US Government

Ensuring the Integrity of the American Voting System

December 13, 2016  • Communications and Society Program

As 2016 comes to a close, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program invites you to join us as we celebrate and reflect over an exciting year marked by thoughtful, constructive discussions on a range of issues. The following “2016 Year In Review” series offers highlights from the various programs as well as insight into 2017 programming. For more information, please  visit our homepage and or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

The 2016 presidential campaign was one of the most unconventional and divisive races that Americans have ever experienced. Over a month later, election integrity continues to dominate the news cycle. Most recently, the CIA released a report concluding that the Russians hacked into Democratic Party computers in an effort to help elect Donald J. Trump. The President-elect, however, has condemned the report. In other fronts, Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, mounted an effort for voting recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which will likely come to an end with little evidence of any overall change. As the allegations of rigging and perceived vulnerability of networked-based voting systems continue, significant doubts about the American electoral system are growing.

These concerns, however, are not new. In late October, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, in cooperation with the Election Verification Network, hosted a pre-election panel to discuss how American election results are verified and to understand the vulnerabilities of the American voting system.  Most importantly, the discussion also focused on actions steps that can help to secure the legitimacy of the electoral process in the future. Panelists included former Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés, Common Cause Director of Voting Integrity Susannah Goodman  and Campaign Legal Center President and former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter. The discussion was moderated by New York Times Correspondent David Sanger.

The discussion was wide ranging—touching on the decentralized structure of the American electoral process, current cyber security concerns, nation-state bad actors, and safeguards that need to be implemented across all voting precincts to further ensure the legitimacy of the system. Though the American voting system is decentralized which inherently protects against large scale voter tampering, individual states and counties are still at risk.  To protect against these risks, panelists reiterated the need for transparency, testing of voting technology, a paper trail for every vote cast, up to date cyber security “best practices” and post-election audits.

This election has tested all factions of our democratic system, and the issues around election integrity remain in question.  In 2017, the Communications and Society Program will continue to stay active in this space where democracy, citizenship and technology intersect. We encourage you to join our newsletter to stay informed about future programming.