Editorial: The value of a secure presidential election

  • Lake County Clerk Robin O'Connor answers a question during a Committee on Homeland Security hearing in Gurnee Tuesday on election security.

      Lake County Clerk Robin O'Connor answers a question during a Committee on Homeland Security hearing in Gurnee Tuesday on election security. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted10/16/2019 5:00 PM

The nation's -- and Illinois's -- watchdogs warn that the biggest threat to the results of the 2020 presidential election is the possibility that Americans may not decide, or have faith in the results of, our own election.

Unfortunately, as Congress continues to dither over how much more money to put toward election security -- the U.S. House has authorized $600 million, the Senate $250 million -- one agency estimates it'll take $2.2 billion to secure the election in all 50 states.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Time, as they say, is a'wastin.

In Gurnee on Tuesday, Illinois State Board of Elections Director Steve Sandvoss and Lake County Clerk Robin O'Connor told the U.S. House Homeland Security committee that Illinois has made progress closing the holes in our state's election database.

But, they said, more needs to be done to protect voting in 2020.

The House Intelligence Committee determined Illinois was one of 21 states targeted by Russian government hackers in 2016. The Russians penetrated our statewide voter registration database and accessed as many as 200,000 voter registration records.

They were in a position to delete or change voter data, the report says, but the committee found no evidence they did so. The simple reason might be they were caught in time.

With the $13.2 million in election security money Illinois got from Congress in 2018, the Illinois State Board of Elections launched the "Cyber Navigator" program, upgrading security systems and hiring nine "navigators" to help local election officials throughout the state address the system's vulnerabilities.

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It is an excellent start, but if Sandvoss says he needs more money, he should get it.

The Intelligence report goes on to say that had Hillary Clinton won in 2016, the Russians were prepared to launch a social media campaign to undermine Americans' faith in the results. And even more chilling: "If Russia's preferred candidate does not prevail in 2020, the Russians may seek to delegitimize the election."

In Gurnee, Elizabeth Howard of the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program said what's needed nationwide is about $2.2 billion -- $750 million to replace "antiquated paperless voting machines" throughout the country ($175 million in Illinois alone); plus $100 million for postelection audits over the next five years; another $500 million for voter registration cybersecurity improvements; and $830 million to extend cyber navigator programs like the one in Illinois nationwide.

We all have a stake in stopping foreign interference in our elections.

The American election system is sacred soil. A couple billion dollars is a lot of money, but the cost of failing to protect our elections would be so much higher.

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