David Becker is the executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. He formerly served as a trial attorney in the voting section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
While the White House continues to send mixed messages on what happened in the 2016 elections, the intelligence community and bipartisan committees in Congress have made one fact clear: Russia attacked our election and continues to target our elections today. But a lot has changed since 2016. Thanks to the efforts of election officials around the country, the 2018 midterms will be the most secure elections we’ve ever held.
This unfortunately isn’t what American voters have been hearing. Whether it’s the hysterical claim that votes were changed in 2016 or that Russians may have already hacked the midterms (there is zero evidence of either), or that a group of children hacked a state election (they didn’t), some are casting doubt on the ongoing integrity of our elections. If Russia’s goal is to delegitimize democracy worldwide, and particularly in the United States, then some here in our own country are doing the dirty work for them.
These claims not only are false, they also provide yet another reason to opt out of participating. This only exacerbates an environment in which citizens are constantly fed politically driven tales that elections are rigged or voter fraud is rampant.
But voters should feel confident. Russia’s efforts have driven an unprecedented response from federal, state and local officials charged with securing our election systems. Time and time again, secretaries of state and state election directors from both parties have made clear that while the threat to our elections is real, they are singularly focused on and prepared to address it in 2018 and beyond.
States are partnering with the federal government on cybersecurity like never before. The Department of Homeland Security is helping states assess and secure their election systems and is quadrupling its monitoring of malicious traffic targeting those systems. In just the past eight months, all 50 states and more than 1,000 local jurisdictions have joined the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, committing to better sharing information about potential threats to election infrastructure. This summer, nearly all the states joined DHS in participating in a national cybersecurity exercise, simulating various attack scenarios.
About 80 percent of all voters can vote with an auditable paper trail. That number continues to grow, with all states on the path to implementing all-paper ballots by 2020. Two-thirds of states with paper ballots audit them, and more and more states, including Colorado, Rhode Island and Virginia, are showing other states how to move to even better audits, using sophisticated statistical methodologies to best assure accurate results.
Even Congress is doing its part by providing $380 million in funding to the states to assist their security efforts. The Senate Intelligence Committee has outlined the threat in a mature, bipartisan way, giving guidance to the states.
Voters should feel confident, yet they continue to hear that states aren’t ready, that the midterms might be compromised and that votes might not count due to hacking. To be sure, there is no finish line in election security, and we have more to do to strengthen our election system as threats to its integrity get more sophisticated. Indeed, foreign agents are intent on leveraging social media and other platforms to spread disinformation and further divide us, and much more will need to be done to counter those efforts. But claims that our votes don’t matter and may already be hacked are not only false, they’re dangerous, too.
Research since 2016 confirms that about half of Americans don’t trust our elections to be fully fair and accurate. The president is partly responsible for this, with his baseless claims around elections being “rigged” with mythical voter fraud. In an era when only about 40 percent of eligible voters participate in midterms and 40 percent of eligible voters never vote, we don’t need to give citizens another reason not to show up at the ballot box.
So while election officials and experts continue their work to secure our elections, we the people have another way to fight back: our vote. Each of us, as part of our national defense, should register, confirm our registration before the election and vote this November (as well as in every subsequent election, no matter how minor). Vote early or by mail if possible so that in the unlikely event that, for instance, foreign agents succeed in hacking a voter database, we can discover it early and fix it. Voters serve as our best defense against a Russian attack, in partnership with election officials. And they do so by expressing a voice in our democracy.