Election security is national security.
Right now, election security is all done at the state and local level, and many districts and states simply do not have the money or technology to stop hackers. This not only includes Russia, but China, Iran, and even domestic ne’er-do-wells.
Robert Mueller warned that Russian interference is still happening “as we sit here.”
State election officials are anxious and underfunded, some running systems with outdated software and scrounging for replacement parts off e-Bay.
And on Thursday a report from the Senate Intelligence committee concluded all 50 states were targeted in 2016 and ahead of the 2018 election “top election vulnerabilities remained.”
But there’s no help coming from Congress.
It’s a risky calculation heading into 2020, when the stakes will be high for an election that could see record turnout as President Donald Trump runs for a second term.
Primary voting is six months away.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday blocked a House-passed bill that would authorize $775 million to beef up state election systems. GOP leaders made the case that the Trump administration has already made great strides in protecting the vote and they say no more funding is needed.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, called inaction by Congress a “disgrace” and pledged to keep pushing for votes. Mueller’s testimony “should be a wake-up call,” he said.
“Leader McConnell, let me read you that sentence,” Schumer said from the Senate floor, citing Mueller’s testimony Wednesday before the House committees about Russian interference. “‘They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.’”
The challenge was underscored Thursday as the Senate Intelligence Committee released the full results of an investigation that found the Russian government directed “extensive activity” against U.S. election systems ahead of the 2016 election. Two years later, ahead of the midterm election, little had changed, as an intelligence assessment reported, “We are aware of a growing volume of malicious activity targeting election infrastructure in 2018.”
The report encourages states to “take urgent steps to replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems.” It said, “More money may be needed.”
The House is pushing other bills targeting fake ads and cyber intrusions and the Senate already unanimously approved one bipartisan measure, which makes interference in elections a violation of immigration law, and another that makes it a federal crime to hack elections systems.
But Democrats — and some Republicans — say Congress must do more.
The most pressing issue is replacing electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper record of each ballot cast that is verified by the voter and can later be audited.
In 2018, 10 states had more than half of their jurisdictions using machines without a paper trail, which cybersecurity experts have warned are vulnerable to hacking and must be replaced.
An AP analysis in July found that many of the 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use old and soon-to-be outdated operating systems to create their ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts. Many systems are running Windows 7, which will reach its end of free Microsoft support for software vulnerabilities on January 14, and it’s unclear who would pay for extended support.
But time may be running out to address concerns in the states before the next election.
Even if Congress were immediately to send funds to states to replace voting equipment, it would be difficult to make substantial upgrades in time for the 2020 elections. It can take months to decide on replacement machines, develop security protocols, train workers and test the equipment.
Republicans said Thursday that $380 million was allocated to the states in 2018 and not all of that money has been spent.
McConnell objected to the House bill, saying it was “not a serious effort” coming from the same side that he said spent the past two years “hyping” Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Obviously, it’s very important that we maintain the integrity and security of our elections,” McConnell said Thursday.
"He is aiding & abetting Putin’s ongoing attempts to subvert U.S. democracy, according to the Republican FBI, CIA, DNI…All Republicans are saying Russia is trying to subvert U.S. democracy & Moscow Mitch won’t even let the Senate take a vote on it. That is un-American.–@JoeNBC pic.twitter.com/vV1TekFgHF— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) July 26, 2019
How will history look back on this? Unlike 9/11, this is the most predictable attack on our democracy. We KNOW it will happen. And we do nothing. WHY?!?
In light of the Senate Intelligence report describing Russian interference in the 2016 by developing the ability to interfere with election systems in all 50 states it is beyond belief that McConnell will not allow debate on bills to address this.— Brad Ashford (@BradAshford18) July 26, 2019