Casten, Roskam debate spending bill to strengthen election security

The federal government must invest more in election security to protect our democracy, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Democratic congressional candidate Sean Casten say.

House Democrats tried to include $380 million in state grants for elections in a spending bill to support the Treasury, judiciary and other agencies, but Republicans last week blocked the move as political gimmickry.

Casten, who is seeking election in the 6th District, said during an appearance with Durbin in Downers Grove that the added spending should have been approved "at a bare minimum."

"How much is too much to spend on protecting democracy?" he said.

Both criticized Republican Rep. Peter Roskam, who holds the seat Casten is seeking, for his vote against the funding.

"This congressman in this district was penny-wise and pound-foolish," Durbin said.

Roskam said he voted in favor of a previous $380 million allocation for election security grants to states earlier this year, which resulted in $13.2 million for Illinois.

The money will help get all 108 local election authorities operating on a secure data network, conduct risk assessments and provide cybersecurity training.

Roskam said a "political gimmick" by Democrats is the only reason the issuance of an additional $380 million was brought up last week, especially since the original allocation has not all been spent.

"We need to continue to monitor it to make sure the money allocated for each state is received by each state," Roskam said.

Illinois is seen as a prime example for the need to increase election-data security, as officials including Gov. Bruce Rauner said Russian hackers breached the state's systems during the 2016 election.

"This was a cyber act of war by the Russians and they're preparing to do it again," Durbin said.

As technology has complicated elections, the agencies in charge are taking on additional responsibilities beyond accurately counting votes.

"It isn't that simple anymore," Durbin said. "In the world of computers, they need more assistance for technical training, ... hardware and software to protect us."

Casten said the public must trust in national procedures set up to choose representation and establish government.

"We take for granted that we live in a system that works," he said. "My representative is doing nothing to make sure that we protect that system."

Roskam said his vote to support the earlier election security funding proves otherwise, and so does his in-person discussion with President Donald Trump last week, condemning Trump for failing to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Roskam said Congress should consider enhanced sanctions against Russia in the energy and banking sectors, signaling to the Kremlin those industries could be affected if the country meddles in the 2018 election.

In addition to spending more to enhance election security, Casten said Congress must make sure the Russian election-meddling investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller "is allowed to continue to proceed on a completely fact-based, nonpartisan basis."

Roskam called the Mueller investigation "incredibly important" and something he strongly supports. He said there is "not serious talk" of it being discontinued.

The 6th District stretches from Naperville to Tower Lakes and includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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  Democrats U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and 6th District Congressional candidate Sean Casten say the nation needs to spend more to allow states to better secure their election systems against potential foreign hacks. Bev Horne/
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam says he supports the need for increased election security, but calls a recent funding proposal a "political gimmick." AP File photo
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