Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., waves before the primary debate Wednesday.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., waves before the primary debate Wednesday. John Bazemore / AP

Presidential Candidate Klobuchar Would Reform Election-Related Agencies

The Democratic senator and 2020 contender has been an election reform advocate in Congress and the few times the topic has come up during the primary debates.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has released a plan that includes reforms to the two federal elections-related agencies. She has been a vocal advocate in Congress for shoring up election security, and also pushed for changes during Wednesday’s primary debate.

“Everything we talk about getting done—from taking on climate change to gun safety to health care reform—will depend on one thing: a democracy that works for the people and making sure every vote counts,” said the plan unveiled Nov. 18. “Our intelligence agencies have confirmed time and time again that there have been foreign attacks on our elections, and that our elections remain a target. Republicans in the Senate have repeatedly blocked Senator Klobuchar’s bipartisan legislation to strengthen our election security.” 

If elected president, Klobuchar plans to reform the Federal Election Commission, which enforces the nation’s campaign finance laws. Her plan includes “reducing the number of members from six to five, ensuring the commission has an accountable chair with clear distribution of duties between the chair and the FEC, and preventing commissioners from remaining in office indefinitely as holdovers.” The current FEC lacks a quorum and, therefore, lost the ability to do most of its business. The three remaining commissioners’ terms have expired, but they have been waiting for new appointees before they leave. Additionally, Democratic Chair Ellen Weintraub and Republican Commissioner Caroline Hunter have been publically sparring

Klobuchar’s plan also includes reforms to the Election Assistance Commission, the nation’s elections clearinghouse that has been understaffed and underfunded over the years as its responsibilities have become more important with Russia’s election interference attempts. 

Based on the legislation she’s leading in the Senate, if elected Klobuchar would “require states to use paper ballots, set strong cybersecurity standards for voting infrastructure, increase grants to states for upgrades to their voting infrastructure and promote the use of post-election risk-limiting audits.” These are all things election security advocates have been calling for, but the EAC has limited authority to implement such requirements.

Klobuchar would also mandate that the Director of National Intelligence work with the Homeland Security Department and EAC to assist states to counter foreign interference threats. Since elections are run by state and local governments, the federal government is limited in what it can do beyond voluntary services.

The 2020 candidate’s democracy reform plan also includes: issuing an executive order to streamline the procurement of information technology, creating a Cabinet-level task force to coordinate election cybersecurity efforts among agencies and establishing a bipartisan redistricting commission to end partisan gerrymandering. 

During the fifth Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post in Atlanta, Klobuchar touted her experience working on election security since she came to the Senate. 

“I think this kind of experience matters,” she said in response to South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s proposals. “I have been devoted to this from the time that I've got to the Senate. I think having that experience, knowing how you can get things done, leading the bills to take the social media companies to task, a bipartisan bill to say, ‘Yeah, you have to say where these ads come from and how they're paid for’ and stop the unbelievable practice where we still have 11 states that don't have backup paper ballots. That is my bipartisan bill. And I am so close to getting it done. And the way I get it done is if I'm president.”

These issues often don’t come up in debates because they are still seen as “niche issues” by the mainstream media and for Democrats, election security is “not a differentiator,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics.

“Unfortunately, this isn't the first time we’ve seen a lack of attention on election system security from the moderators,” said Susan Greenhalgh, vice president of policy and programs at the National Election Defense Coalition.

Lawrence Norden, director of Election Reform at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, told Government Executive, “I’m hoping that the sixth Democratic presidential debate includes a question specific to election security. American voters need to know where the candidates stand on protecting our elections.”