Editorials

Why is Sen. Roy Blunt so nonchalant about cyber threats and 2020 election security?

Remember how we went straight from “Ha ha, no reason to worry about so-called climate change,” to “Well, too late now to do anything about catastrophic climate change?”

It’s still not too late to mitigate the damage, though. And let’s not let that same flawed thinking keep us from doing what we can, even at this late date, to minimize the serious threat of foreign cyber attacks ahead of next year’s election.

As former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony last week reminded us, we’re in urgent need of the bipartisan election security legislation that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he has no intention of letting go forward.

Could Russia intervene in another election, Mueller was asked. “They’re doing it as we sit here,” he answered, while “many more countries” race to catch up to Russia’s ability to compromise our democracy.

Should one of these other countries ever attempt an incursion on behalf of a Democrat, we’re guessing that McConnell would not be quite so “c’est la vie.”

But on the Senate floor Monday, he took vehement exception to former Republican Joe Scarborough’s characterization of him as “Moscow Mitch” for refusing to do anything about Russian hacking. Repeatedly referring to criticism of his inaction as “modern-day McCarthyism,” McConnell read into the record old press clips praising his opposition to Bill Clinton’s “feckless” Russia policies and Barack Obama’s “charm offensive.” OK, but what about now?

He’s always believed that Congress should stay out of elections, McConnell said, which “properly belong to the states.” And to even consider legislation on election security would supposedly invite in the opposition’s “Trojan horse for partisan wish-list items.”

There was some of that in the original House bill, but not in the separate SAFE Act, which would simply require the use of paper ballots and provide grants for out-of-date election systems.

There’s nothing remotely partisan about those proposals, but President Donald Trump doesn’t want to hear about “Russian meddling” because he thinks that even admitting it happened undermines his legitimacy. With so much at stake, McConnell is wrong to indulge the president’s sensitivity on that subject.

And Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt is wrong to join McConnell in his nonchalance.

Blunt, after all, is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which just released a report that concluded Russia tried to hack voting systems in all 50 states, ours included. Yet somehow, he says there’s no reason to worry about next year.

Many states have yet to spend their share of the $380 million appropriated in last year’s Help America Vote Act, Blunt says. But as the Brennan Center for Justice wrote months ago, “the way the money was distributed means it was insufficient to replace the vast majority of the most vulnerable machines before the 2020 election.’’

Too little and so late don’t add up to no reason to fret.

Blunt also says that “most everything” in the bipartisan bill that Republicans have blocked is already being done. Which would be great if it were true.

The bill’s Republican co-author, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, said the legislation is still needed, even if states have run out of time to make all necessary changes before 2020: “You can’t buy the equipment, get it in, test it, evaluate it, train your volunteers on it when the first primary is six months away. ... It’s really 2022 at this point.”

Blunt has consistently said he wouldn’t take up Lankford’s bill in the Rules Committee he chairs: ”I don’t see any reason in this case to mark up a bill that can’t possibly be voted on.”

“We are not ignoring this,” he insists. “We were much more engaged in this fight in ‘18 than we were in ‘16, and we’ll be more engaged in ‘20 than we were in ‘18.”

Maybe by Rapture the Senate will be fully engaged, but meanwhile, we agree with Democratic Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s feeling that “This is an issue about the survival of the republic. And we are going to be judged by future generations very harshly for allowing the Russians to essentially lob guided missiles into the United States in the form of bots to disrupt and damage our election process.”

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