By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would provide more than $1 billion (£714.85 million) to boost cyber security of U.S. voting systems, saying inaction has made elections vulnerable to more interference from Russian hackers.
The cyber security bill followed warnings on Tuesday from U.S. intelligence officials that this year's midterm races are likely to experience meddling from Russia and possibly other foreign adversaries.
"We cannot let the Russians laugh about and take joy in the success they had in the last election," Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said at a news conference. "Their goal is to undermine democracy."
Lawmakers have introduced several bills, some with bipartisan support, to bolster election security since the 2016 election, though none have become law.
The legislation has no Republican co-sponsors in the House, which is controlled by the party. It is the most comprehensive bill to date and is aimed at bolstering protection for November's midterms and subsequent elections.
The Election Security Act would provide $1 billion for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to give to help states buy voting machines that incorporate backup paper ballots, hire security staff and conduct risk assessments.
The measure would create a $20 million grant programme for states to perform post-election audits. States would also get $1 for each voter in the most recent election for security purposes.
The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to expedite security clearances for state election officials and direct the president to develop a strategy to guard U.S. institutions, including elections, from cyber attacks and influence operations.
The department last year said 21 states had experienced initial probing of their systems from Russian hackers and a small number of networks were compromised. U.S. and state officials have said there is no evidence any ballots were tampered with in 2016.
Virtually all 50 states have taken steps since the 2016 election to purchase more secure equipment, expand use of paper ballots, improve cyber training or seek federal assistance, according to groups that track election security.
But Congress has not provided more money or support, and lawmakers have failed to allocate $400 million in leftover election improvement funds pledged 16 years ago.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded more than a year ago that Russia used hacking and propaganda to try to tilt the 2016 presidential election in favour of Republican Donald Trump. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied this.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Jim Finkle and Ian Simpson)