The Threats Facing American Democracy

Our democracy is in peril, but we the people can preserve it.

The Senate Intelligence Committee last week startled the nation with a democracy shaking report entitled “Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure.”

The independent Mueller Report had previously indicated, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” and last week Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee that Russia was continuing to intervene in our voting infrastructure.

Americans had already been made aware of Russian efforts in Illinois, Arizona and certain counties in Florida in 2016. The Senate report was shocking because it documented that Russia’s efforts had actually targeted all 50 states. The U.S. has a “states’ rights and local control” voting system. Voting is a state right, not a citizenship right, with no real enforceable national standards.

We’ve ended up with multiple and varied election systems in the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia), 3,143 counties, 13,000 local voting jurisdictions that administer approximately 186,000 precincts, all organized in what amounts to a “separate and unequal” voting system, mostly controlled and managed by partisan local election officials.

Some argue that such decentralization protects against a systematic corruption of our election system, until you look at the reality.

With no federally mandated rules, national canons or even voluntary national standards, the reality is states, counties and certainly most local voting jurisdictions are left unprotected and are no match for a sophisticated cyber-actor performing on behalf of a foreign government determined to alter an election outcome, actions by an institution with private interests or even a talented individual with a personal grievance or political agenda.

Interfering in all 50 states is not required.

The strategic interference in a limited number of key states, counties, local jurisdictions and in some instances even precincts, could swing an entire state and alter a national election in favor of a desired winner.

The Mueller Report said the Trump campaign shared detailed polling information with the Russians and highlighted Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota as their key states for victory. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin favored President Donald Trump by only 77,000 votes totally and swung the election to him in 2016.

Immediately following Mueller’s testimony, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) attempted to pass the FIRE Act asking for unanimous consent. The Fire Act was a simple, narrowly targeted bill. All it did was make sure that foreign attempts to interfere in future presidential elections are promptly reported to the FBI and the FEC.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) instantly killed it, claiming it was a partisan effort to defeat Trump. McConnell’s maneuver amounts to an open invitation for outsiders to again meddle in our presidential election.

The Senate Intelligence Committee then released its report about the Russians targeting all 50 states. The first House Bill passed in the 116th Congress was a comprehensive voting bill (H.R. 1) that would have increased voter security, made voting easier for all eligible voters, established a national holiday for voting and much more, but McConnell, the self-declared grim reaper, said this bipartisan legislation was dead on arrival.

McConnell and Senate Republicans have adopted Republican strategist Paul Weyrich’smaxim: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people.

“They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

I’ve advocated adding a right to vote amendment before, basically in the name of democracy and good citizenship. Now, however, it’s becoming clear that it’s also a national security issue. Our representative democracy, our Republic, is threatened and being undermined by Russia and possibly other countries.

Americans should be able to elect the people they want to govern them without external interference. And yes, we’ve done it to others in the past and it was wrong.

While allowing for local administration of elections, adding a right to vote amendment would mandate Congress to pass legislation and provide the money to set minimum common sense national standards, such as requiring modern secure voting machines, secure voter registration files, a backup paper record of your vote from voting machines, risk-limiting post-election audits, automatic voter registration at age 18, same-day onsite voter registration and more.

That is what democracy looks like.


Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.