The controversies emerging from recent elections underlined a wide-ranging panel discussion at the 2023 NCSL Legislative Summit.

“I think everybody in this room understands that these days that elections can be a hot political topic, and we’re not going to deny that at all,” said moderator Charles Stewart III, the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Reasonable people will disagree based on their experience, their values, what they’re trying to get out of things, and so we should respect that. At the same time, there’s a surprising amount of agreement among people who think thoughtfully about the issues at hand.”

Joining Stewart were panelists Chad Ennis, vice president of the Honest Elections Project; Rachel Orey, senior associate director of the Bipartisan Policy Center; Liz Howard, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice; and Matt Germer, associate director and fellow at the R Street Institute


In January 2017, the Department of Homeland Security designated election infrastructure—information and communications technology and systems used to manage the election process—as critical infrastructure, and Howard said the decision can help states safeguard elections. “The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS was able to offer free tools and resources to our election officials,” she explained. “These are going to include personalized assessments where these officials will come to the election officials office and survey the equipment and the facilities and the networks that they have and provide customized recommendations for improvements.”

Maintaining public trust is vital, Germer added. “It is so complex to try to take care of cyber and physical security across all of those different factors, but it’s absolutely vital,” he said. “These issues really do touch on one another—funding, workforce, security—to make sure that at the end of the day, voters have something they can trust…”

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…Germer said that the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, shares voter registration across state lines, but only about 30 states are members and Texas is leaving in late 2023, compounding the problem.

“If we want to live in a world in which vote by mail is available to voters … clean voter rolls are a must,” he explained. “That’s where an organization like ERIC really provided value. I say provided because, unfortunately, as a result of state legislation over the last few months, I think we’re down to just about half of the states of the union now belonging to ERIC.”