Russian hackers were aiming for US elections in 2016. They were spreading the wrong information about social media platforms and trying to infiltrate voting machines. Last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller warned Congress that 2016 was "no attempt at all" and that foreign actors continue to threaten the democratic process "while we are sitting here".
He was not the first to give that warning. This spring, FBI director Chris Wray said that protecting the 2018 mid-term election against foreign interference was only a "general rehearsal for the big show" in 2020. Earlier this year, the director of the national intelligence service, Dan Coats, gave a similar warning: "Despite the growing awareness of cyber threats and the improvement of cyber defense, almost all information, communication networks and systems are at risk in the coming years."
But despite the series of warnings, Congress still needs to take some meaningful action to address the threat. As the 2020 elections are approaching, it is not clear whether America will be better prepared than in 2016. A number of legislators have sponsored legislation to help secure the 2020 elections, including measures aimed at online political advertisements, paper ballots and security voting machines. But one person has stood in the way of these laws becoming law: senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
The day after Mueller's warnings, the Democrats used two options to tackle the problem. One would have allowed $ 775 million to go to states in preparation for 2020 and demand that they create paper traces of votes. In a second case, campaign officials should report any foreign interference or attempted interference to the FBI. But as the story goes with McConnell and everything that remotely resembles campaign financing reform, he shot them down.
McConnell & # 39; s explanation for undermining the legislation was that both were too "biased." Those two measures clearly had little support from the Republicans, but they were just two from a large collection of two-part support accounts covering the vulnerabilities of intelligence services in the aftermath of the 2016 elections.
"Mueller's testimony was a clear call for election security," said Senate Minority Chuck Schumer (D-NY). "Mueller's testimony should be a wake-up call for every American, democrat, republican, liberal, conservative, that the integrity of our elections is at stake."
The former Special Counsel has good reason to worry: outside of his own report, as part of her two-party investigation into Russian interference, the Senate Commission released findings last week claiming that elections in all 50 states were targeted by hackers. There were no indications that votes were being changed, but the committee determined that the Russian intelligence service "was able to remove or change voter data."
It is also no longer only Russia. Iran is also increasingly facing security risks due to online disinformation. In the past year, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google have deleted accounts and messages that they have identified as coming from Iran and have been coordinated and misleading.
But despite these two-part warnings from all parts of the federal government, little has been done to address the vulnerabilities. At the beginning of the year, House Democrats passed HR 1, which included a handful of election security measures in addition to obtaining dark money from politics. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner, (D-VA) and Lindsey Graham's Fair Advertising Law (R-SC) were adopted as part of HR 1.
If this is transposed into law, large social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter should be more transparent about who buys political ads on their platforms. The bill would achieve that by making it mandatory for platforms to host a publicly available database with information about who has purchased an advertisement and for "reasonable" efforts to prevent foreign entities from buying political advertisements.
McConnell has so far refused to include that two-part bill.
Democrats such as Klobuchar and Warner and Republicans such as Graham and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) have sponsored security measures, but almost none of them have been voted on in the Senate despite approval by the committee process. Democrats are also not going to give way. Those in the House plan to make elections a priority as soon as they return from the September break, by introducing new legislation that largely overlaps with HR 1. Senate Democrats made the TV news circuit last week, referring to McConnell as "Moscow Mitch," partly because he will not pass legislation to protect elections.
McConnell is perhaps the most powerful person who blocks all attempts to stop the Russian threat. The main concern of Republicans, including McConnell, is that these measures give the federal government too much power to govern elections. That makes sense from a conservative perspective. Last Thursday, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told reporters that he would have supported the bill Schumer tried to argue if the "things in it that federate the state elections" were removed. McConnell has made similar comments.
Shortly before blocking the measures introduced last week, McConnell received donations from lobbyists of voting machines, according to Newsweek. But Tom Burt, CEO of Election Systems & Software, a voting machine company that donated to McConnell, was more in favor of stronger security measures, such as paper ballots. Some legislation blocked by McConnell would not even affect the company.
McConnell also spent most of his time in the Senate in fierce opposition to any legislative proposals relating to campaign financing reform, filming of an important reform law in the 1990s and a strong supporter of the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC. Honest advertisements and HR 1 fall into this bucket.
But the biggest security legislation for election threat is the ability to delegate the Trump presidency. The intelligence community generally agrees that the Russians have worked to get Trump to choose congress republicans who massively disagreed about this. If Republicans were to stand on the side of the Democrats in the area of election security, they would largely play in what McConnell's & # 39; Russia's conspiracy & # 39; and the claims justify that Trump would never have been chosen without the help of foreign actors.
In response to the name & # 39; Moscow Mitch & # 39; McConnell went to the floor on Monday to undermine the attacks and legislation of the Democrats. "These theatrical requests happen all the time in the Senate," he said. “This kind of objection is a routine event in the Senate. It doesn't make Republicans traitors or non-Americans. It makes us policy makers with a different opinion. "
Time is running out for Congress to get this right before 2020. Yesterday, Lankford told reporters that if something was signed by the president that required paper ballots, states would not have time to secure a paper trail for November from next year. Some legislators have been working on this issue for years after the 2016 elections and they are doing everything in their power to get McConnell on board.