Given the investigations and unfolding news about Russian interference into our 2016 election, the League of Women Voters (LWV) Orange County Hot Topics program for November focused on the question of electoral integrity. The panel was composed of Susan Pynchon, Executive Director of Florida Fair Elections Coalition (FFEC) and Supervisors of Elections in Orange and Seminole County, Bill Cowles and Michael Ertel.
The general consensus of the panel, in line with other national organizations, is that “voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.” Voting machine glitches, whether due to user mistakes or the possibility of something more sinister, irregularities involving misinformation, voter intimidation and suppression, missing ballot boxes, etc., are all examples of election administration problems, not voter fraud. Conflating these issues under the voter fraud umbrella makes an almost non-existent problem seem more widespread than reality would dictate and justifies unwarranted restrictions on eligible voters and distracts from the real problems facing our electoral system.
The Election Integrity Commission, set up recently by President Trump to “fight” the almost non-existent voter fraud problem, is chaired by Vice President Pence with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, “a notorious advocate of voter suppression laws.” Kobach’s background elicits a sense of foreboding as to the real intention of the Commission. VP Pence has a similar sketchy background in voter suppression as Governor of Indiana and Trump’s running mate.
Michael Ertel made a humorous show downplaying the significance of the Commission’s request for, and receipt from many states including Florida, comprehensive voter registration info from all states to be centralized in a national database. Given the news of Russian hacking into the voter registration databases of 21 states (as well as the latest hack, the Experian hack, which compromised the sensitive data of almost 145 million Americans), his response was either hopelessly naive or something less charitable. Real and serious concerns remain about the risk of amassing, for the first time ever, a federal database of all U.S. voter information–a potential gold mine for hackers to exploit, merge with other databases, optimize and weaponize for any imaginable purpose. Since no federal effort seems to be taking place to protect victims of the various and recent data hacks, we can’t ignore the potential threats that exist with the creation of another centralized database. As history has shown repeatedly, these additional data points can and will be used eventually to create even more robust dossiers on U.S. citizens to be exploited by enemies, both foreign or domestic.
After the meeting, some in the audience remarked that our voting systems most likely require more effort, public oversight, and accountability to attain the level of system perfection extolled by Ertel. A transparent, readily and publicly auditable electoral system is the only way to elicit enough public trust in the process to successfully get out the vote. Ensuring every eligible person can vote and that vote is counted properly is the key to upholding our unique and democratic way of life.
Now, more than ever, the LWV has their work cut out for them to fulfill their mission to make sure our elections are fair, secure and express the will of the people. Any help you can provide this excellent organization will be a worthwhile and patriotic effort you can be proud of.