I. In Focus This Week
Secretaries of state gather for winter meeting
2016 still a major topic of conversation in 2017
By David Levine
Special to electionlineWeekly
On Friday, February 17, 2017 the National Association of Secretaries of State had its first conference since the November 2016 general election, and attendees were excited to analyze the election and prepare for future ones.
Promoting Voter Trust and Confidence in Elections
At a morning general session, “Promoting Voter Trust and Confidence and Elections,” panelists discussed voters’ lack of confidence in elections and electoral systems, despite the generally successful administration of the 2016 general elections.
Large groups of voters have a perception of how the election was administered that did not match reality. For instance, on the day after the election, 33 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats reported that they thought it was possible for someone to alter how a vote was cast, according to research conducted by Porter Novelli.
“It’s just this lack of awareness of how the process actually works that starts to call into question the integrity of the ballot,” said Rebecca Mark, vice president of Porter Novelli.
David Becker, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, noted that many unsubstantiated challenges to the integrity of the election system – such as allegations of rigging, hacking and widespread fraud – were undoubtedly being seen or heard by these voters.
“As big of a bully pulpit as one side had…there were challenges to the integrity of the system coming from a variety of different place on the [political] spectrum, and this started well before the election,” he said.
But allegations of rigging, hacking, and fraud did not move all communities. Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy, Research and Advocacy for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund, acknowledged the importance of ballot and voting equipment integrity to voter confidence, but noted these issues “are not as salient to the Latino community as sound election administration practices” and belief in their votes.
A substantial number of Latino voters reported trouble casting their ballot due to problems with the administration of the 2016 general election -- such as long lines, malfunctioning voting machines and inadequate language assistance -- and a large number of eligible Latino voters did not vote because they didn’t feel their vote would make a difference, she said.
Other factors also likely contributed to low voter confidence, said Miles Rapoport, senior practice fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, including:
- Democracy-related activities not being a regular part of most people’s lives;
- Unnecessary barriers to voting that could be removed by enacting policies such as early voting and same day registration; and
- Other democracy-related issues that reduced a voter’s political clout, such as partisan gerrymandering and the influence of money in politics.
Going forward, panel members suggested multiple ways to improve voter confidence for the 2018 Elections.
Wayne Williams, the Colorado Secretary of State, urged election officials to continue to work with other stakeholders to seek their advice, share election information, and make improvements to ensure that voters are confident in the election process.
Becker encouraged election officials to adopt measures that help improve the administration of the elections, such as adopting online voter registration or enacting robust and transparent audits, and remind stakeholders of the “checks and balances” used to ensure that the election is being administered properly.
Samidh Chakrabarti, product manager for Civic Engagement at Facebook, stated that the social networking company will continue to search for places on its platform to provide election information to people who want it, but aren’t willing to proactively seek it out, to ensure that more individuals participate in the election process and have access to accurate election information.
Cybersecurity and the 2016 Election
At the general session, “Cybersecurity and the 2016 Election,” a talk originally billed as a discussion of cybersecurity in the 2016 General Election, quickly pivoted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and its role in future elections.
Following the breaches of voter registration data in Arizona and Illinois last year, DHS began offering cybersecurity assistance to many states, at their request, in the run up to the 2016 general election.
In January of 2017, shortly before leaving office, then-DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson decided to designate election infrastructure as critical infrastructure, a designation current Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has indicated he plans to continue. According to then-DHS Secretary Johnson, the designation will enable the country’s election infrastructure —which includes storage facilities, polling places and centralized vote tabulations locations, as well as technology used to manage the election process and report the results — to be a priority for DHS cybersecurity assistance if state and local election officials ask for it.
At the session’s outset, Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill expressed her and many of her colleagues’ concerns with DHS’s designation.
“It’s a broad new role for the federal government….we have concerns about where it could go,” Merrill said, adding that she wants to know in writing what DHS will do as a result of the designation, and that she has been waiting on a response since January.
Neil Jenkins, chief of policy and planning for the U.S. Department of Homeland Policy, acknowledged these criticisms, noting that “It’s not the first time we’ve [DHS] had this issue” with critical infrastructure providers.
However, he defended the designation, underscoring the urgency and time constraints associated with elections.
Noting that “the last thing we want to do for 2018 is to dive back in during and August and September,” Jenkins said that the designation would enable DHS to begin working immediately with election officials to secure certain technologies and processes for future elections.
Merrill indicated that NASS is creating a task force to collaborate with federal agencies and other stakeholders on election cybersecurity matters.
Note: On February 18, 2017, the National Association of Secretaries of States formally voted to: 1) oppose the federal critical infrastructure designation covering election systems; and 2) establish a cybersecurity taskforce to develop and advance priorities and plans on election cybersecurity.
(David Levine is an Election Management Consultant who has administered county, state, federal and private sector elections; developed election policy for non-profit organizations; and monitored elections in other countries. His expertise includes voter registration, election administration, poll worker training, outreach, research design and evaluation, voting system standards, logic and accuracy testing, post-election audits, voting accessibility, evaluating proposals and voting technology.)
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