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Election Protection Is a National Security Issue

More than 30 former national security officials have signed a letter to Congress appealing for the funds necessary to ensure a safe and secure election.

July 20, 2020

This Novem­ber, the United States will face an unpre­ced­en­ted dual chal­lenge to its demo­cracy: voting during a pandemic and foreign elec­tion inter­fer­ence.

While Russia, China, and Iran scale up their online disin­form­a­tion campaigns and cultiv­ate more advanced cyber­war­fare tactics, U.S. elec­tion offi­cials are still strug­gling with the basics, such as provid­ing safe polling places and meet­ing the increased demand for absentee ballots. And with little more than 100 days to go before Elec­tion Day, time is running out for Congress to fully meet this national secur­ity chal­lenge.

That is why more than 30 distin­guished members of the U.S. national secur­ity community, includ­ing former home­land secur­ity and defense secret­ar­ies, have come together to push for imme­di­ate congres­sional action. The letter we sent to the Hill this morn­ing — whose Repub­lican, Demo­cratic, and inde­pend­ent signat­or­ies have served at the highest levels of govern­ment in the past six pres­id­en­tial admin­is­tra­tions — outlines the stakes.

Due to Covid-19, online voter regis­tra­tion systems will exper­i­ence a surge in traffic, and state and local govern­ments face signi­fic­ant costs as they attempt to provide safe in-person voting options. Bolster­ing elec­tion infra­struc­ture will require more tech­no­logy, supplies, and staff. This spike in the demand for resources is coming at a time when many govern­ment budgets are already stretched thin by the damage wrought by the coronavirus.

This is all happen­ing as foreign actors attempt to lever­age Covid-19 chaos and the lack of prepared­ness against the U.S. Just last week, social media vulner­ab­il­it­ies were high­lighted, once again, when hack­ers broke into dozens of high-profile Twit­ter accounts in an appar­ent Bitcoin scam. Targets included former Pres­id­ent Barack Obama and former Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden, the presumptive Demo­cratic nominee for pres­id­ent. The possib­il­ity of a large-scale attack on the eve of the elec­tion — with messaging meant to depress turnout or sow further discord, for example — could be cata­strophic. And it remains a disturb­ing possib­il­ity.

The U.S. intel­li­gence community, Congress, and the Mueller invest­ig­a­tion have exhaust­ively docu­mented how the Krem­lin and others are work­ing to under­mine Amer­ica’s faith in its demo­cratic process. Such concerns have been aggrav­ated by Pres­id­ent Trump’s attacks on making voting as safe and secure as possible for every­one. Although mail-in voting dates back to the Civil War, voter fraud is “extremely rare,” and Trump himself voted by mail in the 2018 midterm elec­tions, the pres­id­ent has worked to stop the expan­sion of vote-by-mail access. But if mail-in ballots are good enough for our service members as well as at least 16 members of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, it should be good enough for all eligible voters. That’s simple fair­ness.

Despite the clear threat, states and local­it­ies are still wait­ing for the addi­tional federal resources, nearly $4 billion, they need to secure the coun­try’s voting infra­struc­ture and provide the neces­sary confid­ence the public needs as we barrel towards Novem­ber. Fortu­nately, this isn’t a partisan issue. Elec­tion offi­cials from both parties continue to say that they need these resources right away to ensure safe and secure voting access in Novem­ber.

Congress must now rise to the moment by moving quickly to expand fund­ing for U.S. elec­tion systems. Time is of the essence.