Senator Mark Warner
The votes have been counted, recounted and certified. The dust has settled on President Donald Trump’s undemocratic attempts to reverse the final tally. And the results are in: This election was, in the words of President Trump’s own appointees, “the most secure election in modern history.”
This outcome was far from given. In the weeks running up to Nov. 3, the Senate Intelligence Committee, on which I serve as vice chairman, received multiple briefings from intelligence officials raising alarms that foreign nations intended to launch massive interference campaigns to spread misinformation designed to influence our elections. These briefings — part of dozens of hearings our committee has conducted on the subject of election security over the past four years — were hair-raising, especially coupled with warnings from law enforcement that domestic sources would also seek to undermine the election and perhaps, incite violence in an effort to intimate Americans exercising their right to vote.
The “nightmare scenario” was even worse — an all-of-the-above situation where foreign adversaries claimed success in hacking the election and that misinformation reinforced domestic calls to violence, which would then again be used by our enemies to undermine our democracy and reinforce our divisions. Heading into Election Day, there were very real concerns at the highest levels of government that there might be widespread violence both before and after the election — regardless of its outcome.
But that didn’t happen. What did happen was that the institutions charged with protecting our democracy stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.
While misinformation about the results of the election — proliferated and promoted by no less a personage than the president of the United States — has continued to flourish in the wake of the election, foreign efforts to influence the vote were, by and large, blunted by an intelligence community that has spent four years preparing for this challenge.
Law enforcement, following the vanguard of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency under the able leadership of a since-fired Chris Krebs, worked with state and local partners to protect voting machines. Congress provided hundreds of million dollars in aid to states and localities to secure the vote, although we still need to do much more in the future. Even the social media companies, so important to the Russian effort in 2016, acted more responsibly in 2020, working with the FBI to identify and remove foreign adversaries who were trying to use their platforms against us.
Facing a pandemic and efforts to suppress the vote, the American people rose to meet the moment. What could easily have been a low-turnout election instead saw record numbers of voters casting their ballots. With a few exceptions, Americans acted responsibly and peacefully, and the election was a remarkable success in spite of fears that COVID-19 would keep voters home. Widespread violence that was predicted prior to Election Day failed to materialize, leaving behind intact storefront windows that had been boarded up in preparation for the worst.
Even President Trump’s half-baked attempts to steal the election have failed, as yet, to fissure our democracy. That is, in part, a testament to the work of thousands of public servants across the country, including local elections officials, both Democrats and Republicans, who stood up in defense of our nation’s most sacred birthright, the free and fair election, and made sure the votes got counted.
It’s been clear for months that the president had no intention of conceding an election he lost, no matter how securely it was conducted. In spite of that earth-shattering break with constitutional norms, the institutions designed to protect our democracy have stood strong.
Our intelligence community, which learned many lessons from 2016, took steps to proactively inure Americans to the effects of foreign misinformation — issuing unprecedented warnings to Americans of efforts by Russian, Iranian and Chinese actors to influence their votes. Faced with massive political pressure to undermine the integrity of the vote, local officials and registrars refused to back down. At every opportunity, the courts have swatted down Trump’s attempts to challenge the election’s results. And most importantly, the American people stood up to have their voices peacefully heard.
That is an act of democracy worth celebrating.