Foreign interference in our elections is an American crisis
McGehee is executive director of Issue One, a cross-partisan political reform group. (It is incubating, but journalistically independent from, The Fulcrum.) She leads its Don't Mess With US project to stop foreign interference in our elections.
The debate around election security has been fierce and full of misinformation in recent days. Now that it's circled all the way back around to the cable news and pundit class, it is time to clear the air around what's quickly devolved into a partisan, points-scoring exercise.
Foreign interference is a national crisis, and stopping foreign interference is about the integrity of our elections, not political wins.
Remember: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and others don't see political party; they see weaknesses and vulnerabilities to exploit and divide our nation. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and we need a strong and unified response because they are working to weaken America as we speak. This impacts all of us.
So here are the facts. More than 120 million Americans saw disinformation spread by the Russians in 2016. They targeted election systems in all 50 states and hacked the voting databases in Florida and Illinois, stole personal information on 500,000 U.S. voters and were positioned to manipulate voter registration data. Foreign cyberattacks undermined candidates in both parties in the past election cycle — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Hillary Clinton and more — and foreign operatives tried to impersonate candidates for office. The heads of the intelligence and national security communities have repeatedly emphasized that foreign attacks are stemming from Russia and other countries including China, Iran, and North Korea.
While some states are moving ahead with their own election security efforts, at least 10 secretaries of state, from both parties, have been pleading for more money to help protect their election systems in 2020 and beyond. That's because while they don't need Washington telling them how to run their elections, these states want more resources and training. Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, previewed this problem for a House Appropriations subcommittee when he said this of the Russian government: "I know what they did in '16. I know what they tried to do in '18. What will they do in 2020? That's what keeps me up at night."
Republicans and Democrats in Congress get this. There are a handful of bipartisan bills in the House and Senate, sponsored by members of the Intelligence committees, that would serve to directly plug loopholes in our elections that foreign actors are looking to exploit in 2020 and beyond: The Secure Elections Act would help better safeguard our political system while reaffirming each state's role in administering federal elections; the Honest Ads Act would directly counter the tactics used throughout the 2016 election that led to more than 126 million Americans consuming disinformation; the DETER Act would sanction countries found to be interfering in our elections; the Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act would modernize and enforce lobbying laws on the books and impose real penalties for rule breakers; the Shell Company Abuse Act would stop foreigners from using tax loopholes to engage in illegal political activity.
These are just five important steps Congress could take immediately to prevent foreign disruption in our political system.
There is no silver bullet to election security but we have to take action now. That's why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a staunch opponent of security measures that would "federalize" elections, has begun to change his tune and has expressed openness to compromise. That is positive.
This is not about 2016. It's about 2020, 2022 and every election beyond. No foreign power should be able to interfere with our elections and how we choose our leaders. This is America and we must protect our sacred electoral process. It's time for Congress to place the needs of the country over allegiance to their political parties.
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In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.