Inaction leaves U.S. democracy vulnerable to foreign agitation and mayhem

Our editorial on May 3 asked in its headline, “Will Republicans protect Trump or U.S. democracy?” The answer is becoming clearer with each passing day and, tragically, it is not democracy that is being protected.

One Republican in particular, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is playing a lead role in blocking efforts to protect our nation’s 2020 election from foreign interference. McConnell has not allowed any substantive bills aimed at protecting the integrity of our elections to get to a Senate vote. But other congressional Republicans share the blame because they have made no effort to force McConnell to budge.

On his morning MSNBC political talk show, “Morning Joe,” former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough on Friday borrowed from President Trump’s playbook and handed the Senate leader a nickname — “Moscow Mitch.” It is apt given McConnell’s unwillingness, thus far, to take any steps to block Moscow from again messing with our elections.

Inaction invites having an election result that large segments of the U.S. population do not accept as legitimate. It is hard to imagine anything more damaging to our democracy.

Perhaps it is because McConnell calculates that Russian interference is again likely to favor Trump as it did in 2016. How awfully unpatriotic that reasoning would be. Or maybe the Senate leader fears that Republican support for safeguards would suggest Trump’s 2016 victory was tainted, which to an extent it was.

The Mueller investigation established that multiple members of Trump’s campaign, businesses, and family interacted with individuals linked to the Russian government, but none reported these contacts to law-enforcement agencies.

Russian hackers stole email records from Democratic leaders and used the information to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton, while Trump applauded and urged them on. Russian operatives flooded social media with false information meant to move targeted voters toward Trump in key states.

And the meddling continues, said special counsel Robert Mueller in his testimony to a House committee on Wednesday.

“They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” said Mueller. He warned of the potential for “long-term damage to the United States that we need to move quickly to address.”

But on this issue, at least, turtles move faster than Moscow Mitch.

On Thursday the Senate Intelligence Committee issued findings documenting that voting software and records were probed and targeted in all 50 states, perhaps to find vulnerabilities that a foreign adversary could use to generate chaos in the 2020 election. Ten states use voting machines with no paper trail to audit, meaning a successful hacking of voting software could leave election officials unable to verify results.

Yet Moscow Mitch has held up a $775 million House-passed bill that would pay for improved and less vulnerable election systems and replace machines that do not leave a paper trail. Connecticut does retain the paper ballots that are scanned by vote-counting machines.

Also stalled is a Senate bill, the “Duty to Report Act,” whose authors include Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat. It would require candidates and campaigns to notify the FBI if anyone representing a foreign power offers information on that candidate’s opponents. It would be a crime for candidates, their immediate families, or people involved with their campaigns to fail to notify the FBI if any of them are told about, offered, or receive in an unsolicited way nonpublic information about another person running for the same office.

It is dumbfounding that McConnell will not allow a vote on the legislation.

Asked during his testimony whether, without such a law, candidate acceptance of foreign information could become the new normal, Mueller offered a chilling response.

“I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is,” he said.

The American people cannot allow foreign forces to infiltrate our elections, leaving the candidates elected vulnerable to foreign influence and blackmail. They must insist our elected leaders fix this or elect new leaders who will.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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