By Patricia H Kushlis
In the unlikely event you haven’t followed this story, Russian intelligence services directed by Putin made a mockery of the 2016 US presidential elections. Not only did they plant fictitious stories – otherwise known as disinformation – in US social and other media in states where the outcome was close and the vote should have gone to the Democrats if past history is still relevant – their efforts were just enough to discredit Hillary Clinton and turn the Electoral College tide to the advantage of the unlikely and unqualified GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In addition, we now know that Russian intelligence also hacked into 39 states electoral computer systems compromising as many as 21 of them. I haven’t seen the names of most – I don’t think they’ve been publicly released although that needs to happen - but one of the 21 that has been named publicly is Illinois.
Please understand, the actions of Russian intelligence are not a one shot deal. As former FBI Director James Comey stated under oath in his Senate Intelligence Committee public hearing, they will be coming back.
Come to think of it, how do we know Russian intelligence didn’t just interfere in the razor thin Georgia District 6 House race? Could there be traces of Fancy Bear pawprints on District 6 electoral rolls, as a for instance? Do we know? We don’t unless the state of Georgia used Optiscan equipment or simply paper ballots which it has not done in the past.
Did Georgia provide adequate protection and change its voting equipment in District 6 from the old touchscreen electronic voting machines which do not leave a paper trail making a recount impossible as well as making it far more difficult to determine whether the machines had been hacked? Not from what I can tell.
What reminded me of this possibility is the vulnerability of the Georgia electoral system. A judge has recently denied the request of two Georgia voters and an advocacy group - in a lawsuit designed to force the state to fix this glaring vulnerability. What was the reason for the denial? It was, according to the judge that the plaintiffs “did not produce enough evidence to demonstrate any concrete harm.”
Excuse me? Are potential fraudulent election results not harmful to the voters and the country as a whole? Hasn’t it been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the old touchscreen machines are vulnerable to all sorts of hanky-panky and should have been retired everywhere long ago?
Or should we just be inured to having our elections hacked by a country or countries that have, in effect, declared war on us and our democratic values and are using electronic means to not just eavesdrop, purloin emails and influence our elections through subsequent Wikileaks dumps and fake news but also skew the results at the polling stations by playing around with the voter rolls and/or changing the votes on machines where there is no recount possible?
And why - not so by the way - do the Republicans seem oblivious?
Because those skewed results are thus far going in their favor? Is that really a good enough reason? Who knows, the skewing could occur to their detriment and really, it seems strange t o me that the traditionally anti-Communist, anti-Moscow, pro-US defense party would sell itself to that devil – except that’s what appears to be happening from the White House to the Halls of Congress.
It’s almost shades of Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita except that the devil is now attacking the US not descending on an insane asylum in Moscow in the 1930s.
So, are their ways that can be employed to protect American elections from further foreign intrusions – that is, until the short term beneficiaries who continue to keep their heads in the sand like proverbial ostriches, begin to understand that foreign electronic intervention can be turned against them as well as used to embarrass and weaken the US abroad and become part of the solution?
Well yes, there are ways that we as American citizens can protect our own vote as well as ways that the country can do so as a whole.
First and foremost, as voters, we can check and double check our statewide voter rolls online to see that our own voter information – address, name spelling and party registration - is correct and that our names have not been tampered with making our vote invalid or that our name and voter information suddenly has evaporated into the ether. Registrations are made at the county level but registrants' names are transferred from the County Clerk’s Office to the Secretary of State in each US state prior to an election.
Second, we can help to make sure that any irregularities are reported in the media whether local, state or national. The Fourth Estate really is democracy’s watch-dog.
Third, party designated poll watchers help to ensure that elections are run fairly. It doesn’t hurt to have international monitors observing the elections in close races either.
Fourth, we can and should exercise the right to vote and we should put pressure on state and county election officials to make it possible for us to do so on election day or through absentee or early voting without having to jump through hoops or begging an employer to let us off work to get to the polls in time.
Ultimately, at the national level, the federal government should designate all elections for candidates running for national office as part of the US national security infrastructure and make the requisite funds available for each and every county (that’s where the elections are run) to purchase, maintain and be able to operate state of the art voting equipment. This includes ensuring the ability to have paper ballots to count in the event of a challenge to electronically produced results. Furthermore, state and countywide voter rolls need to be protected from hacking – and that information, expertise and funding will need to come from the federal government. We cannot expect the counties and the states to do it alone. But this, unfortunately, is unlikely to happen, until and and unless the GOP realizes that its uncanny relationship with Moscow is no longer in its interest and that country needs to be put over party once again.