So far, the effort to protect our elections simply has not been adequate

So far, the effort to protect our elections simply has not been adequate
© Greg Nash

In less than one month, voter will return to the ballot box in state primaries. As they enter polls in gymnasiums and firehouses, in community centers and churches all over this great land, voters may have a sinking feeling that it doesn’t matter how they vote because the Russians are the ones who are choosing our candidates. Unless we force our government quickly to protect us, I fear that feeling will be correct.

One year ago 17 different United States intelligence agencies — people who usually don’t agree on much of anything — agreed that Russia had meddled with our 2016 presidential election. Their joint report spelled out how Putin personally ordered cyber break-ins and manipulations, and even hacked into our voting machines.

Last week Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE, who, since May, has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, filed an indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations who were very active in agitating for a specific outcome in the presidential election. The 37-page indictment reads like a spy novel with Russians posing as Americans to scout out our politics, setting up fake identities and shell companies to pay for demonstrations and rallies, and websites and bots that promoted then-candidates Donald Trump, Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week MORE and Jill Stein.

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Although all intelligence agencies agree that the Russians did this to help President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE, in one way they didn’t care if he got elected. The number one goal was to sow confusion and conflict, to inflame the worst of our politics, promote the most hateful of messages and force us to distrust each other.

 

The Mueller indictment stated that by the end of the election the Russians were spending more than $1 million a month in support of their efforts. It was money they must think was well spent, because look at the mess we’re in. We’ve always been a country of strong voices, strong opinions and a strong desire to keep talking and negotiating until we reach common ground. The country we see around us today is full of suspicion and fear, all of us thinking the worst of each other, and even wishing each other ill. No one wants to talk to the people they disagree with, and people laugh at the idea of compromise.

I was the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee during the Russian hacking of the DNC and I saw firsthand how these disruptive tactics got people who trusted and admired each other at each other's throats. When that happens, everything slows down and people spend more energy on division than they do on the work they need to do. In that way, my time at the DNC is not that different than where we find ourselves now as a country.

In order to unravel what the Russians did to our country and our democracy, we must force our government to act to restore the integrity of our elections. This is no simple task and with the current crowd in charge it faces considerable resistance. Both CIA Director Mike PompeoMike PompeoNoem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Pence v. Biden on China: Competing but consistent visions MORE and Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHouse passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department Biden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet With salami-slicing and swarming tactics, China's aggression continues MORE infer we can’t stop the Russian election tricks completely. All the while, President Trump belittles, even denies, the idea that the Russian government did anything bad.

In response to the Mueller indictment Trump issued not a call to action, but a vindication of himself. He tweeted, “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!”

Mr. Trump, with all due respect, this issue is bigger than you and you alone. Our democracy is at stake.

But this is where we are. We have a president who looks at this terrifying news not as a five-alarm fire consuming our democratic institutions. No, he can see no further than how it affects his reputation. Instead of defending himself, Trump should be working to hold Russia accountable for its efforts to subvert our democracy. But he’s got both fingers in his ears while he looks the other way. He’s not just ignoring the problem, he’s blocking other people’s efforts.

Last year Congress overwhelmingly decided to sanction Russia for its meddling in our elections and they did it by a nearly unanimous vote: 517 to 5. You know how Congress is these days. They can’t agree on what day of the week Monday is, so passing something with a veto-proof majority is as rare as a teetotaler on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Yet the president refuses to enforce those sanctions, even though FBI chief Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee he’s been clear and candid with the president about the threats to our democracy. Wray stunned the Senate Intelligence Committee by revealing that Trump has never ordered him to stop Russia’s election sabotage.

Democrats have introduced the Election Security Act to help states restore the integrity and privacy of our elections. The law provides grants to states to enable them to update and secure their election infrastructure. This law needs Republicans’ support to pass, but it is something they’ve shown no interest in. When I think back to that frightening time when I served as the interim chair of the DNC during the hacking, this inability to act fills me with despair. Why doesn’t everyone involved stand tall to defend our way of life? It seems like our Democratic experiment was just that, a one-time only chance, with institutions that became so weak they got bowled over by one shove from a Russian bear.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We have throughout our history had to fight for the right to vote. Male slaves fought for the right to vote and later women did too. In the 1960s millions of Americans marched in the streets to ensure full voting rights for all. It seems to me we are at another inflection point where the citizens are being challenged to stand up for their rights in front of a do-nothing Congress.

Time is running out. Unlike a presidential political cycle, we will not see a lot of debates. But these races matter. All elections matter, all votes matter. This is a lesson we have learned the hard way in the last few years.

Please, ask your lawmaker: What are you doing to secure America’s next election?

Ultimately, it’s up to us.

Donna Brazile (@DonnaBrazile) served as chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2016-17.