The Senate Intelligence Committee released a bi-partisan report on July 25 that should curl the hair of every patriotic American. The committee, chaired by Senator Burr, a North Carolina Republican, determined that Russia targeted the election systems of every one of our 50 states in the 2016 presidential election.
The committee report documented “an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure.” The report reinforced dire warnings from the U.S. intelligence community, the FBI director, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller that the Russians are presently gearing up for an attack on our 2020 elections.
Mueller testified on July 24 that many more “countries are developing capacity to replicate what the Russians have done.” Those other countries have obviously noticed that our president does not take Russian interference seriously and has done little to defend against it. During the June G-20 meeting, Trump and Putin shared a chuckle about Russia’s 2016 assault upon our elections. It is not a joking matter.
The Iranians, who are not too keen on our President, have taken a page from the Russian playbook and are spreading anti-Trump tweets. The Chinese, who have substantial cyber capabilities, will likely join in to work against the president in next year’s elections. It may be a WrestleMania-style election unless Congress takes decisive action to stop the foreign intermeddlers.
The House passed a couple of bills at the end of June to do just that. One bill required backup paper ballots and authorized $600 million to assist states in preventing penetration of their voting systems. The other bill required candidates and their campaign officials to tell the FBI if foreign governments offer them campaign assistance.
Incomprehensibly, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell sandbagged both bills on July 25, just as the Senate Intelligence Committee was issuing its hair-raising report. It is incredible that McConnell regards election security as a partisan issue. If the Iranians and Chinese outdo the Russian effort next year, he may have second thoughts.
Just because McConnell’s party benefited from the last election attack does not mean that it will turn out that way again next year. If foreign governments believe they will suffer no consequences from trying to influence America’s elections, more of them will join the melee. McConnell may well be unhappy with the outcome of a free-for-all election.
The U.S. should immediately go about the business of hardening its election infrastructure. Many states need additional federal dollars to get the job done and Congress needs to make those funds available. We need to have voting systems that are not connected to the internet. There needs to be backup paper ballots. With the systematic and pervasive Russian interference that took place in 2016 and the prospect of more sophisticated and intensive efforts from additional malign actors next year, dramatic Congressional action is essential!
Senators Risch and Crapo seem to be mere spectators in this drama. They need to put on their big boy pants and publicly demand that McConnell bring the election-protection legislation to the Senate floor for a vote. And, they need to support legislation that will visit severe consequences on Russia and every other foreign government that dares to meddle in our election process. The integrity of our form of government is at stake.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice. His previous columns can be found at https://JJCommonTater.com.