There have been troubling rumors that the Russians are planning to use hackers to undermine our presidential election. Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson thinks he has a solution:
He wants to use his authority under a post-9/11 federal law designed to protect the country against terrorist attacks to designate the election system as “critical infrastructure.”
Under such a designation, the federal government could oversee our election.
You know what would really undermine faith in our election system? Oversight by the federal government.
State officials have told Johnson they don't need help, but it is disturbing that he is thinking along this line.
Former Federal Election Commission member Hans von Spakovsky, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explains why it would be such a horrible idea:
Under a 2013 presidential directive, such a designation gives the Justice Department authority to “investigate, disrupt, prosecute, and otherwise reduce” threats to that infrastructure—while DHS is given the power to “coordinate the overall Federal effort” to ensure the security of the infrastructure. Administration officials could use this designation as a way of giving federal officials access as “observers” or investigators to voting precincts across the country, as well as election and voting systems.
This could be the first step in federalizing election administration. An Obama administration that has already attacked election-integrity reforms across the country by filing lawsuits against common-sense voter ID laws, and has disputed state rules on early voting and same-day registration (or the lack thereof), could use the hacker threat as an excuse to try to dictate what states should and shouldn’t do when they are exercising their constitutional authority to run elections.
That is a greater danger than any Russian hackers.
If everyone understood how decentralized the election process is, von Spakovsky writes, they’d realize how mistaken it would be to call in the feds.
The state and county governments maintain voter registration rolls and the machines that will be used in thousands of polling places. The tabulation equipment is also maintained by counties.
There are legitimate concerns, von Spakovsky concedes, that new technologies could be developed to hack into voting but that doesn't seem to exist now. While the security of voting machines is not that great, at least now hacking would require somebody unobserved with access to the machine.
Although there were hacks in Arizona and Illinois, von Spakovsky explains that voer-registration data were copied but not altered. This shows that online voter registration is fraught with peril but doesn't indicate dangers in the voting and counting of votes.
If Johnson is worried about the security of voting machines, he should issue orders for improved security. Instead he is talking about the federal government taking over elections.
Thought experiment: the election system is designated a "critical infrastructure" and, in some future election, years from now, the presidential candidate who belongs to the incumbent party wins a tight race with just the right numbers to carry crucial districts. How would this be received ? How should this be received?