Editorial: Putin, Trump and N.Y. voters

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In less than 100 days voters in New York and the other 49 states will go to the polls to decide the makeup of the U.S. House and Senate as well as members of the state’s executive branch from the governor on down as well as the state Legislature.

The stakes couldn’t be higher either in Washington or New York.

In Washington, the House could very well face the question of whether to impeach President Donald Trump.

And in New York, the state Senate majority hangs in the balance. This at a time when the nomination by Trump of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court makes it very possible that state legislators will determine the fate of Roe v. Wade protections here.

Before these questions get answered there is another question: whether we can still trust our election process to fairly produce the will of the people.

We now know that Russia launched a sophisticated, three-pronged attack against the U.S. election system in 2016.

Social media was used to push a pro-Trump, hyper-divisive agenda that included stealing the identities of real Americans to impersonate U.S. voices online and hide their tracks.

The election systems of 39 states were hacked.

The emails of senior Democrats during the 2016 presidential election campaign were hacked and leaked.

How do we know this?

The leaders of all our intelligence agencies — all of whom are Trump appointees — say so as does that indictment of 25 Russians by Mueller probe investigators. Mueller has now indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three Russian companies – including four former Trump advisers.

Last week, top national security officials made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room to warn that Russia continues to target the U.S. election system and vow that the Trump administration has made combating interference a priority ahead of the midterms in November.

Apparently, the only person in the administration who now doubts the Russians’ effort to attack our election process is the president.

Trump has repeatedly called Mueller’s investigation a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” and as recently as last week called for Attorney General Jeff Session to halt the investigation because it was bad for the country.

This is not an unimportant problem as only the president can oversee a fully coordinated and committed effort to protect the 2018 election.

In the meantime, individual states have upped their efforts to protect election results.

In what would be a surprise to many who have watched the state’s government, New York is doing relatively well.

This is the result of a proactive approach on the part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and either the foresight or ineptitude of New York in updating its election machinery.

New York’s continued use of paper ballots, which produces a paper trail, makes rigging the system far more difficult if not impossible.

In May, Cuomo also directed the state Board of Elections — in concert with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — to host a series of tabletop exercises focused on protecting the integrity of New York’s electoral systems against cyberattacks.

The effort included the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, the state police, and state Intelligence Center and aimed at identifying areas for improvement in cyber incident planning, preparedness and response through simulation of realistic scenarios attempting to undermine voter confidence, interfere with voting operations and affect the integrity of elections.

This does nothing to curtail Russia’s use of social media to sow dissension among the electorate and use misinformation to sway how people vote. And the hacking of campaign emails must also remain a major concern.

But it does place New York in a better position than many states.

Still, New Yorkers should not feel too comfortable about the ability of its elections to accurately determine the will of the people for one major reason – people in New York often don’t vote.

New York, which has the fourth most registered voters among states, historically does not have high voter turnouts.

In the November 2016 election, New York state had the eighth-worst voter turnout among states, when 57.2 percent of voting-age citizens went to the polls, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Before 2016, New York ranked in the bottom half of states for voter turnout in all but one election during the last two decades, according to the census figures.

In other words, New Yorkers may not have as much to fear from Vladimir Putin as their own voters.

It is true that New York’s voting laws are also among the least friendly to voters in the 50 states.

But rather than serving as an excuse to not vote, this is actually a good reason to vote – to elect state officials who don’t throw obstacles in the way of citizens seeking to cast their ballots

That would also be a good message to send New York’s elected officials and Putin.

 

 

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