As states begin to receive millions of federal dollars to secure the 2018 primary and general elections, officials around the country will have to decide how to spend it to best protect the integrity of the democratic process. If voters don’t trust the results, it doesn’t matter whether an election was actually fair or not. Right now, the most visible election integrity effort in the U.S. involves conducting recounts in especially close races. A similar approach could be applied much more broadly. Based on my research into game theory as a way to secure elections, I suggest that the proper first line of defense is auditing results. While an audit can only happen after Election Day, it’s crucial to prepare in advance.
Before the election, officials should make clear public statements that they will be auditing the results. But not every district should have an equal chance at being audited.
For instance, it may be more difficult to influence vote counts in some districts, such as those with newer voting equipment. Also, attackers may have different goals: They might seek to defeat a particular candidate as a U.S. senator, for instance. Or they might be trying to control the balance of power in the whole Senate, caring more about the overall split than which candidates get elected where.
Applying the principles of game theory would let election officials assign each district – from an entire state down to a municipal precinct – a rating combining a range of factors, including how hard a district’s machines are to tamper with, and how much power that district’s outcome has in determining whether a specific candidate is elected, or the exact political split in a legislative body.