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Protecting Free and Fair Elections

Free and fair elections are a vital part of our democracy. Being able to cast a ballot, beginning at the age of 18, gives us a voice in the decisions being made at all levels of government. With the U.S. midterm elections coming up in November, it’s important to uphold our democratic election process by preventing interference from outside actors.

In the 2016 election, there was clear evidence that Russia attempted to undermine our elections by hacking political entities and manipulating social media platforms to spread misinformation, or ‘fake news.’ While there is no evidence that the Russians were effective in manipulating the outcome of the 2016 election, their attempts served as a wake-up call to our cyber vulnerabilities.

As the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Cybersecurity Subcommittee, one of my top priorities is to increase and improve the defensive and offensive cyber capabilities of the Department of Defense (DoD) to make sure it is fully able to defend against cyberattacks whether on military or non-military entities. The DoD has a critical role to play in challenging and influencing the mindset of our cyber adversaries and defending the homeland from attacks—attacks that could include cyber-attacks by other nations against our election infrastructure. We want to be sure DoD has all the tools it needs to do this, particularly as we enter another election year. We recently held a subcommittee hearing focusing exclusively on the DoD’s role in protecting democratic elections.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats recently warned that he has already seen signs that Russia is targeting our November 2018 election process. During a Congressional hearing, Coats said that “there should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” There is also evidence of Russian meddling in the 2018 Mexican presidential campaign. And all of this comes after confirmed attempts by Russia to influence the elections in France and Germany last year.

We must have a plan to seize the strategic high ground in cyberspace. We need a strategy that moves out of the trenches and imposes meaningful, devastating costs on our adversaries. The lack of consequences for the countless cyber-attacks by those who wish to do us harm has not only emboldened our adversaries, it has left us even more heavily targeted by their emboldened behavior. As long as our adversaries feel that they can act with impunity they will press further.

At our recent subcommittee hearing, the panel of witnesses confirmed that we must tailor our strategies to the uniqueness of the cyber domain if we are to prevent our adversaries from exploiting us. The attack attempts we experienced during the 2016 election are just the latest rung on an escalation ladder of cyber-attacks.

As the 2018 election gets closer, my colleagues and I will continue doing our part to help make sure we protect a free and fair election process. As Chairman of the Cybersecurity Subcommittee, I will also continue to work with the administration, to include its military and intelligence community leaders, to craft and implement a strong, clear strategy to deter bad actors from attacking us in cyberspace.