WASHINGTON — With the end-of-the-year deadline to pass election security measures in Congress quickly approaching, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said Oklahoma has already taken steps to secure elections from foreign interference.
Lankford, who has been pushing election security to keep American democracy from foreign interference, said there is “no question” that Russia tried to meddle in the 2016 election.
“We were one of the 21 states that were identified early by the FBI that the Russians tried to get into, but they couldn’t get into our system in 2016, so they moved along to others,” Lankford said.
In 2017, this information was brought to the Oklahoma State Election Board, encouraging the board to partner with numerous federal and state agencies to address the issue of election security.
“We met regularly to discuss risks and plan for contingencies. We arranged for unclassified briefings and security training for county election officials, and shared ‘best practices’ with state and county election employees,” said Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax in a June congressional testimony.
Since 2016, Oklahoma has implemented a second layer of cyber protections with the Department of Homeland Security, Lankford said. Experiments to find weaknesses and vulnerabilities in Oklahoma’s election security have also been run.
But in Washington, lawmakers are concerned because the time to address election security on a national level is growing short.
“This is a matter of national security, and so the obvious place for it is in the Defense Authorization bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
If passed, the National Defense Authorization Act would allocate federal dollars to states to increase election security efforts. If the NDAA is not passed before the December recess, the bill could still be brought up for a vote in 2020, but risks being overshadowed by the impeachment process.
Schumer said another way to allocate election security funds to states is through appropriation bills, which have been stalled in Congress because of disagreements on the Southern border wall. With a deadline of Dec. 20, this funding option does not seem likely by the end of the year.
Senate leaders addressed the issue of election security at a news conference on Tuesday, specifically speaking to the theory that Ukraine also meddled in the 2016 election.
“Given that Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaign to deflect blame for interfering in the 2016 election has infiltrated not only the Trump White House, but the Senate Republican conference, the need for meaningful reform to secure our elections couldn’t be greater,” Schumer said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was asked twice about the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election. He did not directly respond to either question.
Late last month, U.S. intelligence officials told senators in a closed meeting that Russia had been engaged in efforts to frame Ukraine for election interference in an attempt to divert attention from Russia.
“Putin wanted to deflect blame to Ukraine and our Republican friends are falling right into that trap—willingly I think,” Schumer said.
Lankford said he thinks there were some individuals in the Ukrainian government who wanted to undercut Donald Trump in 2016, but he said he did not know whether Ukraine had anything to do with interference in the election.
“They had preferences and they expressed their preferences, but clearly Russia was the main actor when trying to interfere in the elections in 2016,” said Lankford.