The U.S. Senate adjourned Thursday for a five-week recess without taking up a series of bipartisan bills aimed at securing the election systems from foreign interference.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who oversees Maine’s elections and served on President Trump’s ill-fated election fraud commission, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the Senate’s failure to respond. “In this climate, I never expected anything to come out of Congress,” Dunlap told the Press Herald. “We do have to be concerned with congressional inaction because things are developing so rapidly and states need help keeping up with the bad guys.”

The bills – which would have helped state and local governments tighten election security and purchase voting machines that provide a paper trail that can be consulted in the event digital tampering is suspected – were blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., prompting critics to nickname him “Moscow Mitch” and denounce him as a “Russian asset.”

McConnell was under intense pressure on the issue this week following the testimony of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller, who told the House intelligence committee that Russia was interfering in our election systems “as we sit here.” On July 25, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the first volume of its report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which found that Russia had attacked U.S. election infrastructure and recommended states replace outdated voting machines with ones producing a voter-verified paper trail.

“It is clear that the Russians executed a sophisticated and serious attack on our democratic processes,” Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King, said in a statement after the report was issued. “We need to protect ourselves because if we remain vulnerable, they or other hostile actors will attack us again.”

King and his Republican counterpart, Susan Collins, both serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but were traveling back to Maine for the Senate’s recess and unavailable for comment Thursday.


In his July 25 statement, King decried McConnell for blocking legislation to improve election systems, an issue he has frequently spoken out about over the past two years. “I just can’t understand why,” he said. “Elections are the backbone of our system of government – as is our confidence in them – and we need to act now to protect them in 2020 and beyond.”

Collins did not criticize the majority leader in her statement that day, but said the committee’s report “provides irrefutable evidence of Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere in our electoral process and to influence and divide public opinion in our country.” She also said, “Congress must take strong action to deter foreign nations from attempting to disrupt our elections.”

Collins was the co-sponsor of one of the bills McConnell has blocked, the Foreign Influence in Reporting in Elections Act, which would require presidential campaigns to report to federal authorities any foreign attempts to influence the elections, something President Trump’s campaign did not do. “Russia’s efforts to interfere in our elections remain relentless,” she said in a statement on the bill Tuesday.

Other blocked legislation includes one bill co-sponsored by Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that would require Facebook and other companies to disclose the purchasers of election ads on the internet; a bipartisan proposal to provide federal incentives for states to adopt paper ballot backups, and a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House to provide $1 billion to states to tighten security and buy more secure voting machines.

McConnell, stung by the criticism of his stance, said Monday that it amounted to “modern day McCarthyism.”

Trump defended him, telling reporters Tuesday: “Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump. And I know nothing!”


But Trump also tweeted Tuesday that he supported “Paper ballots as backup (old fashioned but true!),” undercutting McConnell’s stance.

Dunlap reiterated Thursday that unlike some other states, Maine’s voting systems are nearly impervious to cyberattack because they have been intentionally kept low-tech, using paper ballots and counting machines that are never connected to the internet or one another. “Because our systems are rather Luddite, if you will – basically paper based things that are delivered by hand – there isn’t a lot of risk for us,” he said Thursday.

“But even with the technologies we have, as limited as they are, I am never going to stand in front of the people of Maine and say there’s nothing to worry about,” he added. Federal authorities could help Maine and other states by sharing intelligence agencies’ security experience and by providing funds to improve election systems and machinery.

His biggest concern for Maine, however, isn’t that Russians or other foreign actors might change the vote tallies, but rather that they will try to manipulate voters themselves via targeted misinformation campaigns on social media. “They try to get people to buy into hopelessness or just plain propaganda so that they don’t vote or vote in a different way than they would if they had different information,” he said. “There’s no government program that can solve this and it ultimately comes down to the responsibility of individual voters to be responsible citizens, to take control of their democracy, and to vote in an informed way with their own beliefs.”

“That’s the antidote to anything that comes out of the Kremlin or Beijing.”

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