‘There’s a sense of urgency’: Utah’s Rep. Stewart offers solutions to stop Russian meddling in the upcoming midterm elections

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Chris Stewart, left, moderates discussion with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., at an annual security summit in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 26, 2018.

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart has no doubt that Russia will meddle in the United States’ upcoming midterm races — the first national election since President Donald Trump took office.

“They’re going to find areas of weakness, and they’re going to be successful in some ways,” said the Utah congressman after his annual security summit in Salt Lake City on Monday. “Maybe we’ll be surprised in ways we don’t really anticipate right now.”

Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, spoke just hours after Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats from the country and ordered the consulate in Seattle shuttered. Earlier this month, the administration also sanctioned several Russian organizations and individuals for cyberattacks and interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The United States, Stewart said, needs to be on the defensive this year.

“My recommendation is that we have a paper trail” with voting machines, he said, “something physical that you can hold that can’t be manipulated with electronics, so we know what the actual vote tally was, if it were ever brought into question.”

Though it doesn’t happen in every state, that’s something Utah already does. And it’s one of just 17 recommendations — including regular briefings on current threats and more funding for state and local agencies to update computer systems — made by the House Intelligence Committee to safeguard the November election.

“It’s important to get those out there because there’s a sense of urgency,” Stewart said. “They’re practical. They’re things that will make a difference. It’s a starting place. Do I feel like it solves everything? For sure, it doesn’t.”

The lawmaker would also like to sit down with leaders from social media companies to identify threats and urge them to act “ethical in how they’re sharing some private information.” He’s particularly concerned by the reports that Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics firm with links to Trump’s presidential campaign, improperly harvested user data on Facebook.

Despite reports and testimonies from the intelligence community, Stewart has continued to assert that while Russia meddled in the 2016 race, the foreign government did not seek to boost Trump’s chances to win.

“The CIA just got it wrong,” the lawmaker said this month after the House Intelligence Committee closed its investigation into the matter.

In Stewart’s own midterm race, he faces six challengers: Republicans Mary Burkett and Ken Clark, Democrats Randy Hopkins and Shireen Ghorbani, Libertarian Jeffery Whipple and United Utah Party candidate Jan Garbett. The congressman will not collect signatures — the state’s alternative route to the ballot — saying he feels he’ll do “OK at convention.”