Former top officials warn democracy in 'jeopardy' without Congressional action on election security

Former top officials warn democracy in 'jeopardy' without Congressional action on election security

A bipartisan group of almost 100 former national security officials is urging Congress to take steps to secure elections ahead of next year, warning that without action, the nation's democratic institutions are in “severe jeopardy.”

“We write to express our alarm at ongoing efforts to destabilize and subvert our elections, both through active disinformation campaigns and the related efforts to inject partisan interference into our professionally administered election process,” the officials wrote in an open letter published Tuesday. “We believe these efforts are profoundly damaging to our national security, including by making our elections more vulnerable to foreign interference and possible manipulation.”

“We call on Congress to confront these threats and safeguard our democratic process as we look ahead to the 2022 elections and beyond,” they wrote. 

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Signatories of the letter included former officials who worked for administrations on both sides of the aisle, including former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, former Defense Secretary William Cohen and former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperUS intelligence community 'struggled' to brief Trump in 2016, CIA review shows An unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Hillicon Valley — Justice Department takes on Uber MORE

They also included former ambassadors, top officials at the CIA and former top cybersecurity officials, including former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs and Michael Daniel, the former White House cybersecurity coordinator under President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team The Memo: Biden looks for way to win back deflated Black voters 6 in 10 say they would back someone other than Biden in 2024: Fox News poll MORE

The former officials cited specific concerns arising from the 2020 presidential election. They pointed to an “unprecedented, coordinated effort to cast doubt on the U.S. election system” in the months following the election, which saw states such as Arizona conduct strenuous audits to check the accuracy of the results. 

“The rampant spread of election disinformation and the efforts to undermine confidence in the democratic process jeopardize our national security in a number of dangerous ways,” the former officials wrote. 

Following the presidential election, many election officials throughout the country were threatened, and the election results were questioned by former President TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE and some of his supporters. The officials pointed to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which occurred the day Congress was certifying the presidential election results, in underlining the dangerous impacts of the spread of election disinformation. 

“While this year’s disinformation campaigns cannot change the outcome of the 2020 election, they will fuel future calls to overturn election results,” the former officials warned. “And if such a call were successful, the ensuing chaos, uncertainty, and potential violence could be exploited by foreign actors and leave us unprepared for a future attack.”

In order to beef up election security and ensure greater voter confidence, the officials recommended that Congress push for use of voter-verifiable paper ballots in elections, that stronger physical protections for election equipment and ballots be put in place and that the federal government respond to threats against election workers. 

Many of these recommendations are included in bills that Democrats have tried to push through Congress over the past year, particularly following efforts in Republican-led states to overhaul election procedures, but Republicans have largely blocked these bills on Capitol Hill. 

“If this playbook of undermining and subverting our elections is left unchecked, the campaigns to do so will become increasingly more sophisticated and difficult to rebuff, making it increasingly likely that a majority of Americans will no longer trust election results,” the officials wrote. 

The former officials warned that time was of the essence in taking action to improve election security. 

“In the course of our careers, many of us have analyzed the threats posed by unstable democracies elsewhere, never imagining we would begin to see similar threats at home. Sadly, that moment has arrived,” the wrote. “We have strong democratic institutions and traditions, but they are being placed in severe jeopardy in the current climate. We call on you to meet this challenge squarely and put in place the defenses that will safeguard the integrity of our sacred democratic institutions.”