The law comes on the heels of the controversial 2016 election. The post-election investigation hasn’t shifted up any evidence that foreign authorities actually altered any votes. However, we do know that Russians were examining American voting systems precedent of the 2016 election, laying the groundwork for what could have grown a direct attack on American democracy.
“With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again,” said co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
So a group of politicians led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) wants to shore up the protection of American voting systems ahead of the 2018 and 2020 choices. And the senators have focused on two major shifts that have broad relief from voting security experts.
The first goal is to get rid of paperless electronic voting machines. Computer experts have been urging for more than a decade that these machines are exposed to hacking and can’t be meaningfully reviewed. States have begun impelling away from paperless systems, but budget limitations have forced some to remain to rely on insecure paperless things. The Secure Elections Act would give states grants specifically designated for replacing these systems with more secure systems that use voter-verified paper ballots.
The legislation’s second big idea is to support states to perform usual post-election audits based on modern analytical techniques. Many states today only handle recounts in the event of very close election results. And these recounts involve counting a fixed percentage of tickets. That often leads to either counting way too many ballots wasting taxpayer money or too few failing to fully verify the election consequence.
The Lankford bill would urge states to adopt more statistically complex procedures to count as many ballots as wanted to verify an election result was correct and no more.
“We’re rapidly falling out of time,” says Lawrence Norden, a voting expert at the Brennan Center at New York University Law School. Given the long lead times required in planning for a major election, he told us, Congress will have to move swiftly if it wants new recommendations to be set before the 2018 election or new voting arrangements to be in place by November 2020.
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