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.