Safeguarding votes is important to all

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If feds are politically tied in knots, responsibility falls to states.

THIS PAST WEEKEND governors from around the country met in Washington to discuss issues of mutual interest to both Republicans and Democrats. One recurring theme was concern over whether the nation's election voting systems are fully safe from renewed hacking threats as crucial mid-term elections approach in the fall.

America's intelligence agencies not only are unanimous in their judgment that Russian agents meddled in the 2016 elections, they now insist the Russians already are at work on the mid-terms. Likewise, congressional investigators have not questioned that conclusion, even as they continue partisan spats over ongoing controversies related to the special counsel and other matters.

Only the White House has pushed back, with President Trump variously referring to the Russian meddling story as a "hoax," "fake news," "a witch hunt" or maybe the work of "a guy sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds." Experts agree that tension has resulted in a less than all-out effort to thwart any digital attacks this fall.

THE GOVERNORS are worried for good reason. During congressional testimony FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged there has been no directive from the White House to counter Russian meddling in the fall. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats also said there has been no direction and "no single agency (is) in charge" of blocking would-be Russian meddling. Both men are Trump appointees, and both told Congress they expect Russian agents to actively try to cause problems in mid-term elections.

"In my lifetime I've never seen anything like this," Rhode Island's Democrat Gov. Gina Raimondo said. "The biggest concern is when you have a president and an administration that denies the problem and doesn't acknowledge the existence of the problem."

"There's obviously nothing more important than protecting the mechanism of democracy," said Kentucky's Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. "They've (Russians) shown that they can at least meddle if not directly influence."

Governors of both parties agreed their states would have to step up to assure election integrity in November.

THANK GOD FOR GOVERNORS. The Russians' purpose was to sow discord among Americans and distrust about election integrity, so it is heartening to hear representatives of the 50 states vow to take responsibility.

The most important right of our free people is the vote, by which Americans peacefully decide each election cycle who will hold public office and run government. Though it has been the foundation of democracy from the beginning, the system is remarkably fragile. It works only so long as tens of millions of Americans believe that "one man (or woman), one vote" actually is what takes place. If foreign agents - or, for that matter, domestic conspiracy theorists - ever persuade those millions the vote tally cannot be trusted or believed - in other words, that it's somehow rigged - chaos and conflict surely would follow.

That's also why loose talk about rigged elections or phantom phony votes, without a shred of evidence, poses danger for the U.S. system. President Trump claimed he really won the popular vote in 2016 but Hillary Clinton benefited from millions of illegal aliens casting ballots. Trump formed a commission to find the fraud. It didn't, and quietly folded its tent and disappeared. That doesn't mean, however, such wild claims do no residual damage to public trust.

THE FACTS SHOW the Russian attack was more than just trolling social media with bogus items aimed at stirring up anger and conflict between factions of Americans. At least 20 state election systems were probed and targeted by Russian agents. It would be incredibly naive and foolish to assume they won't try again.

In our book, this was an act of war. No, not the kind you send soldiers to fight. Not the kind you launch missiles over.

But it deserves a deep and serious response, with intense vigilance to make sure continued efforts to meddle in or, worse, sabotage U.S. elections can be thwarted. Thus far, the response from Washington is not encouraging. That makes the response from 50 governors of paramount importance.

Americans disagree about a lot of things. In a democracy that's not only OK, it's a sign of health.

But this should be universal: Elections exclusively belong to Americans, and we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defend that.

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