National: Coronavirus contingency plans may also pose election security challenges | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
Coronavirus is dealing election officials across the country a serious curveball even as they strain to keep the 2020 contests secure against another threat: Russian hacking. Officials are now forced to contemplate contingency plans to potentially overhaul their voting systems so Americans can still cast their ballots in a pandemic – and still ensure the process is secure. “Cybersecurity of elections is still a very real concern, so we have to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told me. “We need to make big changes to ensure everyone can vote safely while we still have our eyes on the issue of cybersecurity.” One major option surfacing now is surging vote-by-mail programs so citizens can avoid the polls. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called for states to shift to widespread mail-in voting “wherever practicable” on MSNBC last night. “That’s how you can solve the problem,” he said. But this route could create security problems of its own, election experts warned — especially if it’s implemented in a tight time frame. For example, officials would have to put safeguards in place to ensure mailed-in ballots are secure throughout their journey to election offices and to prevent U.S. adversaries or those seeking to tamper with the vote from sending in phony ballots to sow confusion. They’d also have to guard against misinformation related to the vote-by-mail process and figure out how to deliver ballots to people without street addresses. There’s also a heightened concern about people coercing friends and family members to vote for particular candidates with write-in ballots because the voters aren’t entering a private booth or cubicle to cast their votes.