More than a dozen states are still using electronic ballot systems that leave no paper trail — an invitation to Russia and anyone else who wants to hack into and disrupt America’s next national election. This gaping security hole is being blamed on lack of money in state and local budgets, and a lack of urgency among some Republican officials. Both reasons are unacceptable.
Americans may be divided about the veracity of some aspects of the report and testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller, but those who think that renders debatable his conclusions about Russian election interference are simply not paying attention. Mueller’s unambiguous warning that Russia hacked into the election systems of all 50 states in 2016 and is planning to do so again next year has been confirmed on both sides of the aisle. U.S. intelligence agencies have long insisted it happened and will happen again.
Even the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee reached the same conclusion in a recent report. “Russian activities demand renewed attention to vulnerabilities in U.S. voting infrastructure,” the report found. “In 2016, cybersecurity for electoral infrastructure at the state and local level was sorely lacking. … Aging voting equipment, particularly voting machines that had no paper record of votes, were vulnerable to exploitation by a committed adversary.”
It’s true that President Donald Trump has, at various times, sided with the Kremlin’s version of events over those of his own intelligence officials, but that demonstrates nothing beyond the president’s unwillingness to admit that his 2016 election might have been tainted. Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s continuing refusal to allow debate on measures to tighten security around America’s elections doesn’t mean they’re already secure — only that he doesn’t necessarily want them to be.
There’s some irony in the near-unanimous conclusion of experts that the best way to thwart Russia’s high-tech election meddling is the low-tech solution of bringing paper back into the equation. That’s not to say states must completely chuck the convenience and efficiency of electronic voting, but it’s imperative that even those electronic systems include a paper-trail function that puts a record of every vote in print, where no one from Moscow or anywhere else can reach in to alter it.
Yet, as Politico noted in a deep analysis of the issue recently, some or all jurisdictions in 14 states rely solely on electronic voting with no paper backup, including the swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania. (Missouri and Illinois both have paper-trail backups.)
Among the measures McConnell refuses to take up is a House-passed bill requiring states to have paper trails in their election systems and authorizing $775 million to help fund it. This is about as common sense as closing your home’s windows before a storm. Those who are thwarting it need to explain why they’re doing that, or stop.