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BIDEN INSTITUTE BLOG Securing Our Elections

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by Trey Grayson, Principal, CivicPoint

Trey Grayson, an attorney with Frost Brown Todd, served as Kentucky Secretary of State from 2004-11.  He served as President of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Chair of the Republican Association of Secretaries of State, and President Obama’s Commission on Election Administration following the 2012 election.  He continues to work as a volunteer and a consultant with numerous organizations to modernize and secure our elections.

While much of the response to the now released Mueller Report has predictably broken along party lines, the sections dealing with the efforts of Russia to disrupt our elections in 2016 should alarm Republicans and Democrats alike. 

Not because we learned much from the report.  After all, when it comes to what the Russians did in 2016, we already knew most of its contents. 

Instead, we should be alarmed because nearly three years after the election, our country still needs to take steps to assist our state and local election administrators at levels commensurate with the national security threat posed by the efforts of the Russians and other nation states to interfere with our elections.

First, the good news.  Much progress has been made since 2016.  The Department of Homeland Security has dramatically improved communications with election administrators.  Security-themed sessions dominate elections conferences, while new initiatives, such as the Harvard Belfer Center’s Defending Digital Democracy, have been established to develop and disseminate strategies, tools, and technology to protect democratic processes and systems.

Despite this progress, much remains to be done. 

First, too many voters in the 2018 midterm elections cast their ballots electronically.  Too many will likely do so in 2020 as well.  Instead, we need paper ballots that are verified by the voter and retained for audits or recounts. 

Speaking of audits, we also need more states to adopt quick, cost-effective manual statistical audits, such as the risk-limiting audits that Colorado has been successfully testing for the past few elections.  Rather than counting a fixed percentage of ballots, statistical principles determine the size of the sample recounted in a risk-limiting audit.  As a result, more ballots are counted in a close race than a race with a larger margin of victory.  These types of audits can give us the confidence that outcome was correct, and they also deter bad actors, who know that their actions will be discovered.

When it comes to voter registration systems – another target of Russia according to the Mueller Report – more states should adopt automated voter registration (commonly called AVR).  With AVR, more voters will be registered in the correct precinct, with accurate information, as the data is transferred in a secure and cost-effective manner to the voter registration list from the DMV’s driver’s license database or other similar databases.  This reform is being adopted by a growing number of states, with more and more support from Republicans, including new Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Finally, we need to establish a steady funding stream from the federal government to assist states with these security needs, perhaps with a reasonable match of new funds.  Such a recurring, predictable funding stream would allow states and local election administrators to make wise investments in security improvements, while still allowing states to maintain their traditional (and in my view, correct) role in administering our elections.

I look forward to discussing these election-related topics, and anything else in the world of politics and policy, as well as my pick for this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, during my visit to campus this week.

*DISCLAIMER*

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vice President Biden, the Biden Institute or the University of Delaware.

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Biden Policy Dinner Guest Blog by Trey Grayson

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5/1/2019
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