If the United States were under attack by Russia, one would not expect the response from Congress to be divided down partisan lines. The American spirit, it would seem, would stir people to pull together and triumph over forces threatening our democracy.
And yet, here we are.
In former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress, he stated unequivocally that Russian agents had orchestrated a campaign to interfere in the 2016 election and will do the same in 2020. “They’re doing it while we sit here,” Mueller said.
Then came a bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee concluding that all 50 states were targeted by the Russians. The Kremlin, it notes, “directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level,” and that “vulnerabilities remain.”
Doesn’t that sound like a problem we need to address?
House Democrats reacted with elections security legislation, which was stopped cold in the Senate when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring it for a vote. That prompted angry Democrats to start calling him “Moscow Mitch.” After all, what reason could there be other than that our Senate majority leader is in cahoots with the Russians?
For one thing, a concern about local control, that’s what.
McConnell believes elections belong in the hands of state and local governments — the traditional arbiters of the election process. If the federal government jumps in, demanding every single district pay for new voting machines — again, how will states and counties pay for that? It’s unclear whether a different voting machine would really be the solution anyway.
Further, Republicans note that in many instances, local elections officials lack the security clearance to even have a conversation about election tampering with the Department of Homeland Security, should a situation arise. Addressing that problem has not been part of the Democrats’ measure. Effective legislation will not be reactionary but developed with input from both sides.
But make no mistake, the hacking is real. Something needs to happen.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (a Republican) noted that “a million times a day” hackers are trying to penetrate the State of Iowa government system. That wasn’t hyperbole.
Congress should not rush to pass legislation that won’t address all aspects of this serious concern. But neither can the federal government do nothing. While local control in elections is essential, the hacking happened on the scope of a national election, and the full weight of the federal government must be brought to bear in addressing the problem.
Communities must continue to work with the Department of Homeland Security. The issue of security clearances must be resolved. Federal standards must be applied uniformly while maintaining local control.
The scope of addressing election interference is daunting. But the ramifications of failing to act are dire. Politicians on both sides of the aisle must work to keep our elections free from foreign influence while striking a balance between local control and a national approach.