We’ve all heard it before: “This will be the most important election ever.” But today in October 2022, the sentiment is nearly ubiquitous: the stakes in this election cycle have truly never been higher — not only in terms of the impact on the balance of power in Congress, but also in terms of the integrity of the process and public trust in the outcomes – and that will be deeply consequential for the next presidential election, in 2024.
With that in mind I’m pleased to rejoin the public dialogue, serving as an OSET Institute spokesperson in my capacity as a Board member. You’ll be hearing more from me as I resume my work as an elections expert/analyst covering matters of administration, process, policy, technology, and security.
You may recall that a year ago, I stepped away from an operational role at OSET as Global Director of Technology Development and joined Twitter as a Director of Product Management (leading a product team devoted to civic integrity and reduction of misleading information). With my recent departure from Twitter, and my return to a public-facing capacity as an OSET Board member, I’ll be available again to comment, discuss, and provide expert analysis on all things related to election integrity and security.
To restart the conversation, I want to share four quick points about the upcoming election that we all must pay attention to:
- The wall between impartial election administration and partisan politics has collapsed.
Until recently, a shared commitment to the idea that election administration can be regarded as impartial has been the bedrock of the peaceful transfer of power. Despite the fact that elected representatives and election officials are (often, but not always) partisan-affiliated positions, elected representatives and election officials alike recognized their unique roles – and it was accepted as a norm that whether a County Clerk-Recorder had a (D) or an (R) by their name, they would dispense with political persuasion and objectively execute their sworn duties to run free and fair elections. However, the bedrock commitment to this shared idea has collapsed. Partisan politics has breached the firewall that should protect election officials and their staff from undue influence and threats, and it’s now viewed as legitimate political discourse in some quarters to cast doubt upon the very idea that US elections are run fairly and competently. This threatens democracy, and it harms election officials.
- The mobilization of conspiracy theories is a threat to election officials’ well-being, and it is overwhelming and impeding their ability to do their jobs.
The method is akin to a “distributed denial of service attack” in the I.T. world; if you send millions of signals to a website, you overload it. What super-spreaders of falsehoods are doing is throwing sand into the gears of democracy to grind everything to a halt.
- Instances of unauthorized parties gaining access to sensitive election technologies are among the most serious threats to trust in election outcomes.
Partisan, non-neutral actors that have no expertise and no experience in election administration are being given access, illegally, to election operating systems, software, hardware, etc. These unauthorized breaches undercut trust in a way that cannot be addressed with new technology or machinery.
- Regardless of the outcome (i.e., red-wave, blue-wave, or no wave), it is unlikely that everyone will accept the results without some allegations or claims of the results being hacked, tampered or rigged, by either external or (worse) internal actors.
My bottom line: If the public no longer trusts that election administration can happen in a non-partisan, technocratic, bureaucratic manner, then how can outcomes be accepted by all? This is a deeply problematic environment, in which the conspiracy theories can practically spread themselves. With the midterms only a month away, the laws, policies, procedures, and tech configurations that frame the election are already in place, and cannot be changed. That means transparency, facts, and education will be paramount. I’ll address those potential mitigations in more detail in a later OSET blog post.
The continuity of the American experiment has never been guaranteed. In our current climate, it’s always one election cycle away from being our last great experiment. It’s up to all of us to remain vigilant, educated, and engaged.
This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our democracy.
It’s good to be back.