Trump backs paper ballot backups for voting systems

Trump speaks at the Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 25, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary John Kelly. (Department of Homeland Security / Flickr)

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President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he supports states moving toward voting technology that offers a paper backup ballot.

The public endorsement came during a rare open press conference where Trump welcomed the Prime Minister of Sweden to Washington. The show of support followed a question by a Swedish reporter about whether the White House was concerned about Russian meddling happening once again in the 2018 midterm elections.

“I think you have to be really watching closely. You don’t want your system of votes to be compromised in anyway. And we won’t allow that to happen. We’re doing a very, very deep study and we’re coming out with what I think are some strong suggestions on the [2018] election,” said Trump. “You have to be very vigilant. One of the things we’re learning is that it’s always good, it’s old-fashioned, but it’s always good to have a paper backup system of voting. It’s called paper. Not highly complex computers.”

Trump specifically highlighted the work of the Department of Homeland Security — which last year designated election systems as a critical infrastructure sector — for its continued work dedicated to defending state-controlled election systems.

“A lot of states are doing that. They’re going to a paper backup. And I think that’s a great idea. But we’re studying it very closely, various agencies, including Homeland Security.” Trump said. “We’ll counteract whatever they [Russia] do very strongly.”

Recently lawmakers in Kentucky, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Delaware have taken steps to move toward paper backups for voting machines. But several other states still rely solely on electronic receipts when counting votes, including Louisiana and South Carolina.

While Trump has now publicly backed the idea of taking steps to protect voting booths, the same cannot be said for Congress.

A series of bills intended to provide financial and technical resources to state election coordinators have all stalled out in the legislative process in recent months. Many of these bills cited the threat of foreign influence as a reason for improving cybersecurity as well as coordination between state and federal agencies. On Wednesday, senators will mark up a general DHS reauthorization bill that could include election security measures authored by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and James Lankford, R-Okla.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday that Russia continues to target America’s election process. He, and other top national security leaders like NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, have similarly warned that they expect Russia to attempt to influence the upcoming midterms.

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