Wamp: Protecting our elections should be top priority

Wamp: Protecting our elections should be top priority

June 14th, 2019 by Zach Wamp in Opinion Columns

Imagine that an Iranian spy posed as a political candidate running for office — and you didn't find out until after the election. Now imagine that the letters to the editor, blogs and online ads talking about issues you care about — like the economy, health care or immigration — were written by Russia, Iran and other foreign powers and placed in your hometown paper or Facebook feed.

All of those things actually happened — and voters did not find out until well-after Election Day. Those nefarious tactics were part of systematic and targeted efforts by authoritarian regimes and foreign actors trying to disrupt our political system and how we elect our leaders.

And nothing has been done since 2016 and 2018 to stop those actions. Our leaders have not stepped up and treated this like the crisis it is. Both parties have yet to come together to secure our elections, and President Trump has yet to seize the moment to prove he can stand tall against foreign adversaries trying to sabotage our elections.

If Congress refuses to act and things stay the same, every American should be worried about Russia and others undermining the 2020 presidential election. But what's at stake in the next election is not simply who controls the White House or Congress — this is bigger than that. What's at stake is the foundation of what makes us Americans: Freedom to choose and elect who we want in office, without dictators, authoritarians or foreign countries standing in our way.

The good news is that there is a cohort of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate that are working together on these issues. Republican Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina along with their Democratic counterparts, Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Mionnesota, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, and Mark Warner of Virginia are rchitects of legislation to prevent foreign actors from interfering in 2020 and beyond. This core group is critical to building bipartisan consensus in the Senate to match the same energy in the House where dozens of representatives from both parties are also working together on solutions.

Other current legislation would levy sanctions on Russia if it continues undermining our elections, or would provide states with greater resources to administer elections, and equip the Homeland Security Department to better deal with cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. The leading bill to counter foreign actors from interfering in our elections — The Honest Ads Act — would implement a disclosure system for paid online political advertising that mimics rules that already apply to television and radio. (Think of the "paid for by X" line you see on advertisements.) This would allow Americans to see if Russia, Iran or another foreign actor is trying to influence their vote through online political ads that run on Facebook, Twitter and Google.

The legislation is sponsored by 16 Republicans and 17 Democrats in the House and Senate — and more members of Congress add their names to the bill every week.

We need to turbo-charge this growing momentum. And we have to act fast, because the major political parties and campaigns are still ill-equipped to prevent or respond to the major cyber attacks and digital deception that will come their way in the 2020 election cycle.

This is a national emergency that deserves a bold and comprehensive national response. Anything less doesn't meet the challenge.

Zach Wamp served East Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District from 1995 to 2011. He is co-chairman of Issue One's ReFormers Caucus. www.issueone.org. Contact him at zwamp@issueone.org.

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