Sohn: Russia and GOP wage war on voting

Sohn: Russia and GOP wage war on voting

February 12th, 2018 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Staff files photo by Doug Strickland / A poll worker sets out "I Voted" stickers on an early-voting day in Chattanooga during the 2016 elections.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Voting is among the most important of American freedoms.

We've said it before, and we will say it again and again.

But the Trump administration, and apparently Congress, seem concerned only about possible voter fraud if the voters are stereotypical American Democratic voters — young, of color, or women whose names may differ with their drivers licenses due to marriage or divorce.

While the Trump administration and a conservative advocacy group known as the Public Interest Legal Foundation threaten lawsuits against 248 county election officials in 24 states (including Georgia and Alabama) if they don't purge voters, Trump and conservative leaders ignore a near unanimous and bipartisan vote of Congress last summer to sanction Russia for its known meddling in our 2016 election. This was meddling that our intelligence, homeland safety officials and secretary of state contend will likely happen again in the upcoming 2018 midterms unless we do more to stop it.

It is a sad backdrop to the news that a U.S. cybersecurity official said last Wednesday, and for the second time in just a few months, that Russia targeted 21 states and "successfully penetrated" the voter rolls in some of them.

"We were able to determine that the scanning and probing of voter registration databases was coming from the Russian government," said Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, during an interview with NBC News.

It also was Manfra who first revealed to the Senate Intelligence Committee last June that the states had their systems targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the election. Officials told NBC there is no evidence any of the voter rolls were altered in any way. And they said most of the targeting amounted to mere "preparations" for hacking, such as probing for vulnerabilities.

Now we're told that, well, no, there was more. Illinois' voting system was breached, Arizona's was sort of breached. And we know, for sure, that systems in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin were, at the very least, "targeted."

Bloomberg has revealed that the Russian intrusion in America's election systems was actually more widespread than the Department of Homeland Security let on: In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in 39 states, according to Bloomberg's research and reporting.

But that was only part of Russia's mischief. None of the voting infrastructure hacking in any way included Russian efforts to meddle with our heads through social media before the 2016 election.

Russia ran a clandestine online campaign using fake American Facebook and Twitter accounts to spread anti-Clinton messages. We're talking at least 50,000 Russian accounts that made 2.1 million election-related tweets in the fall of 2016 — which alone accounted for 4.25 percent of the retweets of Trump's own account. On Facebook, Russian's twisted messages reached the eyes of at least 126 million Americans.

But Trump isn't interested in any of that. In fact, he still calls all of it "the Russia ruse." He can't acknowledge it because that would indicate he's not really an American-elected president.

Trump legitimacy aside, more than half of Americans — 57 percent — now think Russia will try to influence this year's midterm elections, according to the results of a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll released Wednesday — and most, 55 percent, don't think the government is doing enough to stop it.

Eight in 10 Americans, or 79 percent, also are concerned that the country's voting systems might be vulnerable to computer hackers. To our minds, that means eight in 10 Americans are not buying government assurances that the votes they have or might cast are the votes that have or might get counted.

Combine the purge push and the Russia concerns with deliberate partisan gerrymandering in many states, and the result is a war on voting. Pennsylvania offers the best recent gerrymandering example.

In a state where Republicans and Democrats poll more or less equally statewide, conservative-majority gerrymandering allows Republicans to hold 13 of the state's 18 seats in Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Pennsylvania's congressional district map as unconstitutionally partisan. Last week, the court ordered the state commonwealth to fairly redraw its districts by Feb. 15.

It's bad enough that we let our lawmakers threaten to rig our democracy in the name of party. We must not also stand by and let our president and the GOP make excuses for a foreign government's work to erode our votes.

We must defend and exercise our voting rights if we want to preserve our democracy.

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