In November 2016, 139 million Americans cast their votes in the wake of a massive Russian cyber-enabled operation to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
The Kremlin spread disinformation through hundreds of thousands of social media posts. Russian agents hacked U.S. political organizations and selectively exposed sensitive information. Russia targeted voting systems in at least 21 states, seeking to infiltrate the networks of voting equipment vendors, political parties and at least one local election board.
Had Russian hackers succeeded, voters could have shown up on election day to find their names missing from the voting rolls, ensuring chaos that could have undermined faith in the fairness of our elections.
This brazen attack by Russia exposed serious national security vulnerabilities in our election infrastructure. Yet despite this threat, the Trump administration and Republican leadership in Congress have simply refused — for more than a year — to pursue the facts and defend our democracy.
In the face of Republican inaction, Democrats in the House of Representatives formed the Congressional Task Force on Election Security to serve as a forum for lawmakers, election officials and cybersecurity experts to identify policies that can help ensure the integrity of our elections and guard against future attacks. The task force has released its final report detailing its findings and recommendations — along with new comprehensive legislation to help secure our election infrastructure before it is too late.
We found our elections are highly vulnerable. Many states are using voting equipment with hardware and software over a decade old, that is nearing or past its useful life and that often go without any security updates or support.
We found the election technology industry increasingly consolidated, with just a few firms serving most of the country. These vendors are unregulated and a tempting target for hackers. With election officials reliant on vendors for the creation and maintenance of voter registration databases, voting machines and software, as well as IT support, breaching just one vendor could provide a hacker access to numerous election jurisdictions.
We found that state and local governments need federal support to replace obsolete election systems.
Election officials are fully aware that the technology they rely on is outdated or obsolete, but budgets are stretched thin and the past model of crisis-to-crisis federal investment in election infrastructure and security capabilities has created avoidable vulnerabilities in our election systems.
That’s why we are introducing the Election Security Act to provide states with much needed resources — some of which have already been authorized by Congress. They include grants to assist in securing state election infrastructure, ongoing funding to help maintain these systems and ensure election officials receive appropriate cybersecurity training, and grants for states to use in implementing risk-limiting audits.
This bill cannot pass Congress, or be signed into law, without the support of our Republican colleagues.
It is mystifying to us that Republicans have been asleep at the wheel. It has been over a year since we have known of Russia’s actions, and yet they have done nothing to stop it from happening again. That is simply appalling.
As former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote last September, “Lawmakers and election officials’ lackadaisical response is both staggering and distressing. … This is a matter of national security, and Congress should treat it as such.”
Instead, our Republican colleagues have spent the past year on bootless errands to provide political cover for the Trump administration. Earlier this month, we saw House Republicans spend all their energy obsessing over the release of a classified memo rather than taking action to protect our nation from foreign attacks.
A repeat attack by Russia akin to what occurred during the 2016 election is not just theoretical, it is likely. Last March, then-FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that “they’ll be back. They’ll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018.”
It’s time for Congress to act and pass the Election Security Act to provide the support needed to update and protect our election infrastructure. We know there is bipartisan appetite to get this done. The first congressional primary election of 2018 is on March 6 — only a few weeks away. The midterm elections are just nine months away. We do not have a minute to waste.
Rep. Bennie Thompson is the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee. Rep. Robert A. Brady is the ranking member on the House Administration Committee, where he helps lead the panel’s oversight of federal elections.
Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.