With all the partisan one-upmanship in Washington, it is hard to focus on the true problem: foreign meddling in our government and in our elections.

Foreign governments are always attempting to influence the leadership of other countries. The United States is probably the most successful country at influencing others. We do it so much that we as citizens don't even notice it for what it actually is.

We give foreign aid to countries and we do it with strings attached. In many cases, the foreign cash must be spent on buying American products, like tanks and planes, or to keep specific trade regulations in place. We train foreign police officers and soldiers and develop contacts in those organizations. We fund and train political activists in foreign countries with the idea that someday those individuals will be in positions of power and influence.

Do those foreign countries want us doing this in their country? Probably not. At least the people who aren't on the receiving end of our largess probably don't appreciate it.

How do we stop foreign countries from influencing our government?

The discussion of paper ballots is promising and should be expanded out to a more robust defense of our elections. First, all voters should be required to show photo identification when the vote at the polls. Second, all elections should have a paper ballot, the way Massachusetts does today.

Third, we must know who is working on the elections for the government. All elections are conducted at the local level. The people who manage the elections as poll workers are a potential weak link. As Soviet dictator Josef Stalin said, "It doesn't matter who votes, it matters who counts the votes." The people handling the voting and counting of the votes should be subjected to a rigorous background check for vulnerabilities. Someone with financial problems and other personal issues is a target for Russian, Chinese, or other foreign intelligence agencies.

Candidates should disclose all of their foreign travel and contacts going back to their late teens. The voters should know about the possibility of a candidate being compromised. We know that intelligence agents target students for recruitment and blackmail. Particular focus should be on travels to hostile or previously hostile foreign nations like Russia, Cuba, North Korea, and China.

The vast majority of people who work as election workers for the government are fine people who care intensely about our elections. However, the human link is the most vulnerable link when an intelligence agency is looking to crack a system. Overlooking the people who count the ballots is foolish.

To run for office in Massachusetts, a person has to fill out a financial disclosure statement under oath. It is equally important to know if a person has been traveling to Cuba and China and interacting with potential intelligence agents. State elected officials have to disclose trips that are paid by others. We should add travel histories to that disclosure and include candidates, too.

Protecting our elections is crucial. We must know who is running for office, who is voting, and who is counting the votes during the election to protect against foreign interference.

Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at chris.mccarthy@townsquaremedia.com and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 

More From WBSM-AM/AM 1420