National: Distrust, Staffing and Funding Shortages Imperil Election Security | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive
pecial Counsel Robert Mueller was emphatic when he testified before the House Intelligence Committee on July 24 about Russian interference in the 2016 election: “It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” In an earlier, less partisan era, Mueller’s warning likely would have galvanized lawmakers and propelled them to action to ensure the security and integrity of American elections. While federal agencies have taken critical steps to improve security around U.S. elections since 2016, those efforts have been hampered by inadequate funding; staffing problems; mixed messages from Congress and the administration; and, not insignificantly, by Constitutional questions—states and localities hold primary authority for administering elections, and some Republicans worry about the federal government usurping state powers in the name of security. But the special counsel’s warning had no such galvanizing effect. Hours after Mueller testified in the House, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., blocked, without giving a reason, election security bills in the Senate, one of which would have required campaigns to alert the FBI and the Federal Election Commission about election assistance offers from foreign countries. The next day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denied the Democrats’ request for a vote on the House-passed Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, which would have authorized $775 million to bolster state election systems and required paper ballots as a guard against vote tampering. McConnell said the legislation, which passed the House with just a single Republican vote, would nationalize election authorities that “properly belong to the states.” While few things are more fundamental to democracy than the integrity of the election system, finding a bipartisan consensus for ensuring that integrity has been elusive, and as a result, agencies’s efforts are far less effective than they could be otherwise.