Leading up to this year’s midterm election, scores of U.S. senators, intelligence officials, and security experts were sounding the alarm: do nothing, and what happened in 2016 will happen again. “We know foreign adversaries are still targeting our upcoming elections,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar in a letter dated May 9. “The open question is, how serious are we about preventing it from happening again?” The wide-ranging campaign carried out by the government of Russia, in concert with other non-governmental entities, to influence the 2016 presidential election shocked the U.S. political and media establishment. It exposed vulnerabilities seemingly everywhere, from social media, where foreign operatives ginned up division on Facebook, to the political parties, where top officials’ emails were hacked and released, to the infrastructure of the voting process itself, which experts worried was weak and could be manipulated.
Klobuchar and other lawmakers introduced legislation to address those vulnerabilities — none made it far, despite earning bipartisan support, though companies like Facebook ended up implementing some of the proposed reforms on their own. The federal government made $380 million worth of grants available to states ahead of 2018 to shore up election infrastructure, but many observers deemed that move too little, too late.
A month after the election, however, it appears that the worst of those doomsday worries did not come to pass. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security declared there is no evidence so far that operatives from Russia, or elsewhere, hacked or otherwise meaningfully interfered in the midterms. Election administrators around the country, like Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, have said they detected no major breaches of voting infrastructure in 2018.
That’s not to say nothing happened at all: Politicians and parties were targeted over the course of campaign season. In one example, unknown entities broke into the email accounts of top Republican strategists and monitored them for months. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said this week that Russia “tried again to muck around in our elections.”
But there’s little evidence yet to indicate that mucking had an impact on the elections. Nevertheless, no one seems to be accusing security watchdogs of crying wolf, and Klobuchar, Simon, and other officials maintain that the threat remains — and that there’s no better time than now to shore up U.S. elections as a monumental 2020 election looms.