How Can We Keep Elections Safe?

A mail-in ballot for PennsylvaniaAs states weigh the best options for operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and 11 other states are preparing for June 2 primary elections, and the nation as a whole is gearing up for a presidential election in less than seven months.

The University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security has today introduced a set of recommendations (PDF) to expand vote by mail, recruit a broader range of poll workers from less vulnerable populations and to avoid online voting to ensure the safety of voters and security of their votes amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The eight recommendations included guidance to expand voting options, prevent voter disenfranchisement, prepare polling places for in-person voting and fight disinformation surrounding elections. One key measure highlighted the urgency around needed federal funds to support states’ election efforts during the current public health crisis.

And while Pitt Cyber endorsed Pennsylvania’s decision to delay primary elections until June 2, it said delaying November’s presidential election would be a “self-inflicted constitutional crisis.”

“Delaying the general election is untenable. Federal, state and local leaders must begin planning today for a free, fair and safe election,” said Pitt Cyber Executive Director Beth Schwanke.

The report’s eight key recommendations are:

  • Hold the general election on Nov. 3
  • Expand vote by mail
  • Avoid adoption of online voting
  • Ensure safety of polling places and poll workers by sanitizing spaces and recruiting poll workers beyond vulnerable groups
  • Implement measures for voter education and combating disinformation
  • Revisit election contingency planning
  • Prevent backsliding on election security progress
  • Increase federal funding to implement recommendations

Pitt Cyber Policy Director Christopher Deluzio noted the recommendations will require significant financial investment, aggressive voter education and, in some cases, a change in laws, but said they’re essential to preserving democracy.

“These recommendations should strengthen our democracy while protecting public health. Without bold action, Pennsylvania risks endangering and disenfranchising voters in ways that could permanently damage trust in elections,” Deluzio said.

The recommendations are the latest addition to Pitt Cyber’s ongoing effort to ensure fair and secure elections in Pennsylvania and the United States. In 2018, it convened the Blue Ribbon Commission for Pennsylvania’s Election Security. Since that time, it has released a report with recommendations to secure Pennsylvania’s vote, created interactive systems to analyze Pennsylvania counties’ voting systems purchases and co-authored reports about the need for increased federal election security funding.