Maintaining the Integrity of Our Election Process
Our system of government in the United States is founded on free and fair elections. With the 2020 election already underway, protecting the integrity of our election process remains a priority of mine. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Cybersecurity Subcommittee, I’ve worked to make certain the Department of Defense (DOD) can fulfill its role for election security.
While I’ve been working with senior DOD officials, the responsibility to keep our elections secure crosses many agencies. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently unveiled to the public the steps they are taking to secure this year’s elections. The DHS plan focuses on four main points: protect election infrastructure, assist political campaigns with closing security gaps, increase public awareness about foreign intrusion and help to share information on vulnerabilities and potential threats between the public and private sectors.
While each of these four areas is important, I’d like to focus on one that has received a lot of attention since the 2016 election: foreign intrusion. As we know, Russia used misinformation – largely through social media channels – to attempt to influence the 2016 election. They also tried to get into at least 21 of our state election systems. Fortunately, they weren’t successful in changing the outcome. But these tactics aren’t news. Russia has long used propaganda to influence elections. Before social media, it was spread through newspaper articles, pamphlets and manifestos. Now, it’s on the apps we check on our phones throughout the day: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more are all used by those who wish to spread “fake news” and sow discord in American politics.
Since then, we’ve taken steps to improve our cybersecurity protocols. Through our work on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee, I can tell you that it was no accident that the 2018 midterm election was free from outside interference. Changes in our public policy allowing us to respond with offensive and defensive capabilities outside of a declared war zone were critical in our success.
More recently, the delayed result of the 2020 Democrat caucus in Iowa gained national attention and raised new concerns about our election system. It’s important to note that the caucuses were not the target of a cyberattack, but rather the new app they attempted to use to count delegates wasn’t able to function correctly. While what happened in Iowa demonstrates the importance of using proven, tested methods for determining election outcomes, we should not be worried that this type of mishap will happen on a larger scale. This is because each state is responsible for administering its own elections.
Recently, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have been trying to bypass regular Senate procedure to pass legislation they claim will make our elections more secure. The reality is that the bills they’re pushing would take control of elections away from the states and give more power to the federal government. Such a move could be disastrous—imagine if the federal government ran voting systems and they were hacked. All of the results would be put into question. If that were to happen to an individual state, the results would have to be recounted but it would be less disruptive than if it happened on a nationwide basis.
We’ve made good strides in making sure our election systems are protected in the wake of emerging technologies and tactics. I’ll continue to work on commonsense policies to strengthen our election integrity and punish bad actors who attempt to interfere. We must make it very clear to Russia and others that attempts to meddle in our elections will be met with swift and severe punishments.