Election and cybersecurity experts from the BIG10 public policy school network joined with other national scholars and practitioners on October 12 for a panel discussion on the technical, process, and participation challenges of the 2020 election. The event, hosted by the University of Maryland School of Public Policy (SPP), was led by election administration expert, SPP professor of the practice, director of the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise David Mussington. The panel also included:
- Matt Bishop, professor, Department of Computer Science and co-Director of the Computer Security Laboratory, University of California, Davis
- Duncan Buell, professor, Computer Science & Engineering, College of Engineering and Computing, University of South Carolina
- Alex Halderman, professor of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Michigan; director, University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society
- Dana Debeauvoir, Travis County Clerk, Travis County, Texas
The panelists discussed a range of challenges to ensuring that the election could occur without undue controversy. Many of the challenges to states’ capacities to administer the vote were described as being the result of shortfalls in financial, planning, risk awareness, and information management capabilities. A strong consensus was present that two key requirements for a safe and fair election were paper ballots, and a sound and credible auditing process for any certified results.
Other problems with disruptive potential in elections were:
- the lack of long-term planning for the infrastructure as a national asset;
- flawed certification procedures at the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) that focused on voting equipment to the exclusion of all else;
- the absence of a planning culture based on engineering and security research in elections;
- and the uncertain funding outlook for election equipment from the federal government.
This led panelists to express only guarded optimism concerning the future risk management and preparedness of the election system – or rather for the US’ myriad election system(s).
All was not negative, however, with panelists acknowledging that progress has been made in federal support to states and local governments since 2016 – with praise expressed for DHS and CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) outreach and engagement with state elections administrators.
The panel on safe election administration was the second of three pre-election panels on safe, fair and full election participation hosted by SPP in partnership with the BIG10 public policy school network. The first panel addressed pandemic risks and in-person voting, and the final one, Empowering Voters: An Accessible and Full Ballot Box, will be held on October 19.