WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Ron Wyden doesn’t think America has done enough to keep next year’s presidential election safe from foreign hackers. And he’s worried about a repeat of 2016.
“We still don’t have the basic reforms that are necessary for 2020,” Wyden (D-OR) explained in his Capitol Hill office.
As Congress waits for special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report on how Russia tried to sway the presidential election in 2016, Wyden is prepping legislation that would require states to use hand-marked paper ballots and to audit their election results.
A similar bill, called the PAVE Act, died in committee last year. Now Wyden hopes the Mueller report, the U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessments that Russia interfered in 2016, and the looming 2020 election will bring some of his Republican colleagues on board. He plans to refile the legislation in the next few weeks.
“I hope the Republicans will start paying attention to the independent computer scientists who say, one, we’ve got to have hand-marked paper ballots so that we have real protection against hacking by hostile foreign powers, and then we have those risk-limiting audits,” Wyden told ThinkProgress.
The special counsel sent his findings, which have not been made public, to Attorney General William Barr last week. According to Barr, Mueller’s report lays out details of how Russian hackers attacked state election offices, the Democratic Party, and the Hillary Clinton campaign, then used the information they stole to fuel a sophisticated social media manipulation effort.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement that he hopes the report “will help inform and improve our efforts to protect our democracy.”
That rhetoric hasn’t always been matched with actions. Last August, McConnell and other congressional Republicans voted against $250 million in additional funding to help states secure the midterm elections. Only one Republican senator, Bob Corker (TN), voted for the measure, while three others abstained. That vote came after Congress approved an initial $380 million package for states to secure their elections.
A spokesperson for McConnell did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
There’s no evidence Russia targeted voting machines as part of its efforts in 2016. But security experts have long warned that many of the machines are vulnerable to foreign hackers and other cyber criminals. They’re also more prone to mechanical failures than paper ballots.
Jadana Donely, 45, waited four hours to vote last November after the electronic voting machines broke down at Annistown Elementary School, in Snellville, Georgia, a largely minority Democratic stronghold north of Atlanta.
“There’s so many people that you either have the time off in the morning or you have the time off in the evening,” Donely told ThinkProgress after casting her ballot. “Now, you may not get that time off in the evening if you’ve left, you know. And so it’s sad, because not they may not be able to vote.”
With 2020 candidates already hitting the campaign trail, Wyden and other Democratic lawmakers say the federal government needs to step in to prevent a repeat of what happened in 2016 and 2018.
“A country like ours, for a sum of money that is much less than you would spend for Donald Trump’s misguided idea of a wall, we can protect American democracy,” Wyden said. “What is more sacred than our franchise?”