In what a group of state officials calls a step toward “totalitarian government,” Donald Trump is quietly pushing a measure that would allow him to dispatch armed federal agents to voting places on election days, according to a report by the Boston Globe newspaper. Trump has repeatedly declared that “millions” of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election and as recently as January of this year said that “many people are voting illegally,” mostly in Democratic states.
But Trump has provided no evidence to back up his claims of widespread illegal voting and election experts say that there is no indication that voter fraud exists on the scale that he claims. As a result, one state official in Massachusetts who signed a letter urging the United States Senate to reject the measure, says that Trump would likely use the new authority to intimidate voters, especially voters who belong to minority groups — groups who voted overwhelmingly against Trump in the 2016 election.
But also last week, a former top U.S. intelligence official raised new concerns that the 2016 vote total may have been directly altered — by Russian hackers.
Eric Haseltine, former Associate Director of National Intelligence, published an article on Friday in Psychology Today magazine arguing that Americans must move past their psychological resistance to the possibility that Russian election hackers not only penetrated at least 21 voter databases, but may have actually switched vote totals in Trump’s favor.
Taken together, the two developments last week paint a picture of an election process under threat from a foreign entity, Russia, and from Trump who has repeatedly denied that Russia influenced the 2016 election — while also falsely claiming that massive voter fraud played a major role and actually cost him a victory in the popular vote total.
The proposal to allow presidents to send U.S. Secret Service agents to polling places was attached to the 2017 Department of Homeland Security Reauthorization Act, which passed the U.S. House by an overwhelming 386-41 margin, with only 32 Democrats and nine Republicans voting against the bill, which now must be approved by the Senate.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin joined 18 of his counterparts in other states in signing a letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, urging the Senate to keep the “federal agents” provision out of the final DHS bill. The letter said that if enacted, the provision would lead the U.S. toward becoming “more like a totalitarian state.”
“This is worthy of a Third World country,” Galvin told the Globe. “I’m not going to tolerate people showing up to our polling places. I would not want to have federal agents showing up in largely Hispanic areas.”
But will the vote totals remain safe from Russian hackers? That was the concern raised in Haseltine’s article, in which he said that assurances from experts that the 2016 vote totals were immune to hacking are “probably wrong.”
“All of us should acknowledge that our unconscious (or not-so-unconscious) need to believe that our democracy can’t be subverted by foreigners, blinds us to powerful evidence to the contrary,” Haseltine wrote. “After embracing this scary possibility, we should do a lot more to secure our voting systems than we are doing now.”
Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated voter databases in 21 states, but Haseltine says that there is no reason to believe that they stopped there. Though voting machines are not connected to computer networks and therefore not open to hacking via the internet, numerous vulnerabilities remain, he wrote, especially if a foreign entity were able to recruit “inside” election workers to aid their operation.
“Adding up what we know about Russian intentions and capabilities… I believe that it was entirely possible votes in the 2016 election were tampered with, and that attempts could be made to compromise future elections,” Haseltine wrote.