It’s bad news that Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 states last year, as the Department of Homeland Security confirmed in calls to the states Friday. And it would be bad news if we had to rely on President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity to clean up this mess. Fortunately, we don’t. Trump’s commission has been in the spotlight as commission members trade accusations and refutations of voter fraud. It happens, but wild allegations of oceans of fraud evaporate to drops once vigilant election officials and law officers conduct their investigations. Meanwhile, another group is quietly tackling the cyberattacks that are a potentially greater threat to the integrity of our elections. In the closing days of the Obama administration, under the cloud of Russian interference in 2016 campaigns and voting, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced elections as critical infrastructure. This designation triggered work to form an Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council to address cybersecurity. The differences between the voter fraud and infrastructure efforts reveal much about what is wrong and right about contemporary politics.
Let’s start by reviewing how these commissions are organized. One is stacked with partisan hacks, while the other is staffed by experts.
Despite platitudes by the co-chairmen of Trump’s commission that it has no preconceived expectations of what it will find, it appears to be tilted in favor of validating Trump’s baseless claim that three to five million fraudulent votes gave Hillary Clinton the popular vote victory. A smoking gun is a letter in which commission member Hans Von Spakovsky urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint “real experts on the conservative side of this issue.” He objected to naming Democrats who would “obstruct any investigation of voter fraud” and even argued that “picking mainstream Republican officials…will be an abject failure.”
Why? Mainstream Republican secretaries of state have joined with Democrats in strongly rebutting Trump’s massive vote fraud claims.
The election infrastructure group, by contrast, is highly credible. It includes representatives from the National Association of Secretaries of State, the National Association of State Elections Directors, the United States Election Assistance Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, DHS and the FBI, among others. They are cybersecurity experts and bipartisan leaders chosen by their peers from their respective associations.