Secretary of State Jim Condos last week took a hard line on interference in the upcoming 2020 election by urging a congressional investigation following the findings of the Mueller report: “(T)he Russians executed a sweeping and orchestrated campaign to attack U.S. state election systems, warp public opinion and weaken voter confidence in the integrity of our elections in 2016.”
Condos took a shot at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and other members of the Senate leadership for blocking bills that would further protect our elections from foreign attacks.
He pointed to it as “a pattern of partisan stonewalling on any measure that would strengthen election security and get states the resources we need to defend our democracy sustainably into the future.”
“Last year, the bipartisan Secure Elections Act was killed on direct order by the White House, and while the House has passed measures that would strengthen our posture protecting the integrity of every vote cast, under Sen. McConnell’s leadership, they all have been dead on arrival in the Senate,” noted Condos. “It’s time for the partisan games to end. Our free and fair elections are the foundation on which our democracy rests, not a political football used to score cheap points.”
Condos is correct: Free elections are not worth political game-playing.
Amber Phillips, a columnist for The Washington Post’s The Fix, tried to make sense of “Moscow Mitch’s” thinking.
“Republicans have policy objections to the legislation, but it seems clear that politics is at the forefront of McConnell’s decision-making. Specifically, the politics of pleasing Trump,” Phillips wrote on Tuesday.
She goes on: “Trump is so sensitive to findings that Russians tried to help him win in 2016 that a Cabinet secretary was warned against briefing him on it. He’s repeatedly sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence community about whether Russians interfered. He’s said he might accept foreign help in his 2020 re-election. And last month, he made light of it all when he mock-scolded Putin in front of cameras. ‘Don’t meddle in the election,’ he said, waving a finger and wearing a smile.”
That all should make the hair on the back of every lawmaker’s neck go up. It shows a total disregard for our process, our democracy and, fundamentally, the will of the people to decide the direction of our nation.
Phillips notes that Trump’s position puts McConnell in a tough spot: “Pass legislation, which election security experts say is needed, and risk sparking the president’s ire, or block the legislation — and risk increased Russia election interference and public ridicule.”
Well, McConnell got his wish: Trump has praised the majority leader, and then went so far as to tout McConnell as a patriot, and accused The Washington Post of being a Russian asset.
Then, Phillips wrote, “Trump said something that underscored how closely intertwined are bipartisan concerns about Russian election interference with his own touchiness that his 2016 win wouldn’t have happened without Russia: ‘Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump, and I know nothing.’”
Phillips provided a translation: “I didn’t know Russia was going to interfere in 2016, and neither did McConnell. So because we had nothing to do with it, there should be no reason to pass legislation trying to stop them from doing it again.”
Makes perfect sense. In fact, McConnell has said almost as much. He indicated he won’t move the legislation forward because “the federal government is already working with states to address election interference and that passing more legislation would be too heavy-handed, since states run their own elections.” Most, but not all, of his caucus agrees with his position.
That doesn’t sit well with Condos and others.
“States like Vermont are doing the hard work we need to do to protect the integrity and security of our elections, but it’s time for the President and Senator McConnell to either get on board to help us do this work, or it’s time for them to get out of the way,” Condos wrote in a statement last week.
The Mueller report, as well as Trump’s own top intelligence officials, have concluded that Russia did interfere in 2016, and will likely try again.
A bipartisan Senate report released just last week found that Russians tried to hack into election systems in all 50 states in 2016.
Now the question becomes, with just over a year before the election, is there time to protect the election — and our votes? Or will the leadership of our nation ignore the pleas of advocates for our elections, like Condos?
We need reform. We need protections. And we need the level playing field. Our democratic process requires it.