Today’s Daily Kos Elections gives a rundown of what we’ve been reading for the past couple of weeks on Russian hacking as revealed by the Mueller investigation indictments.
What’s particularly strong here is the role of the GOP in all this. Even though I knew most of it, I still find it shocking. I’m bolding a few key things.
Daily Kos Elections Voting Rights Roundup
• Election Security: Last week’s bombshell indictments of 12 Russian nationals by special counsel Robert Mueller laid bare the threat to American election security: Russia did indeed hack various Democratic Party organizations and state election systems in an attempt to swing the 2016 elections to both Trump and the congressional GOP. Not only did Trump stand by Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s side on Monday and categorically deny this truth despite all evidence, three days later, congressional Republicans banded together to block Democratic efforts to bolster election security.
Mueller’s recent indictments revealed that Russian intelligence officers hacked into at least one state’s election database and stole information on 500,000 registered voters. That unnamed state was likely Illinois, where election officials had previously said at least 200,000 voters had their information exposed in 2016.
There’s still no evidence that Russian hackers were able to alter election results outright in 2016, and voting methods such as paper ballots would make such an attempt very difficult. However, this interference with voter registration systems suggests that Russia could try to swing elections by removing voters from the rolls or altering their registration data, such as their addresses. That could produce Election Day chaos that deters voters as election officials scramble to correct registration rolls that have been tampered with, or even disenfranchise them altogether.
Following the indictments, news separately broke that one of the country’s top voting machine manufacturers admitted to Congress that it had installed “remote-access” software on some of that hardware that election administrators use to program voting machines and tabulate their results, exacerbating the risk of hacking. And in yet another incident, the FBI notified Maryland officials that the state’s voter registration and online systems were built on software from a firm financed by Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, who is tied to Putin. (There’s no indication that these systems have been compromised—at least, not yet.)
Responding to this cavalcade of disturbing news, congressional Democrats sought to strengthen the integrity of U.S. elections by amending an existing government funding bill that would have given states hundreds of millions of additional dollars to make their election systems more secure, but House Republicans voted as a bloc to reject the amendment. Congress had previously authorized $380 million in funding this year for the federal Election Assistance Commission to provide grants to the states, but officials have been slow to put that money to use by upgrading their election systems.
Beyond the hacking of state election systems, Russia’s hacking of Democratic campaign groups also poses a grave risk to the ability to conduct free and fair elections. Most damningly, the indictments add significant evidence to the charge that Trump himself colluded with Russia to undermine the integrity of the 2016 presidential election. According to the indictments, Russian hackers tried to break into Hillary Clinton’s computer servers for the first time on the very day that Trump publicly implored Russia to hack her emails. [But didn’t succeed. Hillary’s server was apparently the only government or quasi-government server immune to hackers.]
But that attitude of encouraging Russian interference doesn’t just stop with Trump. Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan refused to rule out using hacked information for their political advantage in 2016, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to Ryan, ran ads that year that explicitly relied on stolen documents.
Just last month, NRCC chair Steve Stivers likewise refused to pledge not to use hacked materials in this year’s campaign, and at least one member of his party has gone even further. In one incredible revelation, the indictments say that an unidentified Republican congressional candidate in 2016 actually asked for and received hacked materials to benefit their campaign.
While it’s impossible to say whether or not the hacking of Democratic campaigns damaged them badly enough to swing the 2016 elections, the very possibility of that notion represents a grave threat to democracy that shows no sign of abating. Indeed, a senior Microsoft executive revealed on Thursday that Russia has tried to hack at least three candidates so far this year, contrary to Trump’s baseless assertion that Russia wasn’t trying to interfere with the 2018 elections.
Democrats at the state and federal level could try to implement measures like ballots with paper trails to bolster election security. But the fact that Republicans appear to welcome hacking by a hostile foreign power when it benefits their campaigns is an ominous sign for the future of American democracy.