How to make the next election even more secureon November 25, 2020 at 12:00 pm

For the first time ever, millions of voters had an easier way to vote, and history shows that Americans who try mail-in voting demand to keep it. Mail-in voting is secure, as decades of independent study have shown, but it’s not just security that is important: integrity matters too.

Expanding the vote

Enfranchisement is a key dimension of election integrity: it is at its worst when Americans cast their votes on the same single weekday in limited locations, and at its best when people have maximum flexibility and time to consider and cast their vote.

Expert-backed ideas like automatic voter registration and standardized voter databases all drive toward the same goal: making it permanently easier for all qualified Americans to vote. Most developed countries are far ahead of the US on this issue.

Better paper trails

Integrity is also improved by being able to cross-check results, especially close ones. For that, nothing beats paper. An estimated 95% of American votes had a paper trail this year thanks to mail-in ballots and in-person voting machines–a great help with verification and audits. Paper offers a whole array of benefits in elections. For example, if a hacker brings down important voter databases on Election Day, a paper backup means the vote can keep going.

More, improved audits

Paper also means you can verify that your vote was recorded correctly. Audits–either manual checks, or risk-limiting audits that use statistical modeling to detect inaccuracies–are an efficient and public way to confirm that the reported outcome of a vote is the correct one.

Audits are required in 24 states, while the more robust risk-limiting audits are currently required by just four states. However, they are touted by election security experts as one of the most transparent and strong signals authorities can proactively send about the security of elections — and they’re much quicker and easier than a full recount. Officials should adopt them as a requirement, voters should demand them.

The funding gap

So that’s three ways to improve elections. But the state and local governments that actually run elections around America are severely behind on technology, budgeting, and staffing. All of this adds up to real security risk — not to mention gross inefficiency — for future US elections. The State and Local IT Modernization Act would give states $25 billion to close that gap, an easy first step that would have positive consequences far beyond elections.

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