Can a Group of Policy Experts Prevent an Election Catastrophe in 2020?
Paul Rosenzweig, a Republican (until 2017) who worked on voting security at the Department of Homeland Security and who now is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, points out that Georgia, with its recent election, moved from 40,000 mail-in voters to 1.25 million. “Even the most competent and the most well-meaning government cannot choke down a change like that without disruption,” he says. He acknowledges that malicious actors do pose a threat to the 2020 election. Hackers could try to mess with voter databases or results. The Russians and Chinese or others could aim to use social media to increase political divisions. But he is most worried about the impact of changes related to the coronavirus pandemic. He refers to a colleague who is researching the affect of cleaning voting machines: “What if we use cleaning fluid on every machine after every voter? They are not designed to be cleaned 500 times a day.”
The natural uncertainty than comes with new voting procedures, Rosenzweig observes, can be exploited and exacerbated by anyone with a desire to undermine the legitimacy of the election: “We could see disinformation campaigns from the Russians, the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians, or Americans.” On a scale of 1 to 10, he says, his level of worry is now a 4 or 5, mainly because he believes there is still time to deal with potential pitfalls and problems “In August, I’ll either be at a 3 or a 7,” he says. In the months ahead, he hopes the task force can derive clear answers about the legal issues that could arise and provide assistance to local election officials. He says the group plans on war-gaming various Magellan scenarios: “Let’s say there is a hurricane in Florida, or a BLM protest in Oklahoma or a Boogaloo protest in Oakland interferes with voting, or a cyber hack takes down voting rolls in Durham, North Carolina. What do you do? If you game-play it out, you’re in a better position.” Ideally, he notes, the federal government would be running table-top exercises like these. As far as Rosenzweig knows, it isn’t. (Though Trump’s top intelligence officials have publicly stated that Russia is already intervening in the 2020 campaign, Trump has not taken any public steps to thwart the Kremlin’s covert interference.)
The ultimate goal, Rosenzweig says, is to position the task force so it can be provide a voice in any chaos that ensues: “With the right preparation, it can serve as a counterweight to claims the election was not free and fair, assuming we agree it was legitimate. One of the things I am struggling with is coming up with a feasible definition of what I consider a legitimate concern or not a legitimate concern.”