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Russian meddling abroad underscores need for electoral reform in Canada

"This is about a hostile foreign government that has developed a new weapon," Senator Elizabeth Warren told a Town Hall meeting in Ware, Mass. “And that weapon is interfering in the democratic process.”

"This is a critical tipping point in world history," international security expert Anders Corr wrote in Forbes Magazine. “... through his meddling, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has made himself the new constituency of all politicians in democratic countries who don’t want to be at the business end of his fake news AK-47.

"This is the overthrow of our democracies by virtual force and it should be taken as seriously as a declaration of war. It will have effects as significant..."

In France, says Corr, Russia backed the far right-wing Marine Le Pen and targeted centrist Emmanual Macron, who won anyway. In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May has declined to say whether Russia interfered in the Brexit vote, despite the Labor Party’s repeated requests.

In the U.S., Russian hackers hit a total of 39 states, almost four states out of five (39/50), according to another Bloomberg Politics report. "In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database...."

"The newest portrayal of potentially deep vulnerabilities in the U.S.'s patchwork of voting technologies comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress that Moscow isn’t done meddling."

Although the Obama government and Homeland Security scrambled to identify the hackers and install systems to counter them, the main saving grace of the U.S. voting system was that it is so varied and disorganized that logical systems had trouble following it.  

Remember the Wanna Cry ransomware that hit hospitals and governments recently? The main targets were archaic Microsoft sole-function machines, weak links that could crash the whole network. Apparently, U.S. voting systems are full of similar older machines. That's important, because in this game, the U.S. loses and Russia wins even if all the cyberwarfare achieves is to undermine the credibility of democratic elections.

Corr suggests something more aggressive is happening: "China and Russia are quickly moving to back candidates who seek to dismantle international institutions that are exclusive to democracies, and attempting to dominate all others. They are working to break up NATO in Europe and the U.S. hub-and-spoke alliances in Asia...." Post-Communist Russia and China would prefer to see the World Trade Organization in charge.  

One prominent person rejects the idea that Russia meddled in the U.S. election. Donald Trump reportedly asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers "to publicly deny that there is any evidence of connections between Trump’s team and Russia," Mollie Reilly reported. 

They declined. 

Famously, 45 allegedly went on to make a similar request of FBI Director James Comey, who did not respond. He went on to fire Comey, on the grounds that "there’s nothing to the Russia file." 

[On the contrary, the Washington Post has a timeline and chart showing connections between 16 close Trump associates and a dozen Russian officials.] 

As cover-ups go, the job termination backfired hugely. 45's own comments about it have led to his latest predicament. The Washington Post reports that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the President for obstruction of justice -- interfering with an active criminal (or perhaps espionage) investigation.

Meanwhile, the Maryland and District of Columbia Attorneys-General are suing for an injunction to force 45 to sell his local business interests. They claim that not only is 45 making millions from foreign dignitaries and investors who patronize his hotels and convention centre hoping to curry favour with him, but that this favouritism harms other Maryland and D.C. hospitality businesses.

The lawsuit argues that the two Constitutional Emoulements clauses "ensure that Americans do not have to guess whether a President who orders their sons and daughters to die in foreign lands acts out of concern for his private business interests; they do not have to wonder if they lost their job due to trade negotiations in which the President has a personal stake; and they never have to question whether the President can sit across the bargaining table from foreign leaders and faithfully represent the world's most powerful democracy, unencumbered by  fear of harming his own companies.

As far as "emoulements" go -- sometimes referred to as potential "bribes" -- media and investigators alike are spending a lot of time trying to follow the money. USA Today reports that in the past 12 months, the Trump corporation has sold 28 U.S. properties for a total of $33 million -- 70 percent to secretive shell corporations difficult to trace back to the real owners. So long as 45 refuses to release his income tax records, Americans may never know who is paying him $10 million here and $6 milion there.

Patching up banking laws might help with tracking elusive mega-payments. On the other hand, 45 is the first president to openly embrace being in endless conflict of interest situations due to his less than arms-length relationship to his businesses.

Maybe the 2016 election will be embarrassing enough to boot the US into much-needed national electoral reform. Proof of Russian intervention could be the impetus for Americans to reclaim their ballots, set national, federal, election standards, and clean up inequities such as, first, voter suppression laws, which 20 states have introduced since 2010, aimed at preventing African-Americans from voting. And second, the antiquated Electoral College system, designed to protect slave-owners, delivered the 2016 election to a candidate who won a minority of the popular votes.

Uniform federal standards could also expedite voting as well as protecting voters’ rights. Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn’t really have electoral reform anywhere on its political agenda. But Canada does! And Canada is also a NATO member, also at odds with Russia over Crimea and other policies -- and therefore also vulnerable to this new cyber weapon.

In a digital world, political funding could be made transparent. Transparent voting systems offer better protection against cyber attacks than more haphazard and obscure methods do. The Liberal’s ill-fated electoral reform survey asked how Canadians feel about voting from our own computers and handheld devices -- a more personal and appealing method for the digital generation.

Americans have had a crash course in Civics 101 since November 2016. A June 15 poll found that a majority (61 percent) believe that 45 did try to obstruct the investigation into his Russian connections. Sloppy elections bring sloppy results, including rebellion in the Senate and calls for impeachment in the House.

Canada could learn from the American situation. Let’s bring Canada’s election practices into the 21st century, before cyberwar practices pull us back into regional divisions and public alienation.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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