The Wash

The path to safe voting is bumpy, and 2018 will test the system

Washington, D.C. and Maryland residents are concerned their ballots are vulnerable to bad actors.

Voters are concerned about the integrity of Tuesday’s midterm elections amid significant evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, Washington, D.C. area residents said.

According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), officials are working diligently to protect votes by proactively recognizing weaknesses and targeting threats that may compromise the process.

Since 2016, much of public conversation around federal elections has centered on security – and for good reason.

And as the 2018 midterm elections got closer, the EAC claims its officials worked to prove themselves more than capable of handling security threats by increasing the resiliency of their systems.

At the recent Election Readiness Summit, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said nearly half of the respondents lack faith that their votes will be counted accurately in the coming elections.

“There are really two goals in an election process,” Williams said. “One is to run it fairly and accurately. And the other, and just as important in many ways — is for the people to recognize that it has been done fairly and accurately.”

The Summit featured expert panelists and keynote speakers who examined best practices of election security, post-election audits and other pivotal election activities. It informed the public and lawmakers about the steps election leaders can take to ensure secure, accessible and efficient elections.

However, some people are still skeptical. Jasmine Wolfe, a 26-year-old who identifies as a Democrat, is temporarily living in Anne Arundel County in Maryland. She said she is planning to vote this election but feels it’s still not safe.

“To me, it seems obvious that our current voting systems are corruptible,” Wolfe said.

She thinks people need to see a change before they begin to trust the voting system.

“We live in a corrupt world, and our voting system reflects that,” she continued.

Wolfe said she believes that if the U.S. government doesn’t facilitate values such as honesty, respect and inclusivity, then people will continually face issues like voting fraud.

Daniel Parker, 42, a Tenleytown resident who considers himself an independent voter, said he believes hacking “has definitely happened.”

Parker said he believes the country is no longer a democracy and that the Trump administration is proving people don’t matter.

“Other countries are emulating what they see here, and we’re failing the world by allowing all of this to happen,” Parker said.

Although he believes election hacking occurs, he thinks voting needs to be electronic because humans can easily make mistakes counting paper ballots.

“People should get calls and/or emails about the confirmation, so they know things weren’t changed,” Parker said.

Meanwhile, Silver Spring resident Giovanni Jauregui, 22, has a different outlook. Although he believes that electronic voting can create problems like system breakdowns, he said the current system is just something everybody has to deal with.

“You do not stop taking a class because the grading is unfair,” said Jauregui, who is a student at a local community college.

Midterm elections are more important than general elections because it’s a revision of the public’s choices, he continued.

Earlier this year, states were given a total of $380 million to improve the security, efficiency and accessibility of elections.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma are working on a bill to give more money to states to handle elections. This will help ensure the country is able to take the right steps in protecting themselves, according to supporters of the bill.

Many members of Congress have supported the Secure Elections Act, which would give the Department of Homeland Security primary responsibility within the federal government for sharing information about election cybersecurity, threats and vulnerabilities within federal entities and election agencies.

The bill’s progress was abruptly postponed in August. State election officials, including Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, criticized the bill because it required paper-based state audits but lacked the fund planning to support the audits. The bill is expected to be reconsidered post-midterm elections.

Paper trail

Access to a back-up paper voting record is crucial for risk-limiting audits. “You have to have paper ballots that you can actually audit,” Williams said.

“Something a voter can verify. After the election, we randomly select ballots from across every single polling place, every single voter and every single county to say we are going to audit a certain number of ballots,” he continued.

There are currently 14 states who have electronics-only systems, despite warnings from cybersecurity experts. In the case of a cyberattack, states need to be ready with paper ballots, election officials said. Enabling each state to work with paper ballots and helping those 14 states replace their systems will probably be the most expensive element of the election security bill.

Anthony Haynes, 20, an Anne Arundel County resident and self-described emerging social media influencer, believes the only way to make voting safe is to have some sort of physical security at the polls.

Haynes also said voters should be attentive and precise during the process. Human error is always cause for concern, he said.

“People should keep an eye out as well while they’re voting,” Haynes said.

He said he trusts election officials to make the process more secure for everyone.

“Paper ballots are a better idea, there’s no way a machine can change what circle was colored in an ink pen,” Haynes said.

Eliminating distrust

The public must know elections are secure and results are valid, according to the EAC website. Some of the benefits of that include:

  • Reports of hacked ballots and changed results can be immediately addressed, and false reports can be discredited.
  • Audits will reassure citizens that even if hacking occurred, it did not change the outcome.
  • Audits will reveal changes, if even a change occurred.

Richard Williams, 52, is an Anne Arundel County farmer who said he is an independent voter but usually leans Republican. Williams said that it is important for people to vote regardless of hacking dangers.

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about what happens in the country,” he said.

 

Aya Sadek

Aya Sadek

Aya Sadek currently attends the American University as a graduate broadcast journalism student.

In the past, she interned at Gulf News, a Dubai-based broadsheet daily, and worked on the GCC/Middle East beat where she wrote interesting pieces that tackled a host of issues within the Gulf and Middle East region.

Gabrielle Harrison

Gabrielle Harrison

Future storyteller. I'm a graduate journalism student at American University.

Claire Savage

Claire Savage

Storyteller through an international lens. Bilingual student journalist, former fellow at Atlantic Media and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, growing into an international reporter one project at a time.

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