What will elections look like in 2021? Or 2022? Beyond? Perhaps it seems too soon to be thinking about the future of elections when we are mere weeks out from November. But elections will continue after Nov. 3, and we must begin to think of and prioritize policy areas that can be strengthened when we move past one of the most contentious elections in modern history.
Strengthening Our Technological Response to Election Security Issues
Innovation has been fundamental to the success of many American institutions, and the failures of the 2020 election season have demonstrated the need for more of it in elections administration.
For example, the Colorado secretary of state recently announced a program called TXT2Cure that enables voters to remedy signature discrepancies via smartphones rather than relying on mail and photocopies. The tool ensures that more individuals can prove a ballot is theirs, and it helps jurisdictions better identify any legitimate fraud attempts while achieving faster results.
Or take the case of overseas and disabled voters in West Virginia who will be able to vote electronically this election season. The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled international mail, threatening the timelines that overseas voters have to return physical ballots. Electronic voting options like that being used in West Virginia will enable those voters to submit their ballot in a timely fashion, confident that their votes will count.
These are just two examples of the ways technology can increase voters’ confidence in their ability to participate in elections. When asking what potential problems with online voting do critics fear, examples like this underscore the importance of technology in elections. We believe there are more opportunities ahead to explore how innovations can pave the way for improved voter access to elections — and confidence in the integrity of those elections.
Improving the Infrastructure to Address Misinformation and Disinformation
Information manipulation is not a new phenomenon. However, the proliferation and preponderance of misinformation and disinformation over the past few election cycles have elevated information manipulation as a legitimate threat to election integrity.
In early September, Microsoft warned that the Russian military intelligence unit that had hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016 was once again posing a serious threat — a threat the company made clear would be even more targeted and sophisticated than before. And Russia isn’t the only country trying to spread election misinformation. Facebook recently eliminated fake pages serving as part of a Chinese campaign to undermine the election via social media.
These attacks won’t end after November, and we must consider other ways to improve our resilience against them. Consider the strength of response to information manipulation if even 10% to 15% of Americans were trained in basic awareness tools to identify information manipulation in ads or news articles. What if every major corporation’s cybersecurity training included a module on information manipulation?
What if election administration officials once again became the primary source of election information? The ability to manipulate the public with confusing and contradictory messages would significantly decrease, and the increasing importance of technology in elections could be harnessed for good instead of harm. But it’s not possible to build the relationship between voters and their local election offices overnight; we must do more to increase support for local election offices as the source of election information moving forward while also improving everyone’s understanding of information manipulation tools.
Elevating Awareness of Election Cybersecurity Issues and Resources
The federal government has significantly improved its efforts to support the cybersecurity efforts of the 8,000-plus jurisdictions throughout the United States. But resources are limited, and the ability to defend against or even remediate cyberattacks proactively remains significantly lower than the need.
We need to elevate the general awareness of cybersecurity and practical tools to improve it across the ranks of state legislatures and local officials who approve budgets for enhanced election cybersecurity policies and measures. We must consider these decision makers as key partners in improving the security posture of all states so that elections — as a part of that ecosystem — are secure moving forward.