Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016.
Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Why McConnell sees election-security safeguards as ‘partisan’

Leading U.S. officials have repeatedly warned Congress of late that our elections are still at risk from foreign attackers, most notably Russia, which helped elect Donald Trump three years ago. Just this week, FBI Director Christopher Wray reminded Congress that despite sanctions, Russia is determined to interfere in our elections, while former Special Counsel Robert Mueller was even less subtle.

Asked about Russia’s 2016 attack, Mueller testified, “Oh, this wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here – and they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

It’s against this backdrop that Democratic senators urged their colleagues yesterday to pass two bills: one that would require voting systems to use backup paper ballots and mandate tech safeguards, and another that would require campaigns to report attempts at foreign elections interference to federal authorities.

Predictably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked both, but I was struck by the rhetoric he used to defend his position. The Hill reported:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked two election security measures on Thursday, arguing Democrats are trying to give themselves a “political benefit.” […]

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had tried to get consent Thursday to pass a House bill that requires the use of paper ballots and includes funding for the Election Assistance Commission. It passed the House 225-184 with one Republican voting for it.

But McConnell objected, saying Schumer was trying to pass “partisan legislation.”

I suppose there’s a degree of literal truth to the idea that this debate has become “partisan”: Democrats seem eager to pass new election-security safeguards, while Republicans don’t.

But there’s a reason that’s unsatisfying: it leads to the unavoidable question of why GOP leaders – most notably McConnell, who refused to act when told of the Russian attack in 2016 – insist on seeing this issue through a partisan lens.

The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman pulled back the curtain on the Republicans’ motivations.

The legislation to which McConnell refers, the one that passed the House, is pretty straightforward. It requires voter-verifiable paper ballots and voting machines that don’t connect directly to the Internet, so that recounts can be done accurately and there’s less vulnerability to hacking. It gives states money to secure their systems. It instructs the Election Assistance Commission to do a study to determine optimal ballot designs to minimize voter confusion and errors.

You wouldn’t think there’s anything there that would particularly advantage one party over another. But that’s only if you didn’t know how voting really works in this country.

When we’ve reached the point at which Republicans see safeguards protecting the integrity of elections as helping Democrats to an unacceptable degree, something has gone horribly awry.