I began last week worried about national elections. It was the first week of the Democratic presidential preference primary, and we have both domestic and foreign election issues we have known about that didn’t get solved before the Iowa caucuses.
Apparently, I was correct to be worried. The Iowa caucuses app failed and prevented the Iowa Democratic Party from immediately publishing the results of the caucuses. My Instagram and Twitter feeds blew up. Arguments and frustration ensued. Who won? Was the problem intentional? Whose fault was it? Can modern technology possibly result in fair, transparent elections?!
I worry that we are going to have similar problems in Georgia. Our state is in the process of installing new voting machines — in an effort to remedy problems seen in the 2018 midterms — but the machines aren’t yet fully installed, the regulations aren’t completely worked out, the machines aren’t fully vetted yet, and it’s not clear that these issues will be solved before our primary, state races or the November election.
Recently, evidence has come to light that our voting system was hacked in 2016. And it is not clear that the new machines are going to solve the problem.
The outcome of the Senate impeachment trial also concerns me. Recently, the president’s lawyers switched their argument — from the president didn’t make an inappropriate quid pro quo agreement with Ukraine in return for national aid — to, the president’s agreement (and request for an investigation of his electoral opponent) wasn’t just for his personal interest, it was of benefit to the whole nation (and the electoral process), and doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. An acquittal for the president means that he won’t be held responsible for encouraging foreign governments to interfere with American elections and make it likely that he will invite similar interference in 2020 and that future presidents might well feel free to do the same.
Finally, recent coverage on and a new documentary about the Cambridge Analytica scandal reminded me that foreign governments, interest groups and candidates, use social media, i.e. Facebook, to infiltrate and impact the outcome of our elections by targeting counties and individual voters who are susceptible to persuasion. Though Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress last year about Russian interference in the 2016 election, was fined and ordered to adopt new privacy and security measures, it’s not clear that the fixes will work.
Facebook’s business model is based on “monetizing consumer data,” so it’s unlikely that without federal regulation or strong moral suasion that the company will completely fix external access to voter information. The exoneration of the president for inviting foreign interference does not help.
In July, Sen. Diane Feinstein proposed the Voter Privacy Act in Congress, to give voters control over how their personal information is used by political candidates and campaigns in federal elections, but the bill has been blocked by Mitch McConnell. The activity continues to go unregulated, and that is not going to change in 2020.
U.S. elections are the main way the average American is able to convey input about who her representatives should be. The process not only requires participation but also integrity — and equipment that works. Without all three, it is unlikely that we will be able to achieve elections this year that reflect the will of the people, and it is likely that those who do participate will be less willing to do so in the future. If elections throughout the year look like Monday’s caucus, we should all be worried.