When one of us, after a four-decade career in the Marine Corps including nineteen months in command in Afghanistan, had the chance to address the National Association of Counties earlier this year, this was the key message:
We in the military have always been the ones on the front lines in defense of this country and its democracy. Now, it is you as well—those who are manning the voting centers, maintaining the voter registries, tabulating the tallies.
As Congress gets fully back to work this fall, the issue of how the federal government can help local and state election authorities secure the United States against an attack needs to be front and center on their agenda—because it has become a national-security issue of very high order. In particular, Congress needs to approve and appropriate funds for an initiative like that proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Lindsey Graham, and provide several hundred million dollars to make the country’s voting more secure. Last year, a hostile power reached straight past the most sophisticated military and intelligence services on the planet, across vast seas and over towering mountain ranges, and sought to affect the fundamental outcome of the American 2016 presidential election through a strategic-influence campaign, which included cyber intrusions into the heart of the American voting system. In essence, the Russians, apparently on the direct orders of Vladimir Putin, took direct aim at America’s ability to choose its own government and thus, ultimately, its own way of life—arguably with some success.
Trump’s subsequent decision to build a national-security team that includes Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has mitigated the potential damage. Congress has also sought to ensure that Trump sustain a foreign policy in line with many bipartisan precepts of American national-security policy. So it could have been much worse. But the central fact remains that a foreign power sought to abuse America’s democratic system to create outcomes that would serve its own interests, and not necessarily those of the American people. How is this any less dangerous to U.S. national-security interests, and our country as a whole, than a direct military attack?
Our concerns go way beyond the 2016 election. With 2018 and 2020 votes soon upon us, we need to ensure that the American voter is the only individual who will choose our future leaders.