American democracy is resilient. From its rebuilding after our civil war to recovering from the Great Depression, America has been able to overcome the largest of obstacles. However, 2020 gives us unprecedented challenges that will test this resilience. Central to our country’s recovery from this pandemic will be ensuring the foundation of our democracy remains intact: free and fair elections.
Despite the current news cycle, our election system is very resilient because of our forefathers’ design. State and local governments distribute and implement elections individually, leading to different procedures and regulations within each jurisdiction, which creates independent – or segmented — operations.
In the cyber world, segmentation is central to digital resilience. A segmented network can help organizations minimize damage from some of the most advanced forms of cyberattacks by preventing them from overtaking the entire network. The independent orchestration of our elections is very similar. However, COVID-19 presents a conundrum: keeping people physically distant is profoundly challenging with in-person voting.
So, how do we combat this issue?
A few states are beginning to explore online voting to help citizens maintain social distance and ensure their franchise. The CARES Act even allows states to use some of the funds to pursue online voting systems. However, while online voting holds promise, there is simply not enough time to roll out a secure, vetted system before November’s elections. Plus we still haven’t repaired the issues that our 2016 elections revealed about the vulnerabilities of our existing online systems. America’s election process remains extremely vulnerable to cyberattacks. In fact, last December Valimail confirmed only 5% of the country’s largest voting counties are protected against email impersonation and phishing scams. Specifically, this vulnerability was found in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, six key swing states in this upcoming election cycle. This vulnerability opens a door to bad actors that could allow voting data to be stolen, manipulated or deleted in 95 percent of the highest populated counties in the nation.
Luckily, we have a solution that’s already in place, accessible nationwide, resilient and in a sense, “un-hackable”: absentee voting by mail.
For decades, absentee ballots have been the bridge connecting those who are unable to make it to the polls on election day. Now, it can be the cornerstone for everyone. While filing for an absentee ballot can be an arduous process, states are now making it more accessible. For example, Michigan is automatically sending absentee ballot applications to every resident to both encourage social distancing and support democratic participation. This supports secure, offline elections with segmentation still in-play. Additionally, an overwhelming majority of Americans support expanding access to voting by mail. Recognizing that any change is difficult, 16 states delayed their primaries, which illustrates the urgency to act now so we can move onto the general election by November.
In these unprecedented times, we must support all efforts to ensure our elections remain fair, free and guaranteeing each citizen’s franchise. While we have the technology and the ideas necessary to move to completely online elections, that can and should only happen when it’s secure and tested accordingly. In these pressing times, there is no bandwidth to do so. However, the $2 trillion stimulus package included $400 million for states to prevent, prepare and plan for COVID-19’s impact on the 2020 elections. This amount is a significant step in the right direction, but a full roll-out of voting by mail, let alone ensuring secure online voting would require a much larger investment. I urge lawmakers at both the state and federal level to embrace mail-in ballots. We need to ensure this year’s elections are available to every citizen, whether they are practicing social distancing or fully quarantined and without fear that exercising their franchise will expose them to a deadly illness. We can maintain the resiliency of our country and our elections and our health with mail-in ballot elections. We just need the will to do so.