A Threat to Our Democracy: Is the Response Adequate? 
Sept. 9, 2016
Oct. 1, 2016
Oct. 10, 2016
Apr. 21, 2017

July 31, 2017 Dec. 2017 Feb. 24, 2018

 
"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election...  Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or 'trolls.'”

                   - Intelligence Community Assessment, Jan. 6, 2017

"There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts have been successful and views the 2018 midterm US elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations."

      - Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Feb. 13, 2018

Russian measures to influence the 2016 U.S. campaign were multifaceted, ranging from the hacking and release of politically sensitive emails, to promulgation of fake news, to targeting state and local election boards.  Even if no evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign is found, Russian interference into American and other democracies must be fully investigated so that measures can be implemented to deter future meddling.

The question of how to counteract Russian meddling is complicated because there are so many areas to address, ranging from protecting election systems from hacking to the campaign to create "fake news" and use social media to spread disinformation and misinformation.

Some of the Russian activity became apparent during the campaign, but many details have only emerged and are continuing to emerge as a result of investigations on Capitol Hill and by special counsel Robert Mueller.  In July 2016 the hacking and release of the Podesta and DNC emails attracted much attention (1, 2).  On Aug. 31, 2016 the Illinois State Board of Elections announced that in July it became aware of "a cyber-attack of unknown origin which targeted the Illinois Voter Registration System database (+)."  Other election boards were targeted as well.  In the months following the 2016 election, investigations into Russian meddling ramped up. 
As 2017 progressed, there was a steady drip-drip-drip of Russia related stories, but thus far there has not been a concerted bipartisan response as there was following the 2000 Bush-Gore debacle in Florida.
 
The absence of leadership or even expressions of concern about Russian meddling from President Trump is very troubling.  Trump has repeatedly dismissed any possibility that he or his campaign colluded with Russia, calling such charges a "witch hunt."  Collusion is not the issue; the issue is ongoing Russian meddling in US and other democracies.  Trump has ignored and downplayed clear evidence of this; at the same time he alleged, without evidence widespread voter fraud.  For example on Nov. 27, 2016 then President-Elect Trump tweeted: "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."  In Jan. 2017 President Trump claimed 3-5 million illegal ballots had been cast in the 2016 campaign.  Trump's administration proceeded with a controversial Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to look into voter fraud, but that effort proved to be a fiasco and he terminated it in Jan. 2018.  While there have been a few isolated incidents of voter fraud, the multipronged Russian attack on our democracy appears much more worrisome, but Trump has not acted on that. 

It remains to be seen if effective measures can be taken to stop such interference in time for the 2018 mid-term elections.  At the federal level, a key process step was then Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson's designation on Jan. 6, 2017 of election infrastructure as "critical infrastructure."  Following up on this, on Oct. 14 an Election Infrastructure Subsector Government Coordinating Council (GCC) was formalized to coordinate between DHS and election officials as well as the private sector.  The relationship between DHS and election officials has proved a bit bumpy, but much work is being done by election officials and the private sector to ensure election systems are protected (report). 

On Capitol Hill a number of bills have been introduced and other activity taken to address election security, but the bipartisan sense of urgency on might expect on this issue seems to be missing.  For example, in June 2017 House Democrats formed their own Congressional Task Force on Election Security.  On Feb. 14, 2018 members of the task force released their report and recommendations and a bill, the Election Security Act (H.R. 5011), which would provide more federal resources to the states.

A more challenging question is how to deal with fake news and the use of social media to spread disinformation and misinformation.  Social media companies are taking measures, but how effective those will prove remains to be seen.

Resources

U.S. Election Assistance Commission - Election Security Preparedness  | 
Elections - Critical Infrastructure

National Association of Secretaries of State - Election Cybersecurity


German Marshall Fund - Alliance for Securing Democracy



Selected Press Releases
Aug. 15, 2016 - DHS Election Security Call

Sept. 13, 2016 - U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology Hearing: Protecting the 2016 Elections from Cyber and Voting Machine Attacks

Sept. 14, 2016 - Senator Carper Urges Nation’s Governors to Take Steps to Maintain Confidence in State Election Systems

Oct. 7, 2016 - Joint Statement from the Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security

Jan. 6, 2017 - DHS Statement by Secretary Jeh Johnson on the Designation of Election Infrastructure as a Critical Infrastructure Subsector

Feb. 24, 2017 - NASS: States Form Election Cybersecurity Task Force, Call on Federal Government to Rescind "Critical Infrastructure" Designation for Elections

March 20, 2017 - NASS: BRIEFING: Key Facts and Findings on Cybersecurity and Foreign Targeting of the 2016 U.S. Elections [PDF]

June 21, 2017 - U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing:
US Election Security: Russian Interventions and the Outlook for 2018 and Beyond

July 18, 2017 - Belfer Center Launches “Defending Digital Democracy” Project To Fight Cyber Attacks and Protect Integrity of Elections

Oct. 14. 2017 - Elections Government Sector Coordinating Council Established, Charter Adopted

Dec. 21, 2017 - Klobuchar, Lankford, Harris, Graham Introduce Bipartisan Election Security Bill

Jan. 9, 2018 - Letter from House Ranking Committee Members to Speaker Ryan Charging House Republicans’ With Refusing to Fully Investigate Russia’s Threat to Our Democracy and National Security

Jan. 10, 2018 - U.S. Senator Ben Cardin Releases Report Detailing Decades of Putin's Attacks on Democracy, Calling for Policy Changes to Counter Kremlin Threat Ahead of 2018, 2020 Elections

Jan. 16, 2018 - Rubio, Van Hollen Introduce Legislation To Deter Foreign Interference In American Elections

Feb. 8, 2018 - House Judiciary Democrats Call for Emergency Hearings after Administration Official Reveals Russia Hacked U.S. Voter Rolls in 2016

Feb. 14, 2018 - Election Security Task Force Releases Final Report & Recommendations

March 8, 2018 - Brennan Center for Justice: Almost No Progress in Key Areas of Election System Security in Last Two Years

Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (May 2017-Jan. 2018) [website]
May 11, 2017 - Executive Order: Establishment of Presidential Advisory Commisssion on Election Integrity
May-July 2017 - Further Developments on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity
July 19, 2017 - First Meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity

Sept. 12, 2017 - Second Meeting

Jan. 3, 2018 - Executive Order: Termination of Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity

The  3 to 5 million figure comes from news accounts of Trump's Jan. 23, 2017 reception with congressional leaders at the White House. 
See:  Abby Phillip and Michael DeBonis.  "Without evidence, Trump tells lawmakers 3 million to 5 million illegal ballots cost him the popular vote." Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2017.



Also of interest
:
Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Sam Biddle and Ryan Grim.  "Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election."  The Intercept, June 5, 2017.


revised March 8, 2018