Their Opinion: The Russians are coming; Republicans need to do something about it

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President Donald Trump has shown an alarming unwillingness to respond to Russia's hostile influence campaign during the 2016 election and to counter its effort to interfere in this year's vote. That means Congress and the states must step in, and soon, to secure the midterms against an emboldened adversary that has already penetrated state election systems once and that continues to wield online provocateurs to disseminate lies and inflame national divisions.

Over the past week, the Democratic minority has offered some good suggestions. Will Republicans treat the issue with the same urgency?

House and Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday proposed sending an extra $300 million to the FBI to combat foreign election interference. By contrast, House Republicans have proposed only a slight boost. "Additional funding should be targeted to ensure the resources and manpower to counter the influence of hostile foreign actors operating in the U.S., especially Russian operatives operating on our social media platforms," the Democrats stipulated.

A significant boost for the FBI would no doubt help, but it is far from enough. A report that a House Democratic task force recently released stressed that states, which run elections in the United States, require more federal assistance to build confidence in the integrity of the voting system. Congress already authorized funding under the Help America Vote Act to do things such as improve voting machines, but it has not allocated all the money it authorized. Now would be an ideal time to provide the rest of the cash.

For their part, states should prioritize replacing voting machines that leave no physical paper trail with machines that do, enabling officials to audit election results with more confidence. All states should regularly conduct audits of a representative sample of paper ballots. They should also increase oversight of the vendors from whom they buy election equipment and software.

The amount of money the federal government would spend facilitating these reforms and safeguards is tiny relative to the interest the nation has in ensuring the integrity of the vote — and voter confidence.

Elements of the Trump administration have shown more interest in the issue than the president. Department of Homeland Security officials briefed state secretaries of state about foreign election interference at a conference last weekend. But state officials nevertheless complained that they still need to hear more from federal authorities responsible for monitoring foreign threats.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday a Justice Department panel that will examine a variety of cyberthreats. But it is not focused on election security, and it will not report back until June, just a handful of months before the next election and well into the primary season.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who for some reason is still permitted to serve as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on Wednesday made light of Russian attacks on the nation's democratic system, including this request in a tweet: "If you are a Russian Bot please make this go viral."

More mature voices in the party must assert themselves over the next month.

— The Washington Post


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