Guest Commentary

Everyone has a stake in a holistic approach to election security

The 2018 midterm election cycle was one of the most closely scrutinized in recent memory. Election officials across the country took potential threats seriously and, in the run-up to Election Day, doubled down on efforts to secure election systems and educate voters to ensure confidence in the process as a whole.

Their hard work paid off. There were no cybersecurity compromises of election infrastructure, and data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates the 2018 midterms saw the highest voter turnout in four decades, including here in Missouri, where more than 58% of voters cast a ballot.

This is an example of the nation’s election system working as it should: with high public interest and civic engagement, and election officials focused on election security, accessibility and accuracy.

We can learn many lessons from both the 2016 and 2018 federal elections, but chief among them is that our election system has integrity. And we all have a role in ensuring it remains secure.

This focus on election security and ensuring all citizens are engaged in the process is at the heart of why commissioners from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the EAC, are traveling around the country to meet with voters and election officials alike ahead of the November 2020 election. Over the past several days, I’ve met with local election officials in both Missouri and Kansas to discuss security and how other states use federal resources to improve the administration of elections.

Having once served as deputy general counsel for the Missouri secretary of state’s office, I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to learn more about what the Show-Me State has done in recent years, and how its proactive approach to enhancing election security can serve as an example to other jurisdictions across the nation.

Since the 2016 election, Missouri has worked to bolster its election security on all fronts: electronic, physical and social. Last year, when Congress appropriated $380 million in the 2018 version of the Help America Vote Act to improve the administration of elections across the nation — the first new appropriations for these funds since fiscal year 2010 — Missouri was the first state to send in its request for funding. It received more than $7.2 million, which the state has used to implement cybersecurity enhancements to the Missouri Centralized Voter Registration system.

Last September, the state also hosted the National Election Security Summit for federal, state and local election authorities to discuss practical ways to mitigate threats and vulnerabilities. In addition, as Missouri prepares for the upcoming 2020 election, the secretary of state’s office has facilitated election security training for multiple chief election officials, increased state technical staff assistance to local election authorities, and awarded grants for local jurisdictions to upgrade election technology. It has linked local election authorities with state and national resources, such as the EAC, that are able to identify and mitigate security threats and help improve the administration of federal elections.

Such federal and local partnerships are crucial to helping election officials set the stage for a 2020 president election rooted in enhanced security, accessibility and efficiency.

Voters have a role to play, too. As we prepare for 2020, we encourage all eligible Missourians to register to vote or verify that their current registration is up to date. In addition, please consider volunteering as a poll worker on Election Day. While state and local election administrators and the EAC work tirelessly to instill voter confidence and improve elections, nothing boosts confidence in our election system like directly being a part of the process.

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, my visit with voters and election officials in Missouri has strengthened my confidence in our mutual desire to increase the security and resiliency of our election systems. It is essential that election officials here and across the nation continue their efforts to ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to cast their ballot with confidence. And it is imperative for Americans to go to the polls and participate in our democracy.

Ben Hovland is vice chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent and bipartisan commission established to help America vote.