The first primary in the 2020 presidential race is a little more than 250 days away, but lawmakers and experts worry that elections will be held on voting machines that are woefully outdated and that any tampering by adversaries could lead to disputed results.
Although states want to upgrade their voting systems, they don’t have the money to do so, election officials told lawmakers last week.
Overhauling the nation’s election systems would mean injecting as much as $1 billion in federal grants that would then be supplemented by states, but top Senate Republicans have said they are unlikely to take up any election security bills or give more money to the states.
The deadlock could mean that even as federal government and private companies spend tens of billions of cybersecurity dollars annually to protect their computers and networks from attacks, the cornerstone of American democracy could remain vulnerable in the upcoming elections.
Concerns about election security and foreign interference have historically been more bipartisan. As Mitch McConnell has made clear, however, that’s no longer the case. Although several Republican-controlled Senate committees are still trying to address potential meddling by foreign adversaries the Senate majority leader now says he won’t even bring election security bills up for a vote.
As a result of this inaction, the US Senate — which allocated $380 million in election security funds last year — is now effectively promoting a do-nothing approach to a subject that special counsel Robert Mueller and countless national security officials have raised as a serious threat that requires additional action. While US intelligence agencies and other bodies are doing what they can to bolster American defenses before the 2020 election, Republican leadership appears content to sit idly by despite numerous warnings about the need for more resources to prevent potential breaches.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and 2020 presidential candidate who last week proposed new legislation to address election security, laid out the state of affairs at a recent hearing. “Forty states rely on electronic voting systems that are at least 10 years old,” Klobuchar, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said at a hearing last week. “Twelve states have no or partial paper backup.”
The consequence is “if something happens in one county in a close state or in one state, the entire presidential election could be up in the air,” Klobuchar said. “We then wouldn’t be able to prove what happened if we have no paper ballot backup.”
It’s not just the age of the machines. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that 45 states use voting machines that are no longer manufactured and therefore lack maintenance support, which could leave local officials scrambling for spare parts.
According to a report by the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima, and Shane Harris, per current and former administration officials, “During discussions in the Oval Office, Trump has regularly conflated the threat of foreign interference with attacks on the legitimacy of his election.”
Because of this, Trump has tried to skirt the issue of election security altogether — and his top homeland security officials have reportedly been warned off trying to get him to address it.
A recent call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin underscores this dynamic: In that conversation, Trump said he and Putin talked about the Mueller report, but didn’t broach the issue of potential meddling in 2020 at all. During repeated instances in the past, Trump has also emphasized that he takes Putin’s denials about interference at face value.
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