NOEL KING, HOST:
Special counsel Robert Mueller's report has elicited a lot of arguing.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Nowhere in there does it say Mueller disagreed with the...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I talked directly to Bob Mueller.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I'm going to write Mr. Mueller a letter.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: To look past Mueller, as hard as it was...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Now it's Mueller time.
KING: What it has not elicited so far is solutions. At least, not from Congress. NPR's Miles Parks has the story.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: If a new law was going to help shore up America's voting systems, last summer seemed like the time to pass it. 2016 was far enough in the rearview mirror so lawmakers knew a lot of what had happened, and it was close enough to another election, the midterms, to give the problem some urgency. A bipartisan bill emerged, Secure Elections Act. It said that if states were going to get federal money to support their elections, they needed to do a couple things - have paper backups for any of their electronic voting machines, and they needed to double-check their election results. The ideas are broadly popular in the election security community. But...
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AMY KLOBUCHAR: Just as we were on the verge of getting a markup in the Rules Committee, getting it to the floor - where I think we would get the vast majority of senators - the White House made calls to stop this.
PARKS: That's Senator Amy Klobuchar at a hearing earlier this month. She was the bill's Democratic co-sponsor. The White House said at the time that the bill would move too much power from the states to the federal government. Because of that, it never gained traction. And like a lot of other laws aimed at patching holes in American democracy, the legislation died. Oklahoma Senator James Lankford was the bill's Republican co-sponsor. Lankford says even if the 2018 midterms were mostly interference-free, Congress should still work to make future elections more secure.
JAMES LANKFORD: If it continues to go well, people become apathetic about it and say this is not a problem. There will always be a problem. Every single NATO country has had election interference from the Russians. Every single one of them. If we ignore that, it's to our peril.
PARKS: Nate Persily is a law professor at Stanford, and he's working on a report specifically about solutions for election interference. He says voting isn't the only space where Congress has failed to pass new legislation in the past three years. Most of the improvements, when it comes to transparency, data privacy and advertising on social media, have come from the social media companies themselves. Persily says that's good, but it's not a long-term solution.
NATE PERSILY: Government should regulate them. And it's a problem if we have unaccountable plutocrats being the ones who determine the rules for American elections.
PARKS: Even some who've profited from social media agree. Chris Hughes, one of Facebook's founders, spoke to The New York Times this month.
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CHRIS HUGHES: We are so trained to look every time that Facebook fails to the next apology and the next prescription for what to do that we forget that we have the institutions and the tools to solve this problem, I think. This is on government to pick up the mantle and to solve.
PARKS: Bipartisan legislation was introduced last week that would make social media companies have to follow the same sort of political advertising rules as TV and radio. But the bill faces a tough road to passage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is passionate about protecting the First amendment and political speech. He's been skeptical of the bill in the past. Republicans in general have been just as worried, if not more worried, about censorship issues when it comes to regulation. They say the social media companies are biased against conservatives. The intelligence community is in agreement that Russia's interference was aimed at getting Donald Trump elected. Persily says that's part of what makes finding broad support for anything so difficult.
PERSILY: One of the sort of unfortunate consequences of the 2016 election is that since the problems with the election are seen as having benefited one party and not the other, trying to address those problems is seen as partisan.
PARKS: It's clear to him that there are solutions. Congress, he said, just needs to find the will to apply them. Miles Parks, NPR News, Washington.
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