Voting is an incredibly important part of American society. And with companies and even professional sports teams around the country taking an active role in encouraging people to vote, it seems that more and more people are recognizing its importance.
But while more people feel galvanized to participate in elections, people are simultaneously losing faith in the voter systems. The integrity of elections is, in fact, under attack from voter registration to vote submission and everything in between.
Computers are supposed to make our lives easier. But with voting, we haven’t quite figured out how to utilize technology to make it easier for people to vote, while still protecting the integrity of elections. As online voter registration and voting machines become more popular for their convenience, it becomes easier for unwanted parties to influence the elections.
Recently, groups like Wisconsin Election Integrity, a Madison-based grassroots electoral integrity advocacy group, have taken action against the voting machines that many districts use to conduct their elections. According to The Cap Times, while voting machines are certified by the state, there aren’t “federal standards for security, operation or hiring processes at companies that provide hardware and software for voting. The state does not scrutinize the security practices of such private vendors.”
According to Karen McKim, a coordinator for Wisconsin Election Integrity and former Legislative Audit Bureau manager, many election officials in Wisconsin fail to realize “… how very much is completely out of their control.” McKim continued, “They really, truly, do believe that if they keep the individual voting machines unconnected from the internet and do pre-election testing, that the software is safe.”
Experts have made it clear: hacking a U.S. electronic voting booth is too easy, as are the voter registration websites. In 2016, Russian government agents allegedly attempted to hack into voter registration information from 21 states. In July of 2016, a California District Attorney claimed that someone with access to registered voters’ personal information used the voter registration website to change voters’ party affiliations. Hacking into voter registration can make it difficult for people once they get to the polls — if their registration is rendered ineligible because of a security breach, then they may not be able to count their vote.
The quintessential question then is how do we design a secure, but modern and accessible system?
An article in The Conversation suggests four measures: provisional ballots, same-day registration, paper ballots and post-election audits. The article acknowledges that these all would take more effort and more paperwork, but election officials need to be willing to accept that burden because the very integrity of our democracy is at stake.
In a discussion about Wisconsin’s use of private vendors for voting hardware and software, Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesperson Reid Magney said, “While [outsourcing pre-election programming] may introduce a vulnerability, the more important question is whether that vulnerability is acceptable.”
From the perspective of voters, whose lives will potentially be influenced by that vulnerability, there shouldn’t even be a question here. That vulnerability is not acceptable. Magney says that the agency is doing “almost everything [The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine] recommends” to preserve election security, but Wisconsin needs to do more, and so does the federal government.
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Voters don’t have confidence in the current voting system and that is understandable. But despite flaws in the system and vulnerabilities in the process, voting still has an immeasurable impact.
On Sept. 25, the University of Wisconsin hosted a panel at Memorial Union about the impact of voting. Among the panelists were UW political science Professor Barry Burden and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Craig Gilbert, who both emphasized that voting is more important than ever before, despite an increased amount of mistrust in the U.S. voting system.
Let’s go one step further. Not only is casting a vote important despite distrust in the voting system but casting a vote is important because of distrust in the system. Affirming our commitment to the voting system by casting a ballot on election day makes imploration to strengthen voting security all that more meaningful. Officials won’t fix something that nobody cares about.
Following the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14, voter registration among young people around Wisconsin and the entire country surged. And it’s because voting matters. Voting can make changes. So when election day comes around, make sure your voice is heard because your very ability to do so is at stake.
Cait Gibbons ([email protected]) is a junior studying math and Chinese.