FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
The path to reducing rates of hypertension in black communities may start in the church pews, according to a new study by New York City researchers. Specially trained community health workers operating within faith communities in New York City were able to significantly reduce and manage hypertension in black communities, compared with health education alone, according to researchers at the NYU School of Medicine.
Election officials have an important role to play in protecting election integrity. Citizens, too, need to ensure their local voting processes are safe. There are two parts to any voting system: the computerized systems tracking voters’ registrations and the actual process of voting – from preparing ballots through results tallying and reporting.
Before the passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, voter registration in the U.S. was largely decentralized across 5,000 local jurisdictions, mostly county election offices. HAVA changed that, requiring states to have centralized online voter registration databases accessible to all election officials.
It’s not clear that any information was corrupted, changed or deleted. But that would certainly be one way to interfere with an election: either changing voters’ addresses to assign them to other precincts or simply deleting people’s registrations.
A more sophisticated attack could use voters’ registration information to select targets based on how likely they are to vote a particular way and use common hacking tools to file electronic absentee ballot requests for them – appearing to come from a variety of computers over the course of several weeks. On Election Day, when those voters went to the polls, they’d be told they already had an absentee ballot and would be prevented from voting normally.
There are two important defenses against these and other types of attacks on voter registration systems: provisional ballots and same-day registration.
When there are questions about whether a voter is entitled to vote at a particular polling place, federal law requires the person be issued a provisional ballot. The rules vary by state, and some places require provisional voters to bring proof of identity to the county election office before their ballots will be counted – which many voters may not have time to do. But the goal is that no voter should be turned away from the polls without at least a chance their vote will count. If questions arise about the validity of the registration database, provisional ballots offer a way to ensure every voter’s intent is recorded for counting when things get sorted out.
Same-day voter registration offers an even stronger defense. Fifteen states allow people to register to vote right at the polling place and then cast a normal ballot. Research on same-day registration has focused on turnout, but it also allows recovery from an attack on voter registration records.
Both approaches do require extra paperwork. If large numbers of voters are affected, that could cause long lines at polling places, which disenfranchise voters who cannot afford to wait. And like provisional voting, same-day registration may have more stringent identification requirements than for people whose voter registrations are already on the books. Some voters may have to go home to get additional documents and hope to make it back before the polls close.
Further, long lines, frustrated voters and frazzled election workers can create the appearance of chaos – which can play into the narratives of those who want to discredit the system even when things are actually working reasonably well.
Voting machine manufacturers say their devices have top-notch protections, but the only truly safe assumption is that they have not yet found additional vulnerabilities. Properly defending voting integrity requires assuming a worst-case scenario, in which every computer involved – at election offices, vote-tallying software developers and machine makers – has been compromised.
Based on that experience, some election officials have told me that they suspect the current generation of scanners may be misinterpreting 1 vote in 100. That might seem like a small problem, but it’s really way too much opportunity for error. Voting simulations show that changing just one vote per voting machine across the United States could be enough to allow an attacker to determine which party controls Congress.
Recounts are expensive and time-consuming, though, and can create illusions of disarray and chaos that reduce public confidence in the election’s outcome. A better method is called a risk-limiting audit. It’s a straightforward method of determining how many ballots should be randomly selected for auditing, based on the size of the election, the margin of the initial result and – crucially – the statistical confidence the public wants in the final outcome. There are even free online tools available to make the calculations needed.
Elections must be as transparent and simple as possible. To paraphrase Dan Wallach at Rice University, the job of an election is to convince the losers that they lost fair and square. The declared winners will not ask questions and may seek to obstruct those who do ask. The losers will ask the hard questions, and election systems must be transparent enough that the partisan supporters of the losers can be convinced that they indeed lost. This sets a high standard, but it is a standard that every democracy must strive to meet.