The forgotten tragedy of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial — whether the U.S. Senate finds its soul and allows a full and fair hearing complete with government-withheld documents and witnesses — is that our elections still remain vulnerable to foreign interference.
We know it. And our government is doing little to nothing about it — unless you consider our president's invitations to those foreigners to keep right on interfering as doing something. Unless you consider Republican Senate members' serial votes to table Democrats' requests for new subpoenas of pertinent documents and witnesses.
Thanks to the Senate's habit of calling for roll-call votes in alphabetical order, we also heard loud and clear our senators' votes to ignore justice and fairness. Tennessee Republicans Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn, along with Georgia Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue wasted no breaths voting to table Democratic motions seeking witnesses and evidentiary documents at the front end of the president's trial.
We're nearly four years out from Trump inviting "Russia, if you're listening ... ," and that country's next-day hacking of computers at the Democratic National Committee headquarters to cheat in his 2016 election. Now we're just months away from our nation's 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, we're right now watching the president's impeachment trial, based on his ask of Ukraine in July to investigate his top 2020 Democratic opponent and find evidence to discredit the Mueller probe's finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Reasonable people would expect that securing American elections against foreign interference — forget securing our free and fair elections from a corrupt and cheating president — ought be an urgent and bipartisan priority.
Yet even in the face of all our security agencies saying our elections are still at risk, much of our government dithers. Even in the face of former special counsel Robert Mueller's finding of "sweeping and systematic" interference by Russia in the 2016 election and continuing "as we sit here." Even after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report detailing how Russian hackers targeted some form of election systems in all 50 states between 2014 and 2017.
Legislation passed in June by the House to protect our elections has languished on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Kentucky.
The Securing America's Federal Elections Act, would authorize $600 million for states to bolster election security and provide another $175 million biannually to help sustain election infrastructure.
Astonishingly, only one Republican House member joined the Democrats in voting for this important legislation, which also would require implementation of cybersecurity safeguards for hardware and software used in elections, bar the use of wireless communication devices in election systems and require electronic voting machines to be manufactured in the United States.
Why? What wouldn't the GOP like about election security? After all, they are usually the folks screaming about election fraud.
Answer: It was federal "overreach" into elections, which are managed by states and localities.
"The Democrats' bill focuses on forcing states to restructure their election systems through federal mandates and ignores states' rights to choose the election system that best fits their unique needs," Rep. Rodney Davis told Rollcall.com at the time.
In September, McConnell — apparently smarting from the nickname of "Moscow Mitch" — did grudgingly agree to allocate an additional $250 million for election security in an annual spending bills.
Experts have estimated what's needed is closer to $2.2 billion, and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, one of the leading Democrats on voting security issues, called the extra allocation a joke: "This amendment doesn't even require the funding be spent on election security," he said in a statement. "Giving states taxpayer money to buy hackable, paperless machines or systems with poor cybersecurity is a waste."
He's right. Our election systems are still ridiculously easy to crack — even if you discount Russian bots, Facebook and other social media noise.
In August, friendly hackers in a DefCon conference's "Voting Machine Hacking Village" in Las Vegas — an annual event intended to highlight both new and unaddressed vulnerabilities riddling U.S. election systems in every state — found plenty to worry about.
"Researchers assembled over 100 voting machines. Hackers broke into every single one," organizers said.
As a matter of fact, those DefCon hackers were able to use a screwdriver to get inside a ballot-scanning machine similar to what will soon be used across Georgia. Once they were in, they also were able to replace a memory card and effectively take control of the machine that counts votes. The friendly hackers also found they could alter how scanners similar to those used in Tennessee would read and count ballots. At least in Tennessee, there are paper back-ups, but what happens while we wait for recounts?
Just think: Super Tuesday (and the Tennessee primary) on March 3 is just 37 days away.