Election security continues to be an issue of national security. Russia attacked the United States in 2016, and it is doing so again now. I am from Georgia, and my home state is one of the most vulnerable in the nation. It is so bad that citizen activists filed a lawsuit to try to force Georgia to take action and secure its outdated and insecure voting machines that lack a paper trail. But in September, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ruled that, despite valid and serious election security concerns, Georgia can continue using touchscreen voting machines for the midterm elections this year. These machines are known to be vulnerable to hacking—an ever more serious concern following Russia’s 2016 attacks and the assaults it continues to wage today, none of which have been sufficiently addressed.
Russia’s role as an aggressor is not debatable. In January 2017, the U.S. intelligence community unanimously concluded that Russia interfered throughout the 2016 election season to help then-candidate Trump. This interference took the form of extensive propaganda campaigns carried out by Russian agents, including thousands of political ads on Facebook that reached a total of 126 million users, 1.4 million tweets on Twitter, and 1,100 videos on YouTube containing Russia-linked content. Moscow also hacked about 20 U.S. state election systems and, though no evidence has yet emerged to confirm that vote tallies or voter information were manipulated, Russia undoubtedly was “in a position” to do so, according to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.
As Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats confirmed earlier this year, this threat from Russia has not gone away. He recently re-emphasized this fact, saying, “The warning signs are there. The system is blinking.” And each day brings new stories about these ongoing attacks and our vulnerable election infrastructure, with the Justice Department just the other week charging a Russian woman with conspiracy to defraud the United States for her current acts to manipulate voters on social media.
In order to push states to improve election security in the midst of such a clear foreign threat, Congress in March passed a funding bill that included $380 million for states to, for example, purchase more secure machines, conduct audits, and improve training on election cybersecurity. Yet, the majority of states have failed to use the funds to fix glaring security concerns: Most states conducted no post-election audits to search for signs of interference, and only 13 states said they would buy new voting machines. Meanwhile, only 18 states have taken the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) up on its offer for risk and vulnerability assessments. This inaction is largely due to states requiring additional funding in order to conduct these comprehensive security risk assessments and build or update expensive voting infrastructure, as well as prepare for the future. But then, during the summer, congressional efforts to provide further funding failed, leaving the U.S. Election Assistance Commission without important grants that would have helped to improve the security of our election systems.