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Virginia Democrats Are Pushing for Election Security, But How Far Will Their Efforts Go?

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite
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How safe are elections? As the 2020 presidential cycle gets started this summer, Virginia lawmakers in Washington have proposals they say would make elections more secure.

What should a presidential campaign do if foreign nationals offer information or services? The current law is kind of murky, which is why Democratic Senator Mark Warner wants to require campaigns to report foreign influence to the FBI and the Federal Elections Commission.

“I would have thought, you know common sense that would have happened in 2016," he explains. "It didn’t happen. Let’s just make sure on a going forward basis, if we see evidence of foreign intervention, you’ve got to tell law enforcement. You’ve got to tell the FBI.”

He’s not alone in Washington among lawmakers who want to want to strengthen election security. Richmond-area Democratic Congressman Donald McEachin has a bill that would create new penalties for people who mislead voters about the time and place of an election — or people who target ethnic groups by making empty threats about criminal penalties for illegal voting.

“One of the things you always hear about every election cycle is that the other side is doing something sneaky," says McEachin. "You know, telling people the wrong election date, giving out false information about where to vote and things like that. So we wanted to make sure that we make a statement that’s illegal, that’s unethical and it shouldn’t happen.”

Both bills face Republican opposition. McEachin had an identical bill last year that went nowhere when Republicans controlled the House. And Warner’s bill is currently being blocked by freshman Republican Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. She calls the bill a “blatant political stunt.”

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.