Concerned that Russian efforts to interfere with American elections “continue to this very day,” Sen. Susan Collins said Thursday that the nation must beef up security to fend off cyberattacks by foreign hackers.

The Maine Republican said if an adversary succeeded in compromising a U.S. election, it would “undermine public confidence in free and fair elections, a bedrock of our democracy.”

Collins and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, introduced legislation this week they hope can stave off foreign meddling with American election systems.

Collins told colleagues on the Senate floor Thursday that foreign hackers with ties to Russia were probing voter databases during last year’s presidential election in many states and succeeded in accessing them twice.

Though there’s no evidence the hackers manipulated vote tallies or changed voter registration data, the prospect that someone could has alarmed many officials, including the Department of Homeland Security and many members of Congress.

Collins, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee that is investigating Russia’s role in last year’s election, said at least 21 states were targeted by Russian government-backed hackers.

She said that state and local election officials “cannot be expected to defend against cyberattacks from foreign adversaries” so it’s incumbent on the federal government to lend a hand.

Collins said the “Securing America’s Voting Equipment Act” would help states identify the best ways to protect voting equipment and data and to ensure they have the money to implement necessary upgrades.

The proposal would also designate state-run election systems as critical government infrastructure that federal leaders would need to defend as part of their job.

Collins said that last year Russia “sought to disrupt our democracy” and hasn’t given up.

She expressed hope that senators on both sides of the aisle would support the proposed bill to begin to deal with the problem.

Maine’s other U.S. senator, independent Angus King, also has expressed concerns about Russian meddling.

King told a Senate hearing this week that Russia’s efforts extend beyond the U.S. to include many of its allies, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“It hasn’t stopped and it won’t stop,” King said. “It’s still happening.”

Steve Collins can be contacted at:

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