Tennessee could be a soft target for hackers hoping to influence the 2018 midterms if the legislature doesn’t take action, state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said.
“We are one of the only states where there’s a competitive Senate race but almost no paper trail for ballots cast,” Sen. Yarbro said. “We have already seen Russian operatives spread propaganda by posing as one of our state’s major political parties. We can’t afford to be a soft target.”
Facebook recently reported that 126 million Americans have seen Russian-backed political content on its platform over a two-year period.
Last week, NBC News published a repository of Russian troll tweets, including those from @TEN_GOP on Twitter.
During the 2016 cycle, the account had more followers than the official Tennessee Republican Party.
On Tuesday, Yarbro introduced Senate Bill 1635 (deferred), that would require financial disclosure on advertisements placed on social media sites to meet the same standards as advertisements in the mail or on television.
In companion legislation, House Bill 1847 by state Rep. Jason Powell, introduced on Wednesday would require political communications through a social media platform to indicate the person, candidate, or political committee who paid for and, as applicable, authorized the communication.
Russian hackers tried to penetrate election systems in 2016 in as many as 39 states, although Tennessee was not one of them. However, Shelby County election equipment was easily hacked at a Las Vegas conference, showing just how vulnerable Tennessee could be.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified this week that “the United States is under attack…There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence elections.”
Senate Bill 2090 which was also considered Tuesday and failed, would have required any county using electronic voting systems have the capability to create a voter-verifiable paper audit trail for each ballot cast.
“When even the Trump Administration warns our state elections are being targeted by a sophisticated nation-state, doing nothing would be irresponsible,” Yarbro said. “At minimum, we can ensure there’s a paper backup for every ballot, and that you always know who’s paying to sway your vote online.”