One year from now, the American people will head to the polls for what many believe will be the most consequential election of our lifetimes. They will do so amid an environment of foreign election interference, in which our nation’s adversaries engage in malign influence operations in hopes of achieving their desired outcomes and undermining faith in our democratic institutions.
Time is running short to ensure that we are better prepared to withstand these attacks. That is why Congress must quickly enact election security funding; it may be our last opportunity to shore up our defenses before the polls open.
Foreign election meddling is a certainty. The Russian government systematically interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and US intelligence officials warn of more interference in 2020. And Russia isn’t the only concern.
Last December, the intelligence community issued a report stating that Russia, China and Iran tried to interfere in the midterm elections through “influence activities and messaging campaigns.”
The House of Representatives, under Democratic leadership, has taken decisive action to prevent foreign election interference, passing three major election protection bills this year alone. The most recently passed bill, the SHIELD Act, requires campaigns to report offers of assistance from foreign governments and closes loopholes that allow foreign spending in US elections.
The Republican-led Senate has blocked all three bills — hardly a surprise. Most Republicans have shown no interest in bucking a President who not only remains indifferent to ongoing foreign influence — the very thing these bills were designed to prevent — but who is the subject of an escalating impeachment inquiry for soliciting interference in the 2020 election.
Burying our heads in the sand to the severity and scope of the problem won’t change the fact that the US is woefully underprepared to withstand pervasive election threats with just a year left until a major presidential election. But there is reason for optimism.
In June, the House passed appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2020 that provides strong funding to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) for Election Security Grants to augment state efforts to improve the security and integrity of elections for federal office.
After blocking funding for over a year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally relented and allowed Senate Democrats to add some election security funding in a Senate Appropriations Committee-passed bill. While this was a small step to ensuring adequate funding, the Senate bill’s funding is $350 million lower than what the House provided and falls far short of what is actually needed.
We understand funding alone can neither bring an end to the threats of concerted attacks on our democracy nor serve as a substitute for the House-passed election security overhauls.
But in the face of outside threats, no step is too small. With sufficient funding and resources, states and localities could replace outdated voting machines, secure vulnerable voter registration databases and electronic poll books, conduct cybersecurity training for election officials and poll workers, perform post-election audits to validate election results, and implement other necessary efforts to ensure the integrity of the election process
After the House and Senate complete negotiations on spending allocations for fiscal 2020 spending bills, appropriations subcommittees can begin to reconcile individual bills.
We will prioritize election security funding, with the goal of securing an adequate dollar amount that is much more in line with the House-passed bill.
Only with robust investments can we begin to make the improvements needed to hold off the ever-changing, increasingly sophisticated attacks by our adversaries.
States and localities are counting on the federal government to take meaningful action to help them harden their election infrastructure and defend the integrity of the democratic process against foreign interference. Congress must deliver.