What if discrediting elections in 2018 and beyond is a thing? What if the 2018 election is hacked? Clearly there is strong evidence that it could be.
What Does the US Congress Say
In March of 2018 Congress earmarked $380 million dollars to help insure election security. Since ‘money is speech’ these days committing dollars to this issue is a kind of confession that election interference is real. But Congress is not that committed to stopping cyber-influences on our elections. When members wanted another $250 million it was turned down.
WASHINGTON—Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a Democratic effort to increase spending on election security measures, saying they wanted to see what states do with grants they have already been provided.
The amendment, which would have appropriated $250 million for grants to states through the federal Election Assistance Commission, garnered 50 in favor to 47 opposed, largely on party lines and shy of the 60 needed to pass. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was the only Republican to vote in support of the amendment.
“A lot of the states want this kind of help to make sure their systems are not going to be hacked,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) “The Republicans are not standing in line to help them, which I think is a real testament to what they think about protecting our democracy.”
Sanctions placed on Russia recently also show that even a reluctant Congress gives some credence to the evidence that Russia is the foreign power that was responsible for the interference. Every intelligence agency and Senate committee, and there are many of them, has agreed that Russia has been interfering in our elections, perhaps since 2015.
What evidence exists
An article in The Atlantic tells us this:
Russia’s successful interference in the 2016 election—when Moscow hacked both Democrats and Republicans—has spurred fears of a recurrence in 2018. But although congressional Democrats are pledging not to use stolen or hacked materials in their campaigns this fall, their Republican counterparts have so far declined to match that commitment. That partisan split could leave the November elections open to malicious interference.
Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo added that officials had “seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle.” “We need to inform the American public that this is real,” Coats said, “and that we are not going to allow some Russian to tell us how we’re going to vote.”
The ways in which Russia has interfered have had varying degrees of success. Hacking into the headquarters of the Democrats netted lots of data which may have given the opposition information about how the Dems intended to run their campaign, therefore helping Republicans revise their own strategies to take best advantage of the data. We also know that some info from emails and memos was used to foment divisions between the Sanders campaign and the Clinton campaign, by revealing that the party did play favorites. This angered many Democratic voters and may have affected votes.
Another thing we know is about Russian disinformation posted on social media sites like Facebook and others. Russia actually created fake people and bots who had access to all the amenities offered to real posters on these sites. These bots could act like actual people and post fake memes to rile the waters in an already rough election. They could slant their efforts to help one candidate more than another. They could start groups that regular Facebook users could sign into, and share their responses to the stimulus offered by Russian state hackers, and troll each other in all the usual ways that these things are done in groups not run by bots or hackers.
We have evidence that Russians hacked into the elections of 39 states in one way or another. Usually they could not affect actual votes. But they could get access to voter rolls and they could remove names of legal voters from these voter rolls. How would you feel if you went to vote and someone told you that you were not registered, although you have always voted? Perhaps they would allow you to fill out a special registration form and vote, perhaps your state would not have such a policy. From what our intelligence people have learned, Russia has not actually removed people from voter rolls, although they could. While “visiting” they can leave a little back door on a state’s election data banks and sites so they can get back in whenever they wish.
CNN tells us some things about this:
“According to indictments released last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Russian intelligence officers successfully breached voter registration databases during the 2016 election. This echoes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings in a preliminary report on Russian interference in the election, which stated that Russia was “in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data” for a small number of states. The fact that a hostile foreign power had this capability is chilling, as voter registration databases may be our election system’s greatest vulnerability.
Last month’s California primary elections included a troubling incident at Los Angeles polls, where a printing error resulted in over 118,000 voters being left offregistration rolls. This mistake was enough to cause confusion and endanger individuals’ ability to cast a ballot — the actual number of people who simply opted not to vote when told they were not on the rolls is impossible to estimate. What if, on the eve of this November’s election, a state discovers that a cyberattack has removed millions of voters from its rolls?
A cyberattack on registration rolls has the potential to significantly damage the integrity of an election in two distinct ways. First, a targeted removal of a block of several thousand voters likely to support one candidate could effectively swing a close election. Second, a broad attack that purges an entire state’s registration database could endanger the ability of an election to functionally proceed. Both scenarios threaten to do permanent damage to the integrity of and trust in our electoral system.”
And then there is this piece of data, far from reassuring, found in this NYT’s article:
“The Russian assault on the U.S. election was “an attack from an unexpected direction against a previously unappreciated weakness,” said Hayden, who explores this theme in a new book “The Assault on Intelligence.” “It hit a seam between law enforcement and intelligence, between ‘sigint’ [electronic spying] and ‘humint’ [human spying], between state and federal agencies, between politics and policy.”
The government had no agency, no plan or strategy to counter such a threat, he said.
What Are the Implications
We have a President who loves to say that elections are “rigged”. He especially likes to say it if election results make him look like he is anything less than the most popular president ever.
He also seems to have nothing but admiration for Putin in Russia as we have heard him attest many times. He even tried to get Putin to come to Washington, DC for a visit in the fall, as if everyone didn’t remember what was coming up in the fall (the elections that Putin supposedly encouraged his people to meddle in).
Trump’s administration does not put up a fight when states limit voting by purging voter rolls, or requiring voter ID’s, or changing polling places or the number of days people can vote we are told in this NYT’s article from 8/13/2018:
The first time I remember an election seeming shady was the one for Bush-Gore where Florida had the ballots with all the “hanging chads”. That election ended up being decided by the Supreme Court, and, if I remember correctly, which I do, it was the GOP in the middle of that fiasco too.
Before that I used to believe that we had a pretty secure election process, however much it varied from place to place around America. Too bad they had to stop making those old voting machines with the levers. They seemed quite reliable. (Although perhaps there was tampering we never heard about.)
“The senators also sounded concerns on Tuesday about the shrinking number of voting-machine makers. The three largest vendors of voting equipment dominate the industry, and both the companies and their subcontractors that serve local election agencies are largely unregulated. That makes them and other vendors “an enticing target for malicious cyberactors,” the Intelligence Committee wrote.
A National Security Agency analysis leaked last June concluded that Russian military intelligence launched a cyberattack on at least one maker of electronic voting equipment during the 2016 campaign, and sent so-called spear-phishing emails days before the general election to 122 local government officials, apparently customers of the manufacturer. The emails concealed a computer script that, when clicked on, “very likely” downloaded a program from an external server that gave the intruders prolonged access to election computers or allowed them to search for valuable data.”
With a President who has no intention of going full out to protect our elections and a Congress that says they care but puts very little effort into a full-out program to combat people who are trying to make our elections seem unreliable (or to actually be unreliable) it is quite easy to imagine that there may be attempts on the part of Republicans and Trump to discredit some of the election results in 2018. And if there is no blue wave, Democrats may never know if the results are real or not. Messing with the stability of our elections is a slippery slope leading to uncertainty, anger, and possible chaos.
We only have three short months to prop up the credibility of the 2018 election and then we have to deal with these issues in the long term to have a valid 2020 election.
Please vote in spite of these reasons for paranoia. Physical turnout at the poles is a very real and countable thing. There is no reason to believe that Russians have a way to change our votes once they are recorded. We have to be assured that our very comprehensive (and sometimes quite invasive) security apparatus will find a way to stop Russia or any other nation from meddling in America’s elections. And we have to refuse to give any foreign nation power over our feelings about exercising our right to vote, which has been one of the things that people around world have loved most about American democracy. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from exercising your right to vote.
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