For the first time in the history of our country - in this year of 2016 - our American Democracy is under attack by an external power using a completely different means of attack – specifically cyber attacks against our system.
U. S. intelligence agencies, both civilian and military, have concluded that the Russian government is actively tampering with databases in our democratic process with the intent of either influencing the outcome of the election or at the very least disrupting our political process.
The apparent intent is to so disrupt our elections as to demoralize the American people, cause us to doubt our form of government, our own collective wisdom, our ability to govern ourselves and make us think there is another way of government better than the one that has served us so well for the last 240 years.
The danger is not so much that a foreign power through cyber attacks can actually dictate the outcome of the election, as has been pointed out by our Secretary of State, Bryan Kemp, Fulton County Elections Director, Richard Barron, and other elections officials around the county. Our electoral system is so decentralized that actually dictating the outcome is almost beyond question.
However, it is feasible and perhaps not unlikely that a foreign power could attempt to use cyber attacks to manipulate and corrupt our voter registration files and other sources of data used in the electoral process so as to disrupt it and cause us to doubt the integrity of our system and, therefore, the legitimacy of the outcome of our elections.
Governments at all levels - national, state and county - are working assiduously to prevent this from happening, but still we do not know what may happen on Election Day. Our best defense as Americans is to actively and energetically participate in the elections process that was set up by our Founding Fathers 240 years ago which produced the most powerful and the most just county in the history of the world.
Georgians will have many candidates on their ballots this year. Additionally, voters will be deciding on four proposed changes to Georgia’s Constitution. The importance of voters understanding what a constitutional amendment will do cannot be overstated, because a constitutional amendment, once passed, is lasting and can be changed only through a future public vote. Voters can gather information on their respective ballots at www.ajc.com/elections or www.lwvga.org - click on 2016 Voter Guide.
For those voters who feel disillusioned by “politics” or unhappy with the candidates in this Presidential election and intend, therefore, to “protest” by not participating in the process, I would remind them that the ancient Greeks, the founders of democracy as we know it, felt so strongly that public participation was a duty and responsibility of citizenship that they had a special, pejorative word for it. Those citizens who did not take part in the political process, who felt themselves too busy or too important to vote, they called “idiote.”
Some foreign powers may think that we Americans are idiots who can be tricked into losing confidence in ourselves and our democracy. But, they are wrong.
This year, American voters can prove to the world that we are strong, smart, and confident in our democratic form of government. If you have voted early, thank you. If you have not voted – please vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8th and send that message across this country, around the world, and inside the Kremlin.
Elizabeth Poythress is president, League of Women Voters of Georgia.