As 2020 approaches, Congress drops the ball

In 2016, the electoral infrastructure throughout the country was the target of foreign actors. Some voters in North Carolina was told that they had already voted when they didn't do that. Russian hackers broke down in two networks in Florida. And especially the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee left the entire election because of fears of hacking abroad.


With 362 days to go before millions of Americans vote for the next president of the United States, Congress has done almost nothing to ensure that 2020 does not run like 2016.

Earlier this week, a joint statement from seven national safety authorities warned of the threat to the integrity of the 2020 elections. "Our opponents want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment and influence government policy," the officials said. "Russia, China, Iran and other foreign malicious actors will try to get involved in the voting process or influence voter perception."

If we are prepared for this interference, federal funding must come quickly. The federal government can determine everything it wants, but until the money comes into the hands of local election officials, the most immediate needs, such as securing databases and updating voting machines, cannot be met. And time is running out to deliver that money.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have submitted bills to demand paper ballots, regulate online political advertising and update election infrastructure. But almost no one has got a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has shown little support for the predominantly Democratic-led security measures. In October, McConnell agreed to provide $ 250 million to states for election security, but that number pales in comparison to the $ 2.2 billion over five years that organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice have estimated that this is only necessary for the most immediate needs of the state.

That meager McConnell concession does not even come close to the $ 600 million that the House of Representatives paid for state security in the summer. Parliament has come up much more, making security a priority of this congress and erasing historical accounts such as the For the People Act or HR 1 that not only strengthen the infrastructure but also require that online advertising platforms such as Facebook and Google be more transparent about which candidates or organizations place advertisements, how much they spend and who they target.

So far, McConnell has been skeptical about all attempts by the federal government to assist with electoral security, since it is the province and local governments. "The Trump government has taken huge steps to help states secure their elections without giving Washington new power to push the states around," McConnell said in October. As a result, he has blocked many of the accounts on a conservative basis.


Platforms and civil society are beginning to relax as the government continues to look further down the road. If Wired noted during the weekend, many Silicon Valley giants offer new services to protect the American elections against a small fee or completely free of charge. Facebook has a handful of new monitoring tools to help candidates avert potential hackers. The Microsoft AccountGuard product warns campaigns of potential phishing attacks or hacking efforts. The Jigsaw division of Google is also starting to defend campaign sites of DDoS attacks.

But private companies can only follow potential threats and help train election officials. The longer Congress takes to get federal money to the states, the less time they have to buy and install new voting machines or need paper ballots, something the private industry cannot help. As the time for the elections approaches, state and local communities may be able to hire more IT officials or conduct post-election audits, but larger projects such as the purchase of new equipment will become increasingly difficult.

"It is crucial that Congress agree to fund the states as quickly as possible," said Liz Howard, a former Virginia election officer and counsel at the Brennan Center. The edge. "And although the states have a large menu with election security projects that can be implemented if they get the money tomorrow, that menu gets smaller as we get closer to the elections."

In the run-up to the 2016 elections, the Florida election official, Mark Earley, said his district's voting machines were so outdated that he resorted to eBay to buy replacement modems. "They were even hard to find on eBay," Earley told me Tampa Bay Times in 2015. “The system was a great system while it lasted. But as that modern problem showed, it was almost at the end of its life. "

That is only one voting district in one state in the US. Hundreds of countries are likely to face the same problems without the money to upgrade their infrastructure. In 2002, Congress approved the Help America Vote Act, which distributed $ 4 billion in federal funding to the states to help them purchase completely new voting systems. Before this law was passed, many districts throughout the country used punch card or lever machines. But by 2006, most were able to upgrade to the electronic ones that are now being used more widely.

That kind of massive investment from the federal government is what is needed again here in 2019. Many legislators have already warned that the government has almost no time to bring these valuable resources to the states before the upcoming elections. Much of the legislation that can help solve the problems and secure our elections has already been written. Now legislators must vote.