With almost incontrovertible evidence that Russian actors influenced the 2016 U.S. election and widespread purging of voter rolls, it’s more important than ever that Congress and the Trump administration take action to ensure that this election tampering doesn’t happen again. But what did the White House do? Instead of beefing up cybersecurity measures, President Trump elected to eliminate the Cybersecurity Coordinator role, and then the government selected Sevatec, a private company, to provide “specialized cybersecurity services” to the U.S. government.
Although Congress allotted $380 million to help states ensure that their election processes are secure, it’s really not enough, and bureaucracy and politics have slowed the funding to the states. In fact, the process has been so slow that NPR said, “getting the money out to all the states, and then into the hands of localities that run the elections [in time for midterm elections] is a difficult proposition.” Attempted hacks have already happened, and they will probably escalate as the election approaches.
Considering that the government is falling woefully short on its responsibility to protect U.S. elections from tampering by foreign actors, and that many Republican-controlled states have legalized gerrymandering and voter purges, it falls to individual citizens to do everything they can to protect their voter registration—and their votes—from hacks and glitches. Fortunately, attorney and election integrity advocate Jennifer Cohn wrote a post on Medium with some things you can do to ensure you’ll be able to vote this November.
Civics Lesson: The First Voting Machine
In the late 1800s, there was a widespread preoccupation with developing a practical voting machine. The mechanical lever voting machine was patented in November of 1889 by Jacob H. Myers of Rochester, New York. It was designed to prevent overvotes, speed the vote counting process, and significantly reduce the chance of dishonest vote counting because the votes are counted by machine. Myers’ invention was first used in 1892 in Lockport, New York. By 1930, lever voting machines had been installed in almost every major city in the U.S.
Photo: a lever voting machine from the late 1890s. (Public domain)
Cohn separates her recommended actions into two categories: protecting your voter registration and protecting your vote.
Protecting voter registration
Cohn says to be prepared for problems with your voter registration, including long lines due to voter registration issues, widespread failure of electronic poll books, being told at the polls that you aren’t registered, or being given a paper or electronic ballot putting you in the wrong political party or listing House races for the wrong voting district. To mitigate these problems, do the following:
- Double-check your voter registration several times before election day. Vote.org will allow you to check your registration status and find your polling place, among other things.
- Be prepared for long lines: bring water, snacks, and other necessary supplies such as folding chairs.
- Bring your driver’s license or ID and a recent utility bill that shows your current address. Cohn says that even if your state doesn’t technically require ID, you’ll still need those things if you have to vote provisionally due to registration problems at the polls.
- Bring your district-specific sample ballot (your Secretary of State’s website should have this information). Fill it out and bring it to the polls.
- Once you’re at the polls, compare the House District races listed on your sample ballot with those on the paper ballot you are given or the touchscreen ballot you see when you go to vote.
Protecting your vote
There may well be problems with voting in general. In order to make sure you’ll be able to vote, and that the votes are counted correctly, Cohn recommends the following:
- Bring the proper ID—your Secretary of State’s office or county election board will be able to tell you what kind of ID you’ll need at the polls.
- Be ready for long lines. Problems with voting systems could happen, or there’s a possibility that many people will turn out to vote.
- Report problems. If you have or observe problems with voting, try to get pictures, Cohn recommends. “Alert poll workers, others in line, and the local media, and post on social media to alert others,” Cohn says. “Call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.”
- Volunteer as a poll observer. Call your county or state party (Democrat, Republican, etc.) as soon as you can so you can get training to be an Election Day poll observer/watcher. Poll observers can do the following:
- Monitor problems during voting
- Take photos of the “poll tapes”—printouts listing vote totals—when the polls close. The poll tape totals can be compared to the official vote total; if they don’t match, this could mean there’s been a glitch or hack and can be used in an election challenge. Poll tape photos are also important to ensure that machines haven’t been hacked in order to delete some races from the totals.
- Oversee the preparation of the chain of custody documents for equipment, paper ballots, and paper audit trails. Take photos while doing this, and it’ll be less likely that equipment, ballots, or audit trails will conveniently disappear.
Additional tips for voters in counties where touchscreens are used
Touchscreens are notorious for malfunctioning even when they’re not hacked: they’ve been known to flip votes and provide paper printouts that are too difficult to verify and audit—if they generate a paper trail at all. If you’ve contacted your county election board and found that most or all voters will need to use a touchscreen voting machine, Cohn recommends the following safety tips:
- Request a hand-marked ballot at the polls. Even touchscreen-only counties sometimes allow this when requested.
- Try to cast an absentee ballot or vote by mail. Use this tool provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures to see if you can vote early or by mail. Be sure to ask your county election board about the early-voting deadline.
What it all comes down to is that if the federal government has no desire to ensure the safety and security of U.S. elections, it falls to us to take on that responsibility and report any problems we see. Cohn’s tips provide some excellent guidelines for doing so.