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Time Runs Short to Secure U.S. Elections

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Some context about the preparation of our 2020 Election Special Project: Most of our reporting was conducted as the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic spread inexorably across the planet. Among the coronavirus’s many ill effects was a reduction in primary voter turnout, the postponement of several presidential preference primaries and the likely postponement of others.

The 2020 presidential election could now be endangered. On March 25, President Vladimir Putin suspended Russia’s upcoming referendum on constitutional amendments, including a measure that would allow him to remain in power through 2036. The referendum was scheduled for April 22. A new date has not been set.

The pandemic provided Putin a convenient excuse. That sets a dangerous precedent for western democracies, especially ours.

Indeed, we’ve seen variations of this gambit in response to other national emergencies. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani floated the idea in late September 2001 of delaying that fall’s mayoral election after the September 11 attacks, allowing him to stay on as mayor after his term expired. George Pataki, New York’s Governor at the time, decided the idea of repealing the state’s term limits was a “bad idea both as a matter of principle and politics,” according to his unpublished memoir obtained by the New York Post.

Michael Bloomberg was duly sworn in as New York City’s next mayor in January 2002.

That cautionary tale should be kept in mind as officials overseeing the U.S. presidential election scramble to respond to the pandemic. Among the proposals is a growing movement to expand voting-by-mail, including several legislative proposals that would fund a national effort.

Technology pervades American elections. Much of it is poorly designed, inadequately tested and increasingly vulnerable to manipulation. In the run-up to the U.S. presidential election, we assess the state of the election integrity and explore our options — many of them decidedly analog.

If any of those ballot measures are implemented, a pandemic could paradoxically help secure our national elections by expanding use of paper ballots — seen by most election security experts as the best way to ensure the integrity of our elections.

For now, overriding technology issues continue to plague U.S. election integrity, persisting as a digital virus that threatens to undermine confidence in our elections and therefore our democracy. All are explored in detail in this package, beginning with Ann Thryft’s survey of election security and the continuing threats to balloting infrastructure. Thryft demonstrates how entire chockablock systems remains vulnerable to nation-state hackers.

Speaking of balloting by mail, Brian Santo takes a closer look at the system in Oregon, among the earliest adopters of postal-service infrastructure to secure the vote in the time of pandemic.

My contribution to this Special Project further explores these challenges and the urgent technology policy decisions that must be made and implemented in the few months left before the presidential election.

Then there are concerns about voter suppression and the overall difficulty in casting ballots in America. David Benjamin examines the nation’s long history of voter suppression by both political parties, the ongoing erosion of voting rights and nascent efforts to expand the franchise.

Rounding out our Election Integrity Special Project, Jeff Dorsch takes the temperature of Silicon Valley as the presidential primary season winds down and the general election draws near. Not surprisingly, technology companies and their executives are again among the largest campaign donors. Most are hedging their bets.

The integrity of U.S. elections is the bedrock of constitutional rule and self-government. We must all find ways to safely and securely cast our ballots during the 59th quadrennial presidential election on November 3, 2020. It comes down to this: “We must act now,” members of Presidential Commission on Election Administration, wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece. “American democracy itself — should not be among the pandemic’s victims.”


Articles in this Special Project:

Time Runs Short to Secure U.S. Elections

The threats are well understood, the time to act is now.




U.S. Election Technology Remains Vulnerable

U.S. election infrastructure remains unsecured mere months before the next presidential election.




Unease at the Polls Over Election Integrity

US election infrastructure is antiquated and vulnerable. Can we fix it before the 2020 presidential election?



Reality Bites: Down Memory Lane with Voter Suppression

The U.S. has a long history of voter suppression, a political defect amplified by a scattershot balloting system and further complicated by a pandemic.



When It Comes to Voting, a Pen is the Highest Tech

Election Special Project: Americans are concerned about voter machine hacking, but Republicans keep blocking solutions. The answer might be to go low-tech: vote-by-mail.



High Tech Hedges its Election Donation Bets in 2020

Campaign donations and voting patterns show that Silicon Valley is as politically divided as the rest of the country.





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