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
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.