Going forward, both parties should commit to a ‘Cyber Election Pledge’

Going forward, both parties should commit to a ‘Cyber Election Pledge’
© Getty

Earlier this week, the president of the United States stood beside the man responsible for interfering with the 2016 elections and said he doesn’t believe he did it. The next day the president reluctantly walks back that statement. The day after that the president denies — in direct opposition to his own Director of National Intelligence — that the attacks are still continuing. And later in the same day, the White House denies that he said that. By the time you read this, I don’t doubt there have been several more pendulum swings.

Absent any leadership from this self-absorbed White House, we realize that if you want something done right in this noxious political climate, you have no choice but to do it yourself. Sadly, that is the case in safeguarding our elections not just by addressing hacking, but by pledging not to use hacked material in our politics.

With that kind of kitten-with-a-string leadership, we have every reason to be confused. But we have no excuse not to be resolute. The White House is not demonstrating that they have the inclination or the desire to protect this country from election hacking and other forms of meddling. The American people who participate in the election process need to refuse to be passive victims. There are steps we can take as political professionals, as citizens, as voters and as journalists to safeguard the sanctity of our elections.


Candidates, campaigners, politicos, party officials, and supporters of every political persuasion can take a pledge not to use or intentionally profit from hacked or stolen emails or any other material obtained by illegal or unethical means.

The media should use a disclaimer to remind its readers or viewers that the information being published or released contain materials from the criminal act of hacking. 

When I was interim head of the Democratic National Committee in 2016, in the midst of the hacking nightmare, I and some of my colleagues came up with a draft of just such a pledge not to use illicitly gained information.

The very act of vowing not to use stolen information reduces the value of that information and reduces the incentives to use illegal means to obtain it. We as mere citizens can’t stop the hackers, but we can make their efforts less remunerative by refusing to deal with them.

A similar approach has already borne fruit. The major political parties in the 2017 elections in Germany entered into an agreement not to accept or profit from any information obtained from a cyberattack. Those elections in Germany were remarkably free of cyber-meddling.

The success of those German elections was also due to vigorous anti-hacking measures taken by the German government. We certainly want our own government to take steps that are just as robust, despite the foot-dragging from President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coates has been admirably forceful in stressing the need to respond to the threat.

Both sides have a vested interest in making sure our elections are fair and free of foreign or other malign influence. While we ultimately need our leaders to step up and make sure that happens, we ourselves can kick-start the process.

Here is the draft of the pledge we came up with in 2016. I urge all parties in the coming elections to make similar vows. After all, we’re choosing the people who will lead this country — there’s no reason not to show some leadership right now.

With the understanding that an attempt to undermine any part of American democracy or the United States’ election system is an attack on every American of any political persuasion, we vow to refrain from accepting, disseminating, using, exploiting, or in any way actively benefiting from any information obtained about our opponents or those associated with them if such information is obtained by any illegal or unethical means such as hacking or other means of cyber-theft.

If approached or contacted with such material, or if that material is uncovered in the course of a campaign by a Democrat, persons associated with the campaign have an affirmative obligation to:

  • notify the proper authorities;
  • notify  the victims of the intrusion;
  • notify the press;
  • notify social media companies.

This is aimed especially but not exclusively at information from foreign states or other foreign entities. We pledge our own integrity to maintaining the integrity of America’s democracy.

In the absence of national leadership, we must take prudent steps to protect our democracy and to preserve those institutions that allow us to have fair and free elections.

Donna Brazile (@DonnaBrazile) served as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee from 2016 to 2017.