Ron Wyden: Our democracy is strongest when more citizens vote and when voters are confident their vote is being counted
Vote-by-mail is perhaps the best answer right now to this hacking campaign by Russia, he says
Editor’s Note: Ron Wyden (D) is a US senator from Oregon and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Despite what the Republican presidential nominee and hordes of Twitter eggs would have you believe, voter fraud isn’t a threat to American democracy. In fact, from 2000 to 2014 there were only 35 credible allegations of voter fraud out of more than 800 million votes cast.
So, let me be clear: There should be no doubt that the results of the 2016 election will be valid. The presidential election is not rigged. Anyone who says otherwise is actively undermining our democracy for personal or political gain.
But that doesn’t mean Americans can be complacent. Our democracy is strongest when more citizens vote, and when voters are confident that their vote is being counted.
That is why I have sought to expand Oregon’s vote-by-mail and voter registration system nationwide. While former KGB agent and now Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to meddle in our election and special interests look to lock out working Americans and minorities who would vote against them, vote-by-mail offers the best solution we have to protect the integrity of our election system.
Since Oregon became the country’s first all-vote-by-mail state in 2000 it has consistently boasted among the highest voter turnout in the nation, especially among young voters and in midterm elections, when turnout traditionally lags. Oregon’s vote-by-mail law deters voter fraud with security measures such as a signature authentication system. Oregon’s system also combats potential fraud by centralizing ballot processing in the county clerk’s office, rather than at various polling sites.
So let’s talk about real threats, and why vote-by-mail is so effective at defanging them. This year, hacks that have been traced to servers in Russia targeted state voter registration databases, although our agencies have not publicly identified who perpetrated the attacks. But it is clear that Russia is attempting to influence our election by hacking political parties. This effort appears to be about as subtle as one would expect from a Russian regime that’s still using its Cold War playbook.
I urge those still expressing doubt about who is responsible for the email hacks to listen to independent cybersecurity experts and see statements by the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, and the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
This isn’t the first time Russia has tried to covertly influence elections in this way. In fact, Section 501 of this year’s intelligence authorization bill, which was released before these hacks became public, directs the president to create an interagency committee to “counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence over peoples and governments.”
Even before that, press reports show that Russian spies have sought to influence our elections. When the FBI broke up that Russian spy ring in the U.S. in 2010, for example, the group was publicly accused of trying to gather information on the 2008 election. There is an undeniable pattern of ham-handed efforts by Russia in this area.
While the hacks this year have focused on embarrassing Democratic politicians, Americans should not underestimate how dangerous attacks on election systems could be. If a foreign state were to eliminate registration records for a particular group of Americans immediately before an election, they could very likely disenfranchise those Americans.
Vote-by-mail is perhaps the best answer right now to this campaign of interference by Russia, and against future threats. By providing a clear paper trail for every single ballot, citizens can be confident that their vote is recorded correctly. And the two- or three-week voting period gives voters enough time to fix registration problems that could be caused by hacks to voter registration databases.
Vote-by-mail is also a potent cure to the contagion of voter suppression that has swept our state governments in recent years. This year alone, 14 states have erected new obstacles to voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Just this month, a federal judge ruled that Florida’s election law for disqualifying mail-in ballots amounts to “taking as many as 23,000 ballots, crumbling them into balls, and throwing them in the trash like dirty tissue, without any opportunity to cure,” because the state’s law would throw out ballots with mismatched signatures with NO NOTICE to voters.
And in North Carolina, the state has tried to shorten early voting, create new voter ID requirements and make it harder to register to vote. A federal appeals court ruled this month that the state’s new voter registration and early voting laws “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist.”
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Oregon-style vote-by-mail and voter registration provide a simple fix to these discriminatory practices. When every registered American voter receives a ballot in the mail, long lines and closed polling places are no longer an obstacle, especially for seniors, working parents and students who need to take time off work or find childcare just to cast a vote. Automatic voter registration at the DMV makes it easier to receive that ballot, and the two- to three-week voting period provides plenty of time to fix mistakes.
As one commentator put it: Oregon-style voting is what democracy should look like. We’re lucky in Oregon to have vote-by-mail, and I’m working hard to bring it to the rest of the nation.