Voting integrity brings more voter confidence, panel says

A panel discussion Thursday about the vulnerability of Indiana’s election system to cyberattacks and hacks impressed one piece of advice on Hoosier voters heading into the 2020 election: brace yourself.

The discussion, hosted by Common Cause Indiana, focused on the Hoosier state’s risk of an outside entity manipulating the voting results and what the Legislature can do to prevent false outcomes. In the House Chambers of the Indiana Statehouse, Bill Groth, Indianapolis attorney and election law expert, Greg Shufeldt, assistant professor of political science at Butler University and John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island examined Indiana’s current voting system.

Speaking after the discussion, Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said the stakes will be extremely high in the 2020 election not only because of the presidential race but also because the winning party will control the process for drawing the new voting districts. With such significant consequences on the line, election security becomes a heightened concern.

“I think any time you up the ante, you make the outcome just so important, it encourages people to not play by the rules,” Vaughn said. “… (M)aybe they could rig the outcomes of the elections and we would never be able to understand that that’s what happened.”

To counter an attack, Common Cause Indiana is advocating for the state to stop using direct-recording electronic voting machines that do not use or produce any kind of paper ballot that can be checked later to ensure the mechanized vote counts were accurate.

At present, about 58 counties in Indiana rely on DREs. Indiana has received just under $8 million from the federal government to upgrade its voting equipment but, according to reporting by the Indianapolis Star, the state needs between $23 million and $36 million to replace the paperless machines.

Separately, Groth is representing nonprofit Indiana Vote By Mail in a federal lawsuit filed in October that seeks a court order requiring Indiana counties to use machines that produce a voter-verified paper trial.

Having devices that produce a paper trail will also enable Indiana to implement risk-limiting audits for verifying election results. This process randomly selects ballots and compares the results from the paper and machine tabulations. If any discrepancy found falls outside the state’s accepted level of risk, then more ballots are reviewed until either the inconsistency is within the permitted range or all the votes have been counted manually.

Senate Enrolled Act 405, authored by Republican Sens. Victoria Spartz, Noblesville, and John Crane, Avon, allowed Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson to implement a pilot program to test a risk-limiting audit process. According to the panelists, Lawson has appropriated $6 million and tapped four counties to be in the pilot.

Within the Indiana General Assembly, Vaughn said, voting security has bipartisan support but divisions arise when discussions turn to the cost of bolstering the integrity of the infrastructure. Echoing Groth, Vaughn noted the Legislature approved $50 million for a new swine barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in the 2019 session but has not appropriated $27 million for a more secure voting system.

“We know what we can do to safeguard the election and restore voter confidence,” Vaughn said. “It’s simply a matter of prioritizing it and saying that spending state dollars on election security is something we’re going to prioritize.”

Not tending to voting security can have a serious impact well beyond the polling precinct, according to Shufeldt. Voters who have confidence their selection was counted correctly will be likelier to trust governmental institutions and to contact their elected officials. Conversely, voters who do not believe the election was free and fair will be prone to participate in protests or even acts of political violence.

“If the agreed-upon institutional rules of the game aren’t free and aren’t fair,” Shufeldt said, “(these voters are) going to look for other ways to impact the system.”

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