What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What’s being done to stop Russia’s election interference?

Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been well documented, and evidence shows Russia is again trying to undermine the 2020 election. But what is the federal government doing to stop it? Richard Hasen, founder of the Election Law Blog and author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy," joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Coronavirus is not the only concern. As the 2020 election takes shape, Russian interference in the 2016 race still resonates today and could be a factor on Election Day. I recently sat down with Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, and author of "Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy."

  • Richard Hasen:

    Well, so, I'm very concerned. You know, based on recent polling, including an NPR/PBS Marist Poll, there are large percentages of the public that don't believe that the election is safe and secure, that are worried about foreign interference. They don't think they can get the information they need in order to be able to vote. And that way, I think the Russians actually won in 2016 because they're causing us to doubt ourselves. And so I think we need to think about things that we can do between now and November to try and increase the resiliency of the process and ultimately assure the public that there's going to be a fair and secure vote going forward.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We have different election security systems. We have different jurisdictions. In some ways, that has been spun as, 'Hey, you know what? That's our failsafe, that nobody can hack one centralized server or system and tamper with all of those votes.' In another way, that's kind of inherently also our weakness. We can't deploy any kind of a security patch to fix all these systems at the same time.

  • Richard Hasen:

    Well, that's right. And DHS is working with state and local governments to try to help them. But, you know, there's a lot that needs to be done between now and November. And of course, infrastructure includes not just the election itself, but think about the power grid. If someone could come in maliciously and take down the power grid in a major Democratic city, in a swing state, that would have a devastating effect on the outcome of our elections. And it wouldn't be attacking any voting equipment, but it would still affect how the vote goes.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Are you concerned about perhaps a ripple effect from the Coronavirus? Would people, would there be a decreased turnout if people are concerned to go to places where lots of other people go and possibly a sick person could be sneezing around me?

  • Richard Hasen:

    Right. Well, you know, back in in 1918, we had a flu epidemic and people stayed away from the polls in some places, campaign rallies were canceled. Our conventions could be affected. I mean, there's lots of things that could be affected. Right now, what election officials need to do is engage in contingency planning so that they take into account, for example, that maybe many more people are going to try to vote by absentee ballot than vote. And that creates its own set of problems because it takes a lot longer to process those absentee ballots. So I think we're going to have to have Plan B's in place, going to have to have patience. Things may not go the way that they normally go in an election season.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What other things can the political parties themselves do to try to encourage people not only to vote, but to have some faith in the process?

  • Richard Hasen:

    Well, I mean, one of the strengths of the fact that our election system is so decentralized is that the public can get access to places where votes are actually being counted. You can demand, you know, from your local election officials to know what's the process by which votes, vote totals are collected, how are they reported? And these are the kind of things that the average citizen could pay attention to. There are a number of citizens who are concerned about: is there going to be a paper trail to make sure that there's no hacking of the voting machines? And that's the kind of thing where because it is a local issue, you can try to put political pressure on your elected officials to make sure they're taking every step, to make sure that there's a system in place that people can have the confidence in November.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Do you personally have confidence that this election will go off smoothly?

  • Richard Hasen:

    I'm concerned. I'm concerned because I think that as we saw with the Iowa caucus debacle, when there's any kind of glitch, immediately people tried to take political advantage of it. You know, there were calls by the president's campaign manager and his children that that something was rigged. You had the phone number that was being put, that was being used to report the votes in Iowa, that that number was put up on 4chan and people were jamming the phone lines. So what I'm most concerned about are people who are going to try and make trouble. They're going to look for places where there's nothing nefarious going on but just a glitch and try and use that to try to spin it into some kind of political disadvantage. That's why I think we need to kind of harden our systems now so that when people try to make claims that there's a rigged or stolen election, that the evidence will not back them up.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is there something that states should be doing to try to make sure that their servers, their, kind of on the hardware side and the software side of how they roll out elections are more secure between now and November?

  • Richard Hasen:

    Yes. And they're doing those kinds of things. I mean, I think there's not much that you or I can do about, you know, the security of the vote itself. But there are lots of other things. So, for example, the media has a major role to play here. One of the things we saw with the Iowa debacle is that the media were very impatient in getting election results. And I think that's exactly the wrong message. It's not just about what election officials can do. It's about what all different parts of society can do. And the media has a really important role to play in educating the public about how elections are actually conducted and how long it takes to get a fair and accurate vote count.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yeah. It's better to be right than it is to be first. Rick Hasen joining us from California tonight. Thanks so much.

  • Richard Hasen:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest