The Deseret News Editorial Board recently published an editorial about election security. The first line states: “Nothing is as important to a democracy as the public’s trust in its elections process.” I strongly agree. United States officials have indicated that one of Russia’s top goals is to sow doubt about the integrity of our elections.
In my opinion, with a willing partner in the mass media, Russia has already succeeded. Many news articles, many commentator opinions, and many social media posts have helped promote the idea that enemies of the United States are actively interfering in our elections. The problem with many in the media is that they have failed to highlight any of the numerous things being done at every level of government to secure our election system; rather, it gave fuel to the narrative of the mass media that our elections are not secure.
What some people may not realize is that true election interference to date has been psychological, not physical. The actual infrastructure, equipment and processes that facilitate our elections are more secure today than they have ever been. The “hacks” we hear about so often refer to political party or campaign email servers, not actual official elections equipment. The “meddling” has been through the spread of misinformation, mostly on social media, not tampering with official election infrastructure. While foreign opponents may cheer the erosion of public confidence in American elections, Russians themselves aren’t the only ones guilty of spreading misinformation or sowing discontent. Each time a media outlet, political commentator or well-meaning person spreads misinformation, rumors or unlikely “what-if” scenarios, they help to undermine public confidence in our elections.
The media narrative continues to press the idea that the government may be moving too slowly, or not at all, to protect the 2020 election. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many dedicated and intelligent people are focused solely on securing and protecting our elections at every level of government. Federal, state and local election officials have implemented numerous upgrades, safeguards and precautionary measures as they plan to run one of the most efficient national elections in American history. So, while talking heads would like you to think that our election system is weak, the reality is quite different.
The greatest weakness in our election system is exactly that which the Russians are attempting to exploit — public opinion about the integrity of our system. If they can undermine confidence, they can undermine participation; if they undermine participation, they undermine results. For this reason, it is important that we discuss elections in the context of reality. It is one thing for Russia to run Facebook ads promoting or denigrating a particular candidate. It is an entirely different one for foreign agents to hack or undermine our actual election process. Numerous safeguards are in place to protect our election system and infrastructure from the threat of malicious actors. The only real threat is the impact on public confidence from those that sow doubt.
A recent joint op-ed signed by our nation’s top security officials stated this about current threats to our elections: “Combating these threats requires a whole-of-society approach that deserves the attention of all Americans. While these threats to our elections are perennial, our efforts to defend our democracy are unwavering. As leaders of our government, we are committed to defending our democracy, but we need your help, too.”
As a local election official, I echo this sentiment. I am dedicated to ensuring our elections are fair, secure, and accurate. With the help of our lieutenant governor’s office, the Department of Homeland Security, other agencies and a variety of resources, local county clerks in our state are doing our part to ensure the integrity of our elections. We need your help by: only sharing information that is verified by official sources; looking for the hashtag #TrustedInfo2020; and not aiding or abetting our enemies by inciting doubt. Only together can we safeguard the stability of our democratic system.
Amelia Powers Gardner is the county clerk/auditor for Utah County.