Lawmakers warn of ‘electoral Chernobyl’ in November following Georgia election chaos

Aaron Schwartz

Multiple lawmakers on Monday warned that without boosting mail-in voting and taking steps to shore up election security, chaos could ensue during the November presidential election. 

“If Congress and states don’t act immediately, our country could face an electoral Chernobyl this fall,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in a Medium post on Monday.

Wyden, who has been one of the key supporters in the Senate for increasing mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, pointed to chaos at the polls in Georgia last week as being an example of what could happen if officials fail to address coronavirus-related election challenges.

Voters in certain Atlanta precincts faced hours-long lines due to malfunctioning machines, fewer polling places and poll workers due to COVID-19 shutdowns, and confusion over mail-in ballots. These issues came two months after voters in Wisconsin faced similar long lines during their state’s primary election, with dozens of coronavirus cases traced to the elections in the weeks following. 

Wyden emphasized Monday that states should “prepare aggressively for a huge increase” of mail-in ballots, and to prepare from staffing shortages stemming from older poll workers being unwilling to assist during the pandemic. 

A prerequisite to gaining the faith of the people for these solutions is free and fair elections where every eligible American can cast a ballot,” Wyden wrote. “If Americans see a repeat of what happened in Georgia across the country, many will rightfully question whether the results — and by extension, the government itself — are truly legitimate.”

Wyden was not the only lawmaker to warn Monday of potential election challenges in the coming months.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said during a virtual event hosted by think tank New America that he was “very worried” about the November elections.

“Everybody is thinking about elections right now, and the more I think about it, the more vulnerable I think our elections are … Georgia was a semi-disaster,” King said.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) agreed with King’s concerns during the same event, pointing to concerns over state-sponsored propaganda around elections online and a need to move towards paper-based systems to help prevent interference from foreign actors.

“Unless we get our act together now, I think we will be in a very difficult situation over the next couple years,” Gallagher said. 

King and Gallagher serve as co-chairs of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, an organization created by Congress to recommend methods to defend the U.S. from cyberattacks. Election security is a key issue addressed in the report issued by the CSC in March, with the bipartisan group made up of lawmakers, federal officials, and industry leaders describing the need to shore up election security as “a priority.”

Following the chaos during the primary last week, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) announced that the state would conduct an investigation into the voting issues to ensure the impacted counties were prepared for November. 

Georgia is among the states that are sending every eligible voter an absentee ballot request form for primary elections. Some states are sending registered voters the ballot itself, and states including Oregon, Washington, and Colorado were already completely reliant on mail-in voting prior to 2020.  

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) on Monday highlighted the state’s “Election Protection Hotline,” which enables New Yorkers to report any problems they have while voting in the state’s primary election this month. 

“No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” James said in a statement. “Due to COVID-19, New Yorkers across the state are navigating new changes in how to cast their ballots in upcoming elections. During these unprecedented times, my office will do everything in its power to ensure that New Yorkers are able to exercise their right to vote safely and effectively.”

-Updated at 8:30 a.m. 

Tags Angus King cybersecurity Elections Georgia Letitia James Mike Gallagher Ron Wyden
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