This editorial was published by the Columbian of Vancouver, Wash.
Comments last week from President Donald Trump have rekindled concerns about the security of the United States’ election system.
As the nation ramps up for the 2020 presidential and congressional elections, it is essential for the public to have faith that ballots will be accurately tallied. Doubts about the integrity of the system undermine trust in government and the very foundation of our democracy.
In Washington, that faith is reinforced in part by the fact the state uses mail-in ballots, which create a paper trail and can be audited and recounted. Once ballots are turned in, the counting apparatus is not subject to outside tampering. “The actual machines are not connected to the internet, and that’s one more layer of security that we have in place,” Secretary of State Kim Wyman said last year.
Many states cannot provide similar assurance. At least five states conducted last year’s midterm elections on electronic machines without the possibility of hard-copy verification. Eight used paperless machines in some, but not all, counties. “That presents a greater risk because there’s no way to detect if things have gone wrong,” Marian Schneider, president of the group Verified Voting, explained to ABC News.
The issue has received increased attention since the 2016 election and reports of Russian meddling in that election. The report from special counsel Robert Mueller concluded, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” agreeing with previous conclusions from the intelligence community that such influence was designed to assist Trump. These attacks “included U.S. state and local entities, such as state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and county governments, as well as individuals who worked for those entities.”
As early as 2017, the FBI reported that Russian agents targeted voting systems in at least 21 states, but did not find evidence that votes were changed. “I hope the American people will keep in mind Russia’s overall aim is to restore its power and prestige by eroding democratic values,” Bill Priestap, then the assistant director of the FBI’s counter-intelligence division, told a Senate committee.
All of which makes the president’s comments last week most disturbing. During an interview with ABC News, Trump said he would not necessarily contact intelligence officials if a foreign power offered damaging information on an opponent. In response, Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Elections Commission, wrote on Twitter: “It is illegal to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.” Trump later walked back the comments in clumsy and unconvincing fashion.
Equally disturbing is the manner in which Trump’s position is emboldened by Republicans in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly declined to consider bills to bolster the nation’s election security. The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee last month approved two security bills, which McConnell has refused to bring to the floor. McConnell also has ignored election-related legislation passed by the House of Representatives.
The public should be concerned. So should President Trump. His persistent refusal to acknowledge Russian meddling has undermined his presidency, and failure to address it could taint the 2020 election regardless of who wins.
In Washington, Wyman — a Republican — has made election security a priority. The president and Congress should follow suit.