databases and campaign emails.
  • A foreign government, or an agent acting on its behalf, cannot block or otherwise hinder access to elections infrastructure, such as websites providing information on polling locations.

Require Specific Sanctions on Russia

  • If the DNI determines that the Kremlin has once again interfered in an American federal election, the bill mandates a set of severe sanctions that must be implement within ten days of the DNI’s determination.
  • This includes sanctions on major sectors of the Russian economy, including finance, energy, defense, and metals and mining.
  • Every senior Russian political figure or oligarch identified in the report required by the Countering America’s Adversaries Act of 2017 will be blacklisted from entering the United States and will have their assets blocked.
  • The Trump administration would also be required to work with the European Union enlist their support in adopting a sanctions regime to broaden the impact.

Harden Defenses against Future Attacks from Other Actors

  • The DNI has identified China, Iran, and North Korea as our other major foreign government cyber threats, and they may also seek to exploit American vulnerabilities in the next election cycle.
  • The administration should present Congress with a plan for preventing interference in our elections for each of these countries, and any other foreign state of significant concern.

In addition to Senators Cantwell, Van Hollen, and Rubio, the legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Charles Grassley (R-IA).