Every election has a set of outcomes. Usually it’s winners and losers, but occasionally – and perhaps not coincidentally in presidential elections – there are also outcomes that shape our perceptions about the fairness and efficacy of our elections. In 2000, it was the hanging chad and the role of the Electoral College. In 2012, it was long lines. And in 2016, it was cybersecurity. Once an issue is introduced into the election ecosphere, it often remains a permanent and recurring part of the landscape. For example, a recent Google search of the words “cybersecurity elections” produced over 12 million hits. And at nearly every election-related forum I’ve attended during the past year, cybersecurity was a key topic of discussion. The 2016 election elevated the profile of election security issues and demonstrated a need for state and local election officials not only to reassess their readiness, but to educate the public about this important work and the role it plays in securing elections.
Election officials are ready to tackle this challenge because security is at the heart of nearly everything they have always done. Election officials have long understood the importance of securing paper ballots and voter registration log books. They are the ones who secure the physical spaces used to store election equipment when it’s not in use, who enforce dual control when necessary, who use seals, doors, and locks to ensure the integrity of the process. They have always been on the front lines of securing the vote.
In an age of advanced technology, election security has taken on new dimensions. Today’s election office is also an information technology office. Election officials know that security measures must include steps to secure data and establish strict protocols about who has access to systems that house the data. Designing better and more effective cybersecurity policies for election administration begins by understanding what makes the election space so different, so challenging in regards to security. Elections are executed at the county or township level. Effective state and/or federal policy has to be able to push the solution or solutions down to geographically, technologically, economically and culturally diverse populations. Managing solutions in this environment is a daunting challenge, and securing elections will not be easy, cheap or fast.