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There Are No ‘Minor Incursions’

Certain things are inviolable in international and national arenas. If peace is to prevail, collective security must be upheld — a violation against one is a violation against all.

President Biden caused a huge international stir when he implied the U.S. may not punish Russia harshly if Putin ordered a “minor incursion” into Ukraine.

“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not to do,” Biden said.

Officials in Ukraine and across the globe were stunned. International law is clear: UN Charter Art 2(4) states, “All Members shall refrain … from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State…”.

There are no exceptions for “minor incursions.”

In her Jan. 20, Defense One article “Biden’s Gray-Zone Gaffe Highlights a Real Dilemma,” Elisabeth Braw wrote, “no country or alliance has yet mustered an effective strategy for responding to gray-zone aggression.” But, “It’s high time for NATO and its member governments to define what kinds of aggression short of war require a unified response.”

“The Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression … including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics,” Braw states. The gray zone might be “a few people dressed as Ukrainian police officers who take possession of a police station in the border area.” She says such aggression should be countered, and the existence of the dilemma requires urgent attention.

Russia’s gray-zone aggression with regard to Ukraine provides an ominous parallel for U.S. elections. Loose words and careless actions by election officials, party leaders, candidates, media and voters can cause a lack of confidence, and threaten the security of our election process.

U.S. elections require urgent action for gray-zone aggression. Simply, there should be no acceptance of “minor incursions” when it comes to elections.

Once President Biden was called out for his gaffe, he quickly reversed course.

“If any — any — assembled Russian units move across Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” Biden said.

In West Virginia, we apply that same attitude to our elections. If any — any — incursions occur in our election system contrary to state code and the U.S. Constitution, we act to thwart such activity. By doing so, we placed West Virginia in the top 10 states in public confidence following the 2020 election, according to an MIT study. Had other states done likewise, much of the consternation about the election could have been prevented.

Examples of election gray-zone intrusions include donated corporate money that creates non-uniformity in election administration, unauthorized drop boxes, non-citizens voting, absentee applications sent to people not authorized to vote absentee, “friendly lawsuits” settled out of court to sidestep election laws, and counting ballots that are trafficked, voted in the wrong precinct, and do not have proper signatures or addresses.

Key to election confidence is following the law and being transparent. Should adjustments need to be made, the U.S. Constitution is clear that the times, places and manner of elections shall be left to the state legislatures.

Back in Europe, major military movements and significant diplomatic engagements are underway due to the uncertainty caused by Russia’s gray-zone activity. World security and confidence has been shaken, as evidenced by a sharp stock market decline.

We should take heed inside our own country as we move toward the 2022 elections. Confidence in the upcoming elections demands that no one moves into any gray areas of election administration.

When it comes to elections, there are no exceptions for “minor incursions.”

Republican Mac Warner serves West Virginia as Secretary of State. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the WVU School of Law.

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