A completely fair and free election system is one of the most important elements in any true democracy.
The pressing question before us now is whether or not the Russians are involved in manipulating our election system. The long and the short of this matter is that the U.S. intelligence community (the combined collection and analytical power of all U.S. agencies involved in intelligence matters) has clearly shown that Russia meddled in our elections in 2016, that they are involved in that endeavor now, and most certainly will be involved in 2020. And it is crystal clear that they do it because their overarching goal is to weaken our democratic processes – a blow at the foundation of our democracy.
Our president has deluded himself into thinking that the issue of Russian interference in our elections is fiction. Not only does it challenge his feeble ego, implying that without it he might not have been elected, but Putin has told him it isn’t true! And he is clearly inclined to take Putin’s word ahead to the estimates of the entire US intelligence community! But given his past actions, one has to wonder if President Trump has taken his stance in favor of the Russian position because he believes that, as in the case of 2016, continued Russian operations against our voting structure will increase his chances for reelection.
There always can come a time when our country is under threat from a real enemy. In this case, it is Russia. This is not the time for internal political wrangling. It is a time when our leaders have to look at the reality in a totally non-partisan, non-political way and act substantively to strengthen our voting system. Apparently, it will be expensive, but there is a strong bipartisan consensus that it can and should be done.
The key people against any proposed fix are President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The president can, of course, veto any legislation. McConnell’s role is far more complicated. It starts with the fact that he and his acolytes can block any proposed legislation that comes to the Senate for consideration. Up until now, they have blocked all such attempts, including five separate bipartisan efforts to strengthen the voting system which:
— Required Internet companies to disclose purchasers of political ads, to identify foreign influence.
— Eased cooperation between state election officials and federal intelligence agencies.
— Imposed sanctions on any entity that attacks a U.S. election.
— Proposed severe new sanctions on Russia for its cybercrimes.
— And protect lawmakers from foreign cyberattacks.
In addition, proposed legislation was shot down that:
— Required paper backup ballots, and gave $600 million in election assistance to the states.
— Required presidential campaigns to report to the FBI any offers of assistance from agents of foreign. governments,
— Required campaigns to report to the FBI contributions by foreign nationals.
McConnell’s opposition is said to be founded on the basis of his long-held conviction that the federal government should not be in the business of telling the states how to run their elections. That is clearly a legitimate position for a conservative Republican senator to take, but in this case it is most unwise.
Not only are we truly vulnerable to further Russian attacks, but the intelligence community has made it clear that virtually any government or group in the world is capable of doing precisely what the Russians are now up to. It would seem pretty clear that U.S. politicians of any and all political persuasions should be willing if not eager to plug those holes against the potential operations of countries like China, Iran, Venezuela, etc.
Like much of our country’s infrastructure, our voting systems are in crumbling disarray. Every responsible election official agrees that paper back-up ballots, which now exist in only seven states, would go a long way toward bolstering the security of our system, as paperless systems are very vulnerable to hacking. In fact, one of our leading elections equipment manufacturers has said it is foolhardy to have paperless electronic voting systems as the primary voting device in any jurisdiction and has called on Congress to legislate the use of paper ballots and raise the security standards for voting machines.
In short, there seem to be no valid substantive reasons for not overhauling our voting system. All the “nays” seem to be political. Given the height of the stakes, it would seem insane that even our politically divided Congress is unwilling to fix the problem.
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who focused primarily on the Soviet target in East and West Europe and the Middle East. He was also chief of the counterterrorism staff and executive assistant in the director’s office.