A whole lot of people expect Russia to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections. 57 percent of Americans think that, not to mention every single intelligence agency. Russia successfully hacked voting machines in 2016.
“We’ve had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter future attacks,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “But we still do not have a plan.”
The House Administration Committee voted along party lines, 6-3, to abolish the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The Commission’s task is to help states run their elections and engineer safeguards for voting machine security.
So, naturally, on the same day that the CIA announced to the Senate that they have already seen evidence that Russia plans to target the 2018 midterms, House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Mississippi) declared that the Election Assistance Commission has outlived its usefulness.
Not only does the intelligence community unanimously say that the midterm elections will be targeted by Russia, but that we aren’t ready. American voting machines have fewer protections against hacking than first-generation iPhones, States lack the finances and resources to upgrade their voting technology making the work of the EAC essential to fighting against Russian intervention.
The EAC has moved aggressively to try to prepare local governments for interference in the 2018 midterm elections. It has been pushing local officials to work with the Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs on “election war games” that simulate foreign cyberattack and attempts to cause mass protests or riots through Russian social engineering.
This uphill battle has been met by House Republicans with an attempt to totally prevent the EAC from performing its crucial role.
Despite the universal agreement of the intelligence community, President Trump has not ordered the creation of any counterintelligence efforts designed to protect the 2018 election, and still staunchly refuses to admit to any Russian interventions or threat of future interventions.
The Senate does not seem to share the House’s enthusiasm to dismantle election protections, however.
“Voting begins in March, that’s next month,” said Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri). “If we’re going to have any impact on securing that voting system itself, it would seem to me, we need to be acting quickly.”
The EAC was established in the wake of the 2000 election, which saw the controversial intervention of the United States Supreme Court in a narrow conservative-aligned decision to appoint George W. Bush President of the United States over Democrat Al Gore. Its two Democrat and two Republican commissioners are appointed to terms by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
In an article for Esquire, Charles Pierce pointed to that controversial election as a cautionary tale about forgetting the dangers of election interference. The dismantling of the EAC is a further demolition of the legacy of concern over election integrity following the 2000 decision.
“I didn’t like how easy it was to forget what happened, and I dread the possibility that something worse happened last November, and I also dread the possibility that, if it is proven to be true, we’ll simply wave it off in time the way we waved off Bush v. Gore,” wrote Pierce. “If we do, we’re dead as a self-governing republic. Simple as that.”
Russian interference in American elections has been called “an act of war” by public figures ranging from Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) to Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney. Even Trump’s own UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has called Russian election interference an act of war.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo didn’t go quite that far, but said the difference between this intervention and an act of war was “complicated.” But Director of National Intelligence Dan Cotes was more direct.
“Frankly, we are under attack,” he said.
Leading political pollsters are predicting a Democratic wave victory in the 2018 midterm elections, although if voting machines are compromised, it’s anyone’s guess if Republicans will maintain control of Congress for the next two years.
Katelyn Kivel is a journalist and political scientist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.