Before a crowd of hacking conference goers, Senator Ron Wyden on Friday took aim at Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, accusing him of blocking election security legislation because, he said, Republicans have directly benefited from the meddling of foreign hackers.
“Russia attacked the 2016 election, and the 2016 election turned out pretty well for Republicans. They took unified control of government, passed a lot of legislation and confirmed a lot of judges to lifetime seats on the federal bench,” Wyden said.
His remarks were delivered Friday morning at the DEF CON hacking conference in Vegas where thousands of security professionals and enthusiasts gather each year to exhibit research and hear experts talk. One of the Senate’s top privacy hawks, Wyden spoke on multiple topics, including election security and illicit phone-location tracking.
“Mitch McConnell does not want Republicans to lose any power, so why change the system that gave it to them? He knows full well that blocking election security legislation makes it easier for Russia and other foreign powers to attack our next election,” he said.
McConnell and President Trump are willing, he said, to accept a “deal with the devil” in order to keep a “firm grip on power.”
Last month, Wyden blasted an election-interference report produced by Senate Intelligence Committee for failing to recommend “mandatory” security standards nationwide. American democracy is facing a “direct assault” by a determined adversary, he said.
“We shouldn’t ask a county election IT employee to fight a war against the full capabilities and vast resources of Russia’s cyber army.”
Wyden has pressed fellow Democrats to include mandatory security standards in legislation that McConnell has so far blocked from getting a vote on the Senate floor—including provisions requiring backup paper records of votes and risk-limiting audits.
McConnell has attempted to frame election security as a “partisan” issue pursued by the Democrats merely as an attack on Trump’s legitimacy. Other Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have argued that, constitutionally, election security is firmly the purview of the states.
Conversely, Wyden has argued that the federal government’s constitutional role in regulation elections is well established.
“One of the ways Republicans have held onto power is by engaging in voter suppression,” he said Friday. “It often seems that for them, stopping Democrats from voting is priority number one.”
“Long lines keep people from voting, and historically, low-turnout elections favor Republicans,” he said, calling hand-marked ballots “easier and quicker” than digital touchscreens. “People get in and out of their polling places faster. Lines get shorter. For example, those images you see on TV of people waiting five hours to vote—those don’t happen in Oregon where people vote at home,” he said.
“Everyone here at Defcon is in a unique position to influence this conversation. It was security researchers and hackers who were shouting from rooftops for years about how easy it is to hack voting machines. Guess what? The public is finally listening. You all were right about the problem before anyone else,” he said.
“Now I’m asking you to keep the pressure on Congress until it actually fixes the problem. I’m asking you to help make sure that politicians don’t get away with passing a band aid bill that sounds good but still leaves our elections vulnerable to foreign hackers.”