Building a Team to Secure Our Elections

By Haleh S

The security and integrity of U.S. elections has been heatedly discussed in public, and by the media and politicians, especially since our 2016 election. The terms election security and election integrity are often used interchangeably, with much of the recent focus on election security – generally referring to steps we take to protect voting machines from foreign or domestic hacking – because of Russia’s interference. Election integrity usually refers to preserving our democratic electoral processes, including voter registration, accessibility, ballot counting, vote audits, and generally protecting voter confidence in the system.

To ensure election integrity we must promote fair, credible, professional, and inclusive electoral processes. According to the Electoral Knowledge Network, without electoral integrity we can’t hold leaders and officials accountable to the public, and our confidence in election results is weakened. A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that only 35% of Americans were “very confident” that their vote would be counted accurately. Voter confidence in any democratic election process is one of the necessary elements of protecting the integrity of elections.

On May 19, 2019, the Secure Elections Network presented a webinar, “Making Connections: Working with Elections Officials for Common Goals,” featuring Tina Barton, the City Clerk of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and an election security advocate. Barton was appointed to Michigan’s Election Security Commission by the MI Secretary of State. The Commission, the first of its kind, was created in March 2019 to help boost voter confidence, increase turnout, and secure the integrity of elections against known and future threats such as hacking.

A passionate leader in protecting the electoral process, Barton wants to make the process fair and accessible to all eligible voters, and to increase voter confidence in elections. In her presentation, Barton highlighted current challenges with interactions between election officials and election advocates, and suggested ways to overcome them. We should benefit from each other’s strengths by collaborating, said Barton, stressing the importance of having a unified team of election officials and advocates to secure our 2020 and future elections. Her presentation featured Henry Ford’s motto: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success.” Some of her concrete suggestions were that officials and advocates communicate frequently to share information, work together to recognize and fix problems, present unified messaging on registration and voting, and hold events jointly.

In her “Open Letter to Advocates of All Things Election Related”, Barton encourages advocates and officials to work together to get correct information to voters. She’s also dedicated to stopping partisan interference and attacks on voter confidence, stating during the webinar that elections should be a nonpartisan battle ground.

We are not each other’s enemy

Barton noted that the majority of contacts between election officials and voting rights groups have been negative and adversarial. She believes that advocacy groups have the misconception that election officials and election workers seek to impede the process, and because of that election officials often feel they’re being attacked or are doing something wrong. Barton thinks these problems are often caused by lack of understanding of each other’s roles. She explained that in many small or rural municipalities, one official is responsible for a wide range of duties and responsibilities, with elections being only one. Often these officials lack the necessary technical knowledge about aspects of election security that advocates ask about. This misunderstanding often causes hostility between them, although in reality both sides want the same things — secure electoral processes.

Another cause of mistrust and confusion between advocacy groups and election workers is that every state’s election process and registration is different. For example, in some states — such as Barton’s (Michigan) — local officials run elections, whereas in other states county clerks do so. Barton also noted that most election officials’ main complaint is a lack of resources, including the scarcity of election workers who are knowledgeable about information technology (IT). In her community, most election workers are retired adults who have been out of the workforce for years. They work long hours on election days and a lot of expectations are placed on them, but they’re not IT experts and this is one cause of negative and adversary interactions between the election workers and poll monitors.

Let’s work together, not against each other

When asked by one of the Secure Elections Network members how to overcome the mistrust and open a dialogue with election officials, Barton suggested person-to-person, face-to-face introductions. She said that advocates should simply go meet the officials. She emphasized that one of the best ways to build trust is for advocates to start by asking how they can help. She believes that when we work together toward a shared cause, whether or not we have the same political views, we will respect one another more and help solve problems together rather than finger-pointing and blaming. She also noted that activist groups could help under-funded counties which don’t have the resources to hire enough election workers or hire workers who are IT knowledgeable. Every election official in the country needs help with setting up and explaining basic IT, and knowledgeable advocates who want to improve things can be of real use.

The Secure Elections Network is made up of leaders and members of several Indivisible groups nationwide, including Indivisible East Bay. For more info about the webinar, email stephanie.chaplin20@gmail.com. Watch “Building a Team To Secure Our Elections” webinar here. You can watch SEN’s past webinars here. And read our articles about prior webinars: Ballot Marking Devices 101 and Indivisible Webinar to Secure Our Elections  

If you want to learn more about the work that IEB’s Voter Rights & Election Integrity team is doing, and how you can help, email us at info@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.  For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

Haleh S. is an Engineer turned Lawyer, turned Activist