It is no longer implausible for the results of a national election to be manipulated by a foreign government, by hacking into our state voting systems and changing the tallies. This could happen in 2020. Just like that, the legitimacy of an election — the integrity of our democracy — can be shredded and swept into the dustbin of history.
This is not a warning from paranoid left wingers or critics of Donald Trump.
This warning of doom comes from the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, which on Thursday released the first of five studies on the ramshackle condition of our election system. The report said not only did the Russians hackers target all 50 states without being detected, “Russian cyberactors were in position to delete or change voter data,” a skill that could be put to treacherous use.
If you find that chilling, consider this: There have been two dozen mostly bipartisan bills related to election security introduced in this Congress, and not one has moved in the Senate or won support from Trump, who believes that hardening security implies that his 2016 election was illegitimate.
Consider the two bills that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to post for a vote Thursday: One requires candidates to notify the FBI if a foreign entity offers help; the other allows House tech experts to help officeholders harden their accounts against hacking. McConnell said they were too partisan. Seriously.
In other words, the day after Robert Mueller testified that Russia is reloading for another cyberattack, and pleaded for Congress to have intelligence agencies “use their full resources we have to address this,” McConnell decided it’s all good.
The Senate report states that “at a minimum,” electronic voting machines that do not produce a voter-verified paper record of each ballot should be replaced. McConnell asserts that the $380 million sent to states for this purpose last year was enough.
Actually, 10 states, including New Jersey, still have more than half their jurisdictions using machines that don’t provide a paper record, which cybersecurity experts consider ripe targets for hacking.
These aren’t partisan issues. These are American issues, unless you think election security should have Russian, Chinese, or North Korean exceptions.
The 2016 election was a watershed for our democracy, and the Mueller Report delivered the autopsy. The obstruction of justice charges may someday sink this president, but the sins laid out in the first volume, even if collusion doesn’t have a statutory threshold, were actually more brazen in their execution: The cooperation between a campaign and a foreign adversary was done in broad daylight — Russia, if you’re listening — and it was reprehensible conduct, as the report spelled out.
Mueller himself put it this way Wednesday: “Problematic is an understatement,” he said.
Yet now it can easily happen again, thanks to a feckless Senate Majority Leader, with resounding approval from the president. The last time there was such interference, the president knew about it, encouraged it, benefitted from it, and then rewarded it.