House Committee on Elections Examine how to vote safely and prevent interference

Donal Gannon

The House Subcommittee on Elections held a virtual hearing Tuesday Oct. 6 to hear testimony on voting rights and misinformation in the upcoming November elections.

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Washington- With the presidential election only four weeks away the Democratic members of the committee, led by Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, took testimony from election officials and experts on how to protect the election from foreign and domestic interference and instilling confidence in the American public on the elections security and accuracy.

The only Republican member of the committee, Rep. Rodney Davis did not attend the hearing, Fudge stating, “I would suggest that by their absence they have either decided that they are not concerned about this topic or at best they do not care to be involved in this discussion.” Republican Congress members and the White House have repeatedly warned that mail in voting presents a higher risk of fraud, though the Brennan Center and other research organizations have found little evidence of fraud in states that have heavily used mail in ballots for several past election.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) joined briefly before leaving for another obligation, “it should not be a partisan issue the idea of every American being able to cast their vote freely and having that vote counted as cast.”

Colorado Secretary of State (D) Jena Griswold stated in her testimony, “Foreign adversaries are right now right this minute meddling in our elections. We cannot allow this to continually happen.” Russia used computer hacking and a social media disinformation campaign in 2016,  with a significant portion being targeted towards people of color and continue to attempt to influence this year’s election.

One of the issues most often pointed to by those giving testimony was the targeting and suppression of voting among communities of color. Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and law professor at George Washington University, discussed the targeting of black communities in the 2016 election by Russian groups on social media. According to Overton, Russians directed 38% of their advertisement purchases towards dissuading African Americans from voting, despite African Americans making up only 13% of the United States population.

The 2016 presidential election was the target of interference by Russian operatives as well as voting suppression, especially among black voters. According to Pew Research, 2016 saw the first fall in percentage of black voters in 20 years. The Trump campaign also targeted black voters in 2016 with attack ads in multiple swing states to deter black Americans from voting.

Beyond foreign intervention, members of the committee and those giving testimony discussed the President and his multiple public statements claiming the 2020 election would be fraudulent. President Trump’s recent remark at the Presidential debate telling the far-right group the “Proud Boys” to “stand back and stand by” and his appeals to law enforcement over the election were forms of voter suppression according to Griswold.

Inajo Davis Chapelle, member of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Election Board defended voting by mail, stating “Voters in Cuyahoga county Ohio have been voting by mail successfully since 2006”. Voting by mail has steadily grown in popularity in the United States, with vote-by-mail comprising roughly 20% of votes cast according to the MIT Election Lab.

Social media played a strong role for voting interference in 2016 and according to Overton companies need to “step up to the plate” in preventing this from being a continuing issue stating they are “they are key in terms of preventing voter suppression”. Those giving testimony recommended greater transparency and accountability for social media companies in monitoring attempts to interfere with U.S elections. 

With efforts being made both foreign and domestic to influence the 2020 election, representatives and those giving testimony advised on how citizens should go about voting. “Individuals have to recognize there is a lot of misinformation that is out here and trust credible sources to go to your elections officials website and get accurate information,” Overton said. 

Benjamin Hovland, U.S Election Commission Chair recommended to voters the importance of   “Checking your voter registration, knowing how you want to vote this year there are options that most American have whether by mail or absentee ballot early in person or ultimately on election day figuring out what’s the best for you as an American engage in the process.”

Fudge concluded the meeting with a message to the public and to those who would seek to undermine the 2020 election.  saying she believes this election the American people will “vote in in bigger numbers than anyone can imagine” going on to say, “We will show our colleagues and the President there is nothing you can do to kill this democracy. It is bigger than you. It is stronger than you. It is more resilient than you are. The people are going to win the election because we will exercise our right to vote no matter what roadblocks you put in our way.”

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