White House must act now to boost trust in elections, experts say

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There’s a brief window for the Biden administration to boost Americans’ trust in the voting process, and the White House must take steps now, according to a new report from election-integrity experts.

President Joe Biden should form a Presidential Commission on Election Resilience and Trust that would spend six months studying the issue and report back before the end of 2021, says the report from the Alliance for Securing Democracy and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

“Despite the absence of widespread voter fraud or major cyber attacks in the 2020 elections, false information ran rampant in the pre- and post-election periods,” write David Levine, an elections integrity fellow for the ASD, and William T. Adler, a senior technologist in elections and democracy for the CDT. “The Commission should study and make recommendations about efforts to counter election-related mis- and disinformation, which undermine confidence in our democracy.”

The Washington Post first reported on the CDT recommendations Tuesday.

The recommendations come as Congress sorts through aftermath of the misinformation-stoked Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol Building, including the upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate of former President Donald Trump on charges of inciting the mob with baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The final few weeks of Trump’s presidency set the tone for the 2022 congressional midterm elections, which essentially will be a referendum on how Biden and Democratic lawmakers handle the response to the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and other contentious issues.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll in mid-January found that 7 in 10 Republicans do not believe Biden was legitimately elected.

In sizing up the responsibilities for the proposed PCERT, Levine and Adler point to technological concerns, too, even though the country has “made significant progress in securing election systems against foreign and domestic attack.” One area of study for the commission would be why “some jurisdictions lag in making necessary improvements.”

“All election officials should also ensure that they have backups of critical components of election infrastructure such as voter registration databases and electronic pollbooks to continue functioning after an attack,” the report says. “Risk-limiting audits, which provide confidence that the election outcome was correct and protect against malicious attacks and technical errors, have not yet been widely adopted.”

The experts say the commission should focus on at least three core areas:

  • Best practices for bolstering trust in elections, such as more widespread adoption of robust post-election audits, which can increase voter confidence in election outcomes regardless of who wins.
  • Best practices for countering false information from foreign and domestic actors that undermines confidence in election integrity.
  • How and whether to make permanent some of the administrative and policy changes state and local officials made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, such as expansion of absentee voting, early voting, and others.

Biden could create the new commission through executive order. Panel members would hear from election officials, cybersecurity experts, lawmakers, representatives of social media companies and other stakeholders, Levine and Adler write.

“The Commission will not solve all the problems that ail our democracy, but its recommendations should lay the groundwork for a more informed, rational, and sober discussion of these issues,” the two experts say.

It would not be the first time that a presidential administration has formed a commission to study election integrity. President Barack Obama in 2013 created the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which produced a final report in January 2014.

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Alliance for Securing Democracy, Biden administration, Center for Democracy and Technology, election security, information operations, social media, White House
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