America needs to spend an estimated $900 million to upgrade its election cybersecurity in order to stop Russia from once again attacking electronic ballot boxes and influencing the 2020 election. However, the White House’s 2020 budget proposal released on Monday does not provide any additional funding, nor does it even address the issue of election security.
In January, intelligence community leaders told Congress that Russia meddled in the 2016 and 2018 elections and — based on assessments of every branch of the intelligence apparatus — that they were certain Russia is planning to interfere in the upcoming 2020 election. But voting equipment in many states is aging and does not have the security features needed to ward off hacking threats from foreign adversaries such as Russia, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, told ThinkProgress he is hopeful Congress will reject the White House’s budget proposal and provide additional funds in next year’s budget to help respond to the threat, as it did last year. But, he added, it is “unfortunate” that the White House continues to ignore the issue entirely.
“I think it’s unfortunate that they haven’t made clear that it’s a budget priority,” said Norden. “I think there is no question to most Americans that this is a matter of national security and very important.”
Last year, Congress provided $380 million to help states boost election cybersecurity, purchase new voting equipment, and improve post-election audits. But another $900 million is needed to address the cybersecurity threat nationwide, J. Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society, told members of the House Appropriations Committee last month.
“We have an aging infrastructure that is vulnerable to an attack,” Norden said. “And the intelligence community and the intelligence committees in both chambers of Congress have also recognized that 2020 is the election that we have to be very worried about.”
White House officials did not immediately respond to questions about why the budget did not include election security funds on Tuesday.
The Trump administration is not the first to ignore the threat of election security. Former President Barack Obama, for instance, did not include any additional election security funds in his 2016 budget. America’s election security vulnerabilities were known at the time the Obama administration drafted the budget proposal. However, Norden said, the 2016 election changed everything and proved that foreign enemies can hack into America’s systems and influence elections.
“Russia’s social media efforts will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities, and criticizing perceived anti-Russia politicians,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned Congress in January. “Moscow may employ additional influence toolkits — such as spreading disinformation, conducting hack-and-leak operations, or manipulating data — in a more targeted fashion to influence U.S. policy, actions, and elections.”
Nonetheless, President Donald Trump has denied the assessment that Russia is still targeting U.S. elections.
Is Russia still targeting the US? Trump says, "No." pic.twitter.com/L5ZY9DE4r1
— Meg Wagner (@megwagner) July 18, 2018
Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with the country to influence the election in Trump’s favor or to bolster their business dealings.
So far, Mueller has indicted six former Trump officials or advisers, as well as dozens of Russian nationals who peddled fake news through social media and hacked the emails of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair in an effort to influence the election in favor of Trump. (That campaign chair, John Podesta, is a founder of the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)
Trump also ignored the election security threat during his State of the Union speech last month — only briefly mentioning the Mueller investigation from the perspective that it is unjustified and dangerous and that the “ridiculous partisan investigations” needed to end or the United States cannot achieve peace.
As Trump continues to ignore the issue, Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute described how the very real threat of a hurricane or cyberattack could disrupt electoral votes and throw an election into chaos.
In the House, the top three presidential candidates with electoral votes would be considered, with each state casting one vote and 26 votes required to elect a president. Any election done in this fashion would have a president chosen with an enormous taint of illegitimacy. And the House, with significantly less than 50 states voting, might not even be able to select a winner.