In a short week for the Senate, Republicans spent two days blocking Democrats from bringing election security legislation to the floor. That’s as the Department of Homeland Security—Donald Trump’s DHS—is warning that U.S. efforts to prevent Russia from interfering in American election have failed, and Moscow is still at it ahead of 2020.
“Russian influence actors almost certainly will continue to target U.S. audiences with influence activities that seek to advance Russian interests, and probably view the 2020 presidential election as a key opportunity to do so,” a recent intelligence assessment from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Mission Center, coordinated with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and other intelligence agencies, says. It also says that Russia is currently continuing “to engage in influence activities intended to cultivate relationships with U.S. social media users, despite consequences of sanctions, social media account take-downs, and diplomatic overtures.”
There’s social media influencing, which this report addresses, and there’s direct election systems hacking, which is a related critical issue that remains unaddressed, largely because Moscow Mitch McConnell won’t allow the Senate to take it up. States currently can’t even combat systems hacking because elections offices might not find out about it, even if the FBI knows it’s happened. And state and local governments don’t have to inform citizens if it happens, either. Federal law doesn’t require that state and local governments disclose when their electoral systems have been hacked, and existing federal policy allows victims of hackers to be shielded.
For example, a very real example, we know that some Florida counties’ systems were breached by Russians in 2016. We don’t know which. Then-Gov. Rick Scott wasn’t informed that it was happening when it was happening, even though our intelligence community knew about it. It’s a level of opacity that’s dangerous to democracy. Federal officials believe that systems in all 50 states were probed by Russian agents in 2016 for vulnerabilities, potentially giving them a way into systems across the country in 2020. Intelligence officials confirm that Russia and other entities are still testing systems.
Much of this could be fixed if there were a Congress that forced the Trump administration to do it. Trump, knowing that it delegitimizes his occupation of the presidency to have the issue highlighted, has spurned government efforts to combat election interference. McConnell, knowing that he has to cheat to continue his majority, won’t allow legislation. That’s where we sit, which means that in 2020, there has to be such a massive turnout of well-informed and activist voters that the system can’t be hacked.