The Election Assistance Commission’s Commissioners and staff know the many benefits of communicating regularly with state and local election officials. That’s why we devote a great deal of time traveling across the country sharing information about the EAC’s resources and asking election administrators how we can best help them run effective elections.
Similarly, we are always pleased to have the opportunity to attend gatherings and conferences hosted by other election stakeholders. Last week, I had the opportunity to join election officials, activists, cryptologists and organizations for the Election Verification Network’s annual symposium in Washington, DC. The event was devoted to the topic of election integrity and some of the breakout sessions were spent examining the 2016 presidential election to identify ways to improve the casting and counting of ballots. The following summarizes the three primary concerns I heard voiced by those in attendance:
Aging Voting Systems
Throughout the gathering, many activist voiced concerns about the age and reliability of electronic voting equipment. It is no secret that the median age of our nation’s voting equipment is creeping up. Many of these machines were purchased in the wake of the 2000 presidential election using Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds administered by the EAC. Today, some of these machines are 10 or more years old.
It is unlikely that the federal government will allocate additional money anytime soon to replace aging election equipment. In the meantime, the EAC has provided guidance on maintaining older equipment to keep it in compliance with federal guidelines.
The commission has also invited activists to join the public working groups established by the EAC and NIST. These groups will be pivotal in the creation of the new voluntary voting system guidelines that hopefully will be published early next year. Theses standards will be the next generation of standards used to test voting systems and the most advanced standards against which a voting system can be tested in the United States. In addition, the guidelines are designed to spur innovation that allow local election officials to give voters the best experience possible. This innovation could be particularly important for election officials facing tight budgets and aging election systems.
Transparency & Communication
At last week’s conference, many attendees expressed a desire for this process to be more transparent. Election officials currently offer a number of ways for interested parties to observe the voting process, including aspects such as logic and accuracy testing and post-election audits. But I always tell those who would like to know more that the best way to get a first-hand look at how elections work is to become a poll worker. The EAC has guidance for those wishing to take this step. We are also committed to continuing to serve as a conduit between activists and election officials via meetings, hearings, panels and other opportunities for information sharing.
In addition to transparency, others voiced a desire for better communication between stakeholders. There may be more than one solution to a situation so it is important for all stakeholders to have the opportunity to share their perspective and consider the opinions of others. All legitimate suggestions to improve the election process deserve contemplation. The approach of talking about problems without offering solutions is a thing of the past and is not helpful to improve the election process moving forward.
After last week’s conference, I’m more convinced than ever that there is no shortage of individuals willing to offer legitimate solutions and consider other perspectives. They recognize, as I do, that the nation does not have the luxury of moving backwards when it comes to elections. We must continue to make progress in a way that protects those with disabilities, Limited English Proficiency voters, and all Americans wishing to cast their ballot. After all, our great country is the same one that put a man on the moon and continues to make innovations that change the lives of individuals around the world. We must bring that same "can do" spirit to the task of addressing challenges to our election system.
Last fall, members of the Election Verification Network provided the EAC with a list of recommendations for election officials. Moving forward, I look forward to sharing new ideas from this group and to participating in a process in which all election stakeholders come together to ensure that the United States continues to have the best run elections in the world. Voter integrity starts with trust and together we can strengthen the public’s trust in our nation’s elections and its extraordinary election leaders.