Newell: Stop the political free-for-all on election security and get to work!

We don't need to create new layers of bureaucracy to secure the 2020 election

Newell Normand
August 08, 2019 - 5:06 pm

Most experts, analysts and protectors of US security say our 2020 elections are at risk of serious foreign intervention and disinformation. So why won't the Senate protect us from these threats? Trolls, liars and hackers all over the world are rarin' to go, but have we learned anything from 2016?

To kick the discussion off, Newell invited Darrell West onto the program to lend an expert's perspective. West is the Vice President and Director for Governance Studies and Founding Director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC.

 "There are bills being presented in the Senate, and Mitch McConnell's not taking any of them up - what's behind all this?" Newell asked.

"This will shock you, but it's pure politics," West replied. "The House passed legislation that would help the states upgrade their equipment and would provide technical assistance so they could deal with the threats from Russia and other countries and the Senate is just refusing to have a vote. It's likely if there were a vote the Senate would pass this because this legislation has bipartisan support, but McConnell does not want to allow a vote."

Is there legitimate concern about the Federal government getting more and more involved in what is typically been viewed as a state issue, the manner in which they handle elections?

"States and localities do handle much of our elections and that is the way it should be and every state can set it up the way they want, but the Federal government has always provided funding for the states to upgrade their equipment - many states also do not have the technical assistance to deal with cyber security threats. We know Russia hacked into many Secretary of State voter databases in 2016, so the states can use the money and technical assistance so they can decide how to protect themselves the best."

Hear Newell's full interview with West below.

Afterwards, Newell spoke about how he reacted to the bills sitting on McConnell's desk, having done his own research - and he concluded that there is a lot more America could be doing to shore up our voting systems even if none of those new bills ever see the light of day. 

"When I begin to look at these bills, there's a duplication of effort. There's already existing laws that empower certain agencies to do certain things, so why would we want to build a whole new bureaucracy? Its a waste of time and money. Let's build on what we have and bring these activities under one umbrella and deal with it. None of these bills do that, they just add more bureaucracy. That's not gonna make me feel any better about this!"

We often hear about benevolent "white hat" hackers who work for governments or corporations, and whose entire job is to try to crack their security systems so their client understands where the vulnerabilities are. Shouldn't America be trying out a similar method?

"It would seem that our prioritization would be to charge somebody with the authority to go and try to penetrate our own systems, to do the vulnerability assessment on our own systems right now! Why should we wait for freaking Russia to do it? Why don't we do it? We're smarter than they are, why don't we collectively try to beat our own system and see if we can do it? If we were really concerned about this and really wanted to accomplish something as opposed to setting up some politically motivated Federal bureaucracy, compel DHS to develop a unit to go out and do this. 50 different states, develop a team, finance it, try to have them penetrate state systems every day. That would seem to be to be the best money spent."

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