We’ve learned that Russian operatives influenced the last election through hacking into voter rolls as well as candidate’s private communications, and through spreading and amplifying unseemly and false information through social media bots. We have every reason to believe they will do it again, as will other countries and lone wolf malcontents.
We need to bolster America’s defenses – to build a wall against foreign interference in our elections. Here are ten things we could do, none of which require action from the White House.
1) Use paper ballots, and audit them. We’ve known for years that touch-screen voting machines and ballot counters are vulnerable to hacking. We know the Russians attempted to hack into voting machines, which would have allowed them to alter votes (although we don’t think they were able to this time.) At least twelve states still use vulnerable voting machines that don’t produce a paper ballot. Many of the states that do use paper ballots lack procedures to hand count a sample of ballots to audit the integrity of electronic tabulators.
2) Keep elections decentralized. Although it’s messy at times, our state-based system of administering elections means that hackers must infiltrate dozens of different technologies to swing a federal election through vote flipping.
3) Keep elections offline. The fact that most of our voting equipment is not connected to the internet and that most states do not allow widespread online voting makes it harder to hack an election. Let’s keep it that way.
4) Implement Same Day Voter Registration everywhere. Fourteen states allow voters to register, or update their registrations, on election day. This ensures that if there is a problem with the voter rolls, due either to error or hacking, it can be fixed in time for a person to vote.
5) Overturn Citizens United. Corporations aren’t people and they certainly aren’t American citizens. But foreigners can and do establish corporations in the United States. One of the many problems with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC is that it opened the door for foreign money in our elections. Nineteen states have called for a constitutional amendment that would reverse the Citizens United ruling, halfway to the 38 states necessary to ratify such an amendment.
6) Choose your news sources wisely. Americans are becoming more attentive to the food we put in our bodies but many of us still consume junk food for our minds. Since we value freedom of the press, we should not count on the government to weed out sources of phony information. Citizens need to shoulder that responsibility ourselves.
7) Vote! And vote early. Both foreign and domestic dirty trick peddlers sling mud not to persuade people but to discourage a candidate’s supporters from turning out. Don’t let them. Cast your ballot early to avoid long lines on election day. Hacked voter rolls may not block people from voting if they can use Same Day Voter Registration or provisional ballots. But these steps take time, which creates lines that turn busy people away. Voting early or voting by mail can thereby make our elections harder to hack.
8) Campaigns must beef up their own security. Russian hackers accessed Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager’s emails due to some rookie mistakes. All campaigns should use secure systems, train their staff, and cooperate with the FBI to identify and deter cyber-attacks.
9) Social media must up its game. Facebook and Twitter need to get better at identifying bots and not rely on them to rank and promote content. Similarly, Google has allowed bots to alter search engine rankings and deceive Americans with misleading information. If these companies want to maintain their audiences, they need to improve the reliability and honesty of their products.
10) Campaigns, social media firms, and election officials need to report suspicious behavior to the FBI. This should go without saying, but claims that “everyone” colludes with foreign operatives simply aren’t true, morally acceptable, or legal.
These common-sense steps should be embraced by both the left and the right. We can be certain that both parties will be victims of foreign hacking in the future and we all have an interest in preventing that.