On Wednesday, the Senate voted 52–48 to acquit President Donald Trump of abuse of power in his efforts to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden. As special counsel Robert Mueller and others have testified, the threats to the 2020 election were already grave. The issues revealed during the impeachment trial regarding foreign interference, though, bring us closer to a dangerously undefended 2020 election. Even before a single vote was counted in the Democratic primary race, Trump had already invited multiple countries to investigate Biden. In 2016, he invited Russia to hack the emails of his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Within hours, they attempted to do so. Now, if we are to defend our elections from foreign influence, it is imperative that we pressure the same Senate that just voted to ignore Trump’s Ukraine malfeasance to immediately take up legislation that would protect the 2020 vote.
Of course, there are other threats to the integrity of this year’s elections beyond presidential-coerced election interference. Judges in states like Georgia and Wisconsin have ordered mass purges of state voter lists in response to Republican lawsuits. Although we know that foreign interests attempted to hack the voting systems of more than two dozen states in 2016, those states and the public have learned little about the extent to which those attempts were successful—and even less about the methods used to penetrate the systems in particular counties.
Social media has raised the stakes as well. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, whose platform was used and manipulated by Russia to target voters with disinformation in 2016—with an extra emphasis placed on targeting black voters—recently announced, despite entreaties and pressure from civil rights groups, that the platform would maintain a loophole for politicians that renders them exempt from Facebook’s ban on election misinformation. This dangerous policy incentivizes domestic politicians to spread viral messages that promote voter suppression.
This will also be the second presidential election in 50 years conducted without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, as a result of the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case. This leaves open the specter of last-minute polling place changes and voter purges dangerously close to Election Day.
If we are to avoid a catastrophically vulnerable election this year, we will need to move quickly and decisively. Multiple election protection bills have passed the House of Representatives and now sit on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a location known as “the legislative graveyard.” McConnell must—and can—be made to feel the pressure to actually defend our elections.
Read the full op-ed here.