WASHINGTON – With the 2018 mid-term primaries well underway, Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee released a portion of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and offered a list of recommendations to prevent future election hacking.
The recommendations include establishing a voluntary state election security grant program, but without setting a specific funding level. The committee will conduct an open hearing Wednesday to discuss election security with officials of the Department of Homeland Security, National Association of State Election Directors and the Election Assistance Commission.
“We were all disappointed that states, government, the Department of Homeland Security was not more on their game in advance of the 2016 elections,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Warner and committee chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., presided over a bi-partisan news conference, stressing that foreign adversaries like Russia will be back and that the U.S. should act quickly to adopt their recommendations.
“We need to be more effective at deterring our adversaries,” Burr said. “It is clear that the Russians were looking for the vulnerabilities in our election systems.” He added that Russia attempted to penetrate the election systems of 21 states, and were successful in getting access to one voter database.
The news conference came shortly after President Donald Trump congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on winning re-election over the weekend. Democrats have criticized Trump for not being tough enough on the adversarial nation.
“Russia was trying to undermine the confidence of our election system,” Burr said. “We’re here to express concern, but also confidence in our state and local governments,” Burr said.
The Senate Intel Committee’s preliminary findings do not include any conclusions about whether Trump’s 2016 campaign organization coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the election. By contrast, Republican leaders of the House Intelligence Committee recently ended their investigation by concluding there was no evidence that Trump had colluded with the Russians.
The Senate committee’s six recommendations are geared towards getting states properly funded and creating a clear channel of communication between the states and the federal governments.
The recommendation also push for the U.S. to make clear that an attack on our election system is a “hostile act” and that the Departments of State and Defense should act accordingly and establish new “cyber norms.”
“We need to be more effective at deterring our adversaries,” said Burr. “The Federal government should partner with the states to truly secure their systems.”
Another proposal would create a risk management strategy that may involve using paper ballots to backup computerized and machine tallies and updating and replacing outdated voting systems.
“DHS has picked up its game but there is still much more to do,” Warner said. “There were still 40 states that were operating with election equipment that was more than a decade old . . . Fourteen states used voting equipment that had no auditable paper trail.”
The Intelligence committee says it is preparing an unclassified draft of the results it found looking into the issue of election hacking that will be released at its conclusion.