Trump doubts Russians will meddle in 2020 election. These Jersey Dems say that’s bunk.

Updated Aug 4, 2019

WASHINGTON — On this point, Special Counsel Robert Mueller was crystal clear during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

“Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy,” Mueller said. “The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious.”

Here’s what President Donald Trump’s FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections,”

And the Senate Intelligence Committee issued this warning: “Given Russian intentions to undermine the credibility of the election process, states should take urgent steps to replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems,”

These warnings are especially potent in New Jersey, last year declared one of the five most vulnerable states to hacking as it did not provide paper records of votes needed for post-election audits, according to House Administration Committee Democrats.

While Trump has expressed his doubt about Russian interference, New Jersey Democrats believe it, and they are playing leading roles in Congress to address election security.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez has introduced legislation to give states federal grants for improving their elections systems.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who co-chairs the Blue Dog Task Force on National Security, proposed a package of bills that would require paper ballots or a paper trail for audits, and requires full disclosure of who paid for online ads just like those for for print or broadcast.

And Rep. Mikie Sherrill used her position as chairwoman of the House Science subcommittee on investigations and oversight to highlight problems with state elections systems.

“That’s something we should be focused on like crazy,” said Van Drew, D-2nd Dist., co-chairman of the national security task force of moderate House Democrats known as the Blue Dogs. “What people do want to know when they vote that the man or women they voted is the person who got the vote.”

The Democratic-controlled House twice has passed legislation to improve election security, including requiring paper ballots. Sherrill, D-11th Dist., is part of a new group of first-year lawmakers with national security or military backgrounds, Task Force Sentry, that plans to make its own recommendations.

At Sherrill’s subcommittee hearing, she welcomed Bianca Lewis, a seventh grader from Phillipsburg. At a technology conference last year Bianca and others were able to hack models of election websites designed with known vulnerabilities and change voting results, Sherrill said.

“If 12-year-old can do it, we should provide more security,” Sherrill said.

There also are efforts to address other ways Russia intervened in the 2016 election, such as through Facebook ads or tweets or other misinformation.

“You should know if the person you’re talking to in a chat room is talking to you from Montclair or Moscow,” Sherrill said.

Efforts to address election security have run into Republican roadblocks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,, and other Senate Republicans have blocked votes in his chamber. He called the bills “partisan wish list items.”

And Trump has rejected the findings of the intelligence community and Mueller the Russia worked to elect him in 2016 and said he would welcome help from Russia in 2020.

Asked about continued warnings of Russian interference, Trump told reporters on Thursday, “You don’t really believe this. Do you believe this?”

They believe it in New Jersey.

The state received $9.7 million in federal funds to improve election security. And it could use more.

Just to replace all the 11,000 voting machines in the state with equipment that allows paper audits could cost as much as $100 million, said Bob Giles, director of the New Jersey Division of Elections..

“When you hear $10 million, it sounds like a lot but when you’re talking about doing things to protect our democracy, it’s not as much as it sounds,” Giles said.

Some of that money is going to counties to buy some voting machines with paper trails to test how they work and how to audit the results. Seven counties — Bergen, Essex, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Union and Warren —are getting the new machines, and two others, Middlesex and Salem, may follow suit.

Some money is paying the salary of an election expert in the state’s Department of Homeland Security and Preparedness, who will focus both cybersecurity and physical security of voting places.

While the state’s voting machines are not connected to the Internet, voter registration data is. And the Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that the Russians tried to hack election information in all 50 states.

The state next month is holding an exercise with election officials in all 21 counties, plus and state and federal officials, to help strengthen preparedness and to examine possible scenarios and how to respond to them.

And the elections division is developing a mobile app so voters can check information they may get from bogus sources, such as telling them that a polling place has been moved or the hours of voting are different.

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