Closing system

How to build trust in elections?

Four leading experts in their fields offered diverse perspectives on the role of voting machine technology, and the Internet more broadly, in restoring trust in the U.S. electoral process as part of a webinar hosted by law professor Elon David S. Levine.

In recent years, electronic voting machines have made it easier for election officials to tabulate ballots and quickly release preliminary results.

Despite the widespread adoption of election technology over the past two decades, questions about the security of the election system continue to be asked, especially in an era when bad actors are attacking all types of electronic infrastructure across multiple sectors.

The nuances and better understanding of election technology to shape public perceptions of election integrity was the subject of a webinar on October 19, 2022, moderated by an Elon Law professor who participated in the public dialogue on the importance of transparency in the American democratic process.

Engendering Trust in Election Outcomes was led by Professor David S. Levine. It included four legal and technology experts, including an executive from Smartmatic, a multinational electronic voting technology company:

  • Eric Goldman is Associate Dean for Research, Professor of Law, and Co-Director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, where he also oversees the Privacy Law Certificate Program. His research and teaching focus on Internet law, and he blogs about it on the Technology & Marketing Law Blog.
  • J. Alex Halderman is a professor of computer science and engineering and director of the Center for Computer Security & Society at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on security and privacy, with a focus on issues that have a broad impact on society and public policy, and he has twice testified before Congress and is co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Security. Michigan State Election Security. In 2019, he was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow to support his efforts to strengthen the technological foundations of American democracy.
  • Irina D. Manta is a professor of law and founding director of the Center for Intellectual Property Law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. Manta’s research covers legal issues involving intellectual property, torts, the Internet, privacy, national security and immigration. A graduate of Yale Law School and Yale University, she also co-hosts the dating podcast “Strangers on the Internet.”
  • Edwin “Ed” Smith is the Director of Global Services and Certification in North America for Smartmatic, where he oversees service delivery as well as US federal and state certification. He also serves as a subject matter expert in the areas of systems development, process improvement and product enhancement, as well as technical pre-sales across all product lines. Smith currently chairs the Elections Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council organized under the Federal Critical Infrastructure Act to facilitate collaboration between industry and the Department of Homeland Security in the protection of election infrastructure.

Dozens of people from higher education, industry and the media took part in the Zoom webinar in the early afternoon. The idea for the program dates back to early 2021 when Levine hosted Antonio Mugica, founder and CEO of Smartmatic, on the “Hearsay Culture” podcast and show that Levine hosts at Stanford University’s KZSU-FM.

Edwin “Ed” Smith of Smartmatic

“Computers work well with large, tedious and repetitive tasks like tabulating ballots,” Smith said of how voting machine technology can help build public confidence in elections. “Manual ballot counting is expensive. And a quick count of the ballots helps build confidence in the results.

As Elon Law webinar panelists offered competing perspectives on voting machine technology — Halderman shared the results of his own research that uncovered vulnerabilities in some voting software — a broader consensus began to emerge on the fundamental issues that affect confidence in results: human psychology and the intentional lies that foment suspicion.

Irina D. Manta of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

“Election disinformation, election denial, is as old as elections,” Goldman said. “As long as there is a political advantage to challenging the process, people will seek that advantage for their own benefit. It’s not unique to the internet or new to the modern age.

Yet social media and the internet have only enhanced the ability to sow doubt. And in the words of Manta: “A lot of people aren’t really interested in getting to the truth through civil dialogue.”

Eric Goldman of Santa Clara University School of Law

Where does this leave the future of democracy? It may depend on the willingness of families, neighbors and friends to rebuild relationships offline. “There are certainly a lot of lies out there,” Halderman said as he closed the program, “but we can do away with misinformation much more effectively if we start bridging that political divide that makes people so shocked by results that don’t have not walked their way.”

A follow-up webinar is being planned for the first half of 2023.