For more than a year, Americans, Congress and the world have discussed Russia’s attempts to influence our elections. However, some of their most dangerous and well-documented attacks against state-level voting systems have been a mere footnote.
That needs to change, and change fast. Let’s start with the facts and when we learned them.
In the summer of 2016, the FBI disclosed that Arizona’s and Illinois’ online voter registration databases had been successfully breached. Come September 2016, we learned that at least 20 states had been attacked.
We now know that 21 states were attacked and/or breached: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
In my home state of Illinois, Russian-backed hackers accessed more than 80,000 voter files, and certainly some of these voters are my constituents. I, like all lawmakers, have an obligation to get answers for those families.
In July 2017, Congress overwhelmingly passed strong sanctions against Russia, in part because of these state-level attacks. Just five members of Congress out of 522 voted against these sanctions.
To date, President Trump has refused to implement these bipartisan sanctions, and his Treasury Department publicly admitted that it lifted Forbes’ list of the 200 richest Russian businessmen in their half-hearted “name and shame list.”
Beginning in October 2017, I asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide Congress with the notification sent to the states. DHS responded with a 13-sentence script that provided no specific information or federal action to secure our elections.
In November 2017, we hoped that a joint subcommittee hearing, called by Republicans and titled “Cybersecurity of Voting Machines,” would produce more information and action. Christopher Krebs, the senior acting DHS official on the case, promised a response that Congress had not received months later.
Forced into a corner by DHS’ failure to promptly respond, we asked the Republican majority for a subpoena. Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy refused. This case is just one example of more than a dozen requested subpoenas that Gowdy has refused.
How can Congress protect the security of elections and the personal data if the Republican majority refuses to demand even basic information?
How can we get to the bottom of what happened if the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress stand in the way of every question asked?
I swore an oath to protect and defend this great nation and our Constitution, as did my Republican colleagues, and I intend to keep it. That oath means that I need to hunt down every scrap of evidence, educate as many people as possible and fight to protect our democratic institutions “from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.”
The American people, and even senior administration officials, agree with me.
According to an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll, almost 80 percent of Americans are concerned that our voting systems are vulnerable to hackers.
In a recent interview, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson publicly noted “certain behaviors” from Russia imply attempts to meddle in the upcoming 2018 election. Yet, we still are not getting answers. That’s directly the fault of obstruction, ignorance or apathy by congressional Republicans and this administration.
But the battle not only is occurring in Congress, there is a massive and sustained effort to discredit the FBI and other investigative agencies working on these cases, especially on social media.
Following our subpoena request, I shared it on Twitter and received more than 700 replies. The vast majority were positive with people calling for more action.
As with anything mentioning Russia, the trolls and bots came out in force. I received a Goebbels’ meme, was asked, “What are you smoking?” and was called a “bimbo” and “gurly.” I’m sure these people impressed themselves with their “defense” of Trump and foreign intervention in our democratic elections.
But this is no trivial matter.
In this case, the facts are clear — even the Trump administration admits it. We know that we were attacked. Now the question becomes, What are we going to do about it? We’d never sit on the sidelines after a conventional military attack. An attack in cyberspace should be no different.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly is the top Democrat on the House’s investigative IT subcommittee. She has represented Illinois’ Second Congressional District since 2013.