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Opinion: Election security getting deserved attention

By: Oklahoman Editorial Board

Concerns about mailed ballots have been a dominant theme during this election season, with President Trump saying “fraud” is likely to result and Democrats saying the U.S. Postal Service will be overwhelmed due to changes made within the agency by this administration.

But what about election security, which was front and center after 2016 when Russia tried to meddle in the outcome? Are America’s voting systems secure as we approach Nov. 3?

Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, believes the answer is yes, although he did express a few concerns during an interview last week.

Lankford, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has said there was no evidence Russia hacked into US voting machines or affected ballots four years ago, but it did try to get into websites of secretaries of state and election boards, and succeeded in accessing some voter registration rolls.

Lankford and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have led the effort to pass a bill aimed at improving election security. Although the bill remains on high center, Lankford said the administration has adopted its major proposals as policy measures.

One requires states to install a backup system, such as paper ballots, to receive additional federal dollars for elections. Every state but New Jersey, Lankford said, has begun doing so. (Oklahoma has had such a system for years and it has proven highly reliable and secure.)

Lankford said there is “a huge difference” between 2016 and this year regarding states’ protection of their cyber networks, helping to ensure they are less vulnerable to tampering. That’s important, because it lessens the chances of someone like Russia being able to do what it loves — create chaos. Lankford used a hypothetical of Russia tapping into Michigan’s election website and changing coding to produce wrong totals on election night.

“That would create total chaos when they come out two days later and say, ‘We don’t know what happened, but we now have a different person who’s winning Michigan,’” he said. “That would be ugly.”

Another issue of concern, he said, is influence — figuring out a way to keep bad actors such as China and Russia from trying to create fake stories intended to sway voters.

“That’s much tougher to do, because people want to believe things that look close to what they already believe,” Lankford said. “When they see a story that affirms that, they just go share it whether it’s true or not. The influence side of that is much tougher — I think that’s our greatest risk this year.”

A few days ago, the heads of the FBI, National Security Agency, National Counterintelligence and Security Center, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a joint video underlining their commitment to election integrity.

“Rest assured,” FBI Director Chris Wray said, “that the security of the election, and safeguarding your vote, is and will continue to be one of our highest priorities.” Americans should expect nothing less.