People take part in early voting at San Francisco City Hall on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

When our elections fail, so does our democracy

Future elections will be under attack until we develop secure, transparent voting systems

By David J. Canepa

We are living in extraordinary times.

Times that challenge our faith in democracy and whether our votes are actually counted for the actual candidates we support.

The 2016 election was fraught with foreign meddling and elections in the future will continue to be under attack until we develop voting systems that are more transparent and more secure.

That’s why I’m supporting Assembly Bill 1784, the Secure the VOTE Act. It provides state matching grants to California counties ready to develop publicly-owned open-source voting systems. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles counties have expressed interest in developing such systems to move away from privately owned secret software that lacks transparency and is vulnerable to security threats.

Election meddling has undermined our confidence in democracy and threatens to further divide us as a nation.

Many counties are currently replacing outdated voting systems bought from private corporations at a great cost to taxpayers and without guarantees of transparency or security. The estimated cost to replace the state’s voting systems is an astronomical $600 million. But an open-source paper ballot system designed by San Francisco or Los Angeles counties would be freely available to any California county after it’s developed. Other counties could then use and modify the software and cut the overall cost of new voting systems nearly in half, if AB 1784 is signed into law.

Investing in unsecure voting systems is a waste of taxpayer money.

Why not earn the trust of the voter by investing in open source software that would be easier for counties to discern and defend if attacked by hackers?

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a paper last year, “Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy,” that details the insecure, troubled nature of electoral infrastructure in the United States.

It states that the biggest threat to our voting systems comes from efforts to undermine the credibility of election results. It’s an effort that threatens “civic stability,” and “casts doubt on the integrity of the elections process,” according to the report.

Federal officials announced that Russian hackers targeted the elections systems of 21 states in the 2016 presidential election. Even if they were unsuccessful in actually tampering with our election results in 2016, you can bet there will be more such meddling in the 2020 presidential election that could forever cast a shadow on the integrity of our voting systems.

When our elections fail, so does our democracy.

Voters need to know their votes were counted and for the candidates they supported.

I applaud Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) for introducing this legislation.

It’s a simple idea. Open-source paper ballot systems would be openly licensed and therefore transparent and unlocked for the public’s inspection.

If we cannot trust our voting systems then what can we trust?

David J. Canepa is a San Mateo County supervisor.

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