In November next year the United States will hold its midterm elections. Every seat in the House of Representatives, and a third of the seats in the Senate, will be up for grabs. For the Democratic party the elections represent a desperately anticipated opportunity to break the Republicans’ complete control of the federal government. If historical midterm trends and the voting patterns of recent special elections hold up, Democrats have a fighting chance of winning back the House, and an outside shot at the Senate. The Republicans will be more desperate than ever to retain their power. If the Democrats win just one chamber, the political landscape will be transformed. In addition to blocking the GOP’s legislative agenda, Democrats will forcefully scrutinise Russia’s interference with the 2016 elections and investigate President Trump’s remarkable commercialisation of his office. Impeachment of the Republican president will become a real possibility. Everything depends on the wishes of the American voters in 2018. Or does it? There is a third, even more momentous scenario: another Russian cyber-offensive sways the outcome of a US election in accordance with the wishes of Russia, not American voters. What is being done to prevent this?
After emails revealed that Russian actors colluded with Donald Trump Jr in June 2016 as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”, it is clearer than ever that the Russian “active measures” – cyber-warfare and campaigns of propaganda and disinformation – seriously affected the 2016 elections. Fake news and bogus comments were disseminated on news and social media platforms, and cyber-attacks were used to tactically leak internal Democratic party communications. The voting systems of at least 39 states were penetrated by hackers.
There is no evidence (maybe because no voting machines have been examined) that the hackers changed vote tallies. The US may not be so lucky in 2018. According to the congressional testimony of the cyber-security expert Alex Halderman, America’s enemies could quite feasibly tamper with the voting apparatus “to invisibly cause any candidate to win”. The American intelligence community asserts that Russia, given its success in 2016, will almost certainly be back, perhaps more aggressively and potently than ever.
… The truth of the matter is that unless Republican politicians are pressured into taking prompt and effective defensive measures (paper ballots, for instance), we can look forward, in 2018, to a repetition of 2016. It will be the Democrats v the Republicans and an enormously well-funded battalion of foreign hackers and propagandists.