Election Security Is Not Just Paper Ballots

 Election Security Is Not Just Paper Ballots

Former special counsel Robert Mueller testified last Wednesday that Russia continues to work to interfere in US elections. But, this country has a long way to go before it is secure from Russian interference. That’s the main take away of a new report out of the Senate Intelligence committee. The report details Russia’s attempts in 2016 to access state election systems…likely targeting all 50 US states.

It was released just a day after Robert Mueller’s warning to Congress.

Reporter Arleen Richards has been reviewing this report. 

Arleen, thanks for checking in.

Arleen: Hi Mark.

Mark: So, we’ve known for a couple years now, that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Does this report provide any new details?

Arleen: Well, there aren’t any new bombshells since we already knew most of the specifics from other reports. But, what I think this report really highlights is how extensive Russia’s efforts were to threaten our election system.

Having said that, it doesn’t conclude definitively that all 50 states were targeted, but it supports the strong likelihood there was activity in every state.

This is something former and current officials have said, and the department of homeland security has been saying it since 2018.

This effort by the Russians was an attempt to hack systems throughout the country to see how vulnerable they were.

Mark: So officials have known about the hacking activity for a while now. Were any votes changed or altered because of the hacking?

Arleen: The committee didn’t find any evidence of that, but there did appear to be states that were compromised. 

Emails in at least one Florida county government, and data extracted from an Illinois voter registration database. 

Other states were anonymously identified by numbers in the report… about 22 states.

Mark: 22 states…that’s a significant number. Does the report shed any light on what Russia is actually trying to do in the United States?

Arleen: The committee believes Russia’s initial intention was to cause confusion and discord during the 2016 elections, but then opted out.

It doesn’t take much, really. Most of the activity involved hacking state election websites and voter registration databases. 

If they just changed a few records, that would be enough to cause trouble. People tend to rely on these sytems for election day information.

What’s interesting is that one of the officials interviewed said it looked like reconnaissance…. he said, “I would have characterized it at the time as sort of conducting the reconnaissance … establishing a presence so you could come back later and actually execute an operation.”

Mark: Execute an operation…that sounds like cause for concern. Have there been any efforts to keep Russia from carrying out this operation?

Arleen: Once this came out in 2016, they realized that the situation was pretty bad. So some states have already started making changes, but it requires more funding. 

Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, spoke a lot about coming together with Republicans to guard against attacks and pass legislation to assist the states in improving their election systems.

Mark: Sounds like this is becoming a top priority. Does the report say how the federal government will coordinate with state officials?

Arleen: Some of the senators on the committee recognized the need for federal intelligence agencies to improve communications with state and local officials and come up with ways to prevent these attacks. Overall, a lot more needs to be done the report says.

We’re talking about improved cybersecurity, passing legislation to secure elections, more money to states.

But this is a debated issue. Mostly, Democrats are calling for a complete overhaul of the election system. 

Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon is strongly pushing for new legislation. He views the attacks as a direct assault. 

On the flip side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked attempts for new legislation by Senator Schumer citing a clear partisan effort.

Mark: The president did start election security measures back in 2018…which seems to be already addressing the Democrats’ concerns. Is there really any dispute here?

Arleen: I think the underlying dispute has more to do with the 2020 election and positioning Democrats to be able to win on the popular vote…and less about election security.

And, you’re right, the president IS already working on election security.

The DHS is working across all levels of government in all 50 states to coordinate responses to election interference attempts.

There’s a  new pilot program to address this. The FBI and DOJ have been investigating potential threats. National intelligence and DHS have held briefings with election officials in all 50 states.

Mark: Looking at what happened in the 2016 presidential election, Democrats are hoping they can get rid of the electoral college system and just rely on the popular vote through paper ballots. And Majority Leader McConnell makes that point clear in his objection.

It’ll be interesting to see if the president’s security measures will be changed or new legislation will pass as a result of this report.

Arleen, thanks for the update.

Arleen: You’re welcome.

Mark: This has been America Daily, with an in depth report on Russian election interference and security.

Please join America Daily next Thursday, for another informative report with Arleen Richards.

I’m Mark Jackson. Thank you for listening.