American citizens possess a constitutional right to vote, but do those votes mean anything if secure election processes are not available? After Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election, the government has done little to keep problems like this from reoccurring in the future. The $380 million spending bill, which will be distributed as grants to states, is a start for secure elections, but not enough for the changes elections need.
Updating Voting Systems
For secure elections to work, the most urgent steps state and localities can take is updating voting machines with paper trails. Five states exclusively use voting machines that do not produce a voter-verified paper trail — Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina. Additionally, nine states do not exclusively use machines with no trails, but they use some — Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.
While the $380 million spending bill was a step in the right direction, states need more money to replace all the paperless voting machines in use. This is due to how the funds of the bill distribute and also because the money can be used for a broad range of system-related projects other than updating paper-less voting machines.
Voters trust insecure systems just as much as they lack faith in secure ones. Many factors influence if voters perceive elections as secure or not. Perceived competency of poll workers can impact voter perception as well as if their favored candidate wins or loses. If their candidate wins, voters often view the election as more secure than if they lose.
The most vital influence in today’s digital age is cybersecurity, which is constantly in the news, often after breaches of sensitive information occur. The combination of paper ballots and meticulous post-election audits is considered the prime measure of voter confidence and security. However, voter confidence in cybersecurity is never static. It can be affected by the severity and timing of future security breaches in the US and also by how the media portrays election security.
With the $380 million spending bill, states can improve some cybersecurity and audit systems right away by doing things like patching software and adding multi-factor authentication and other access controls related to election networks. For longer and more labor-intensive improvements, time and money are lacking, and those updates likely won’t be seen until 2019 or 2020.
To help with money, a number of bipartisan bills are pending in Congress and those bills would give money to states for election security. One of these bills is the Secure Elections Act, which would not only disburse money to states through grants but also create voluntary cybersecurity guidelines. The bill also aims to improve the exchange of cyber threat intelligence between Washington, D.C. and the states, many of which felt like they were under-informed about Russian hackers.
Establishing Uniform Ballot Access Laws Across States
Besides Switzerland, the US is the only nation in the world that does not have uniform state ballot access laws. This means every state can decide how candidates achieve representation on their ballots. The state party bosses would rather manipulate the system to benefit their preferred candidate than operate in a fair democracy, so it is unjust they enforce the rules of the state ballot access laws.
In 2012, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were the only Republican presidential candidates on the ballot in Virginia. Other candidates were in the race, but they did not achieve the 10,000 signatures that Virginia’s ballot law requires. This hinders ballot access and rejects the ideas of open representation democracy.
Another example comes from 1999 when John McCain sued in order for his name to appear on the ballot with George W. Bush. The Republican state party chair and his committee decided Bush would be their Republican nominee without a vote. Local laws allowed them to restrict ballot access until the court overruled their ploy to dodge democracy. To lessen partisan issues and keep elections secure from state party chairs, states should establish uniform state ballot access laws.
Understanding Social Media’s Impact
Be wary of how social media affects politics as well. Anyone can create fake information on a website or post to share on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. We know now that in the 2016 presidential race, Russian hackers targeted Facebook. Russians created around 80,000 posts that reached 126 million Americans in a span of two years, according to Facebook.
The social media giant is trying to increase their transparency with users. Last year Facebook introduced a system to flag what’s being referred to as “fake news,” or the spread of misinformation, and will soon require organizations that run election ads to confirm their identities. Although Facebook and other social media sites try to improve their security, the negative effects of social media on politics will still be present in society.
Overall, a lot of time, money and hard work are needed for secure elections in the future. The public must pressure the government to take action before citizens lose faith in US democracy.