The foreign cyberattacks that so many intelligence officials feared didn’t upend the 2020 elections — but this year’s contests nonetheless showed how much the nation still needs to do to fix its security weaknesses.
Paper trails protected the integrity of the votes in closely watched states, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid, but many counties still lack that protection. States mostly rejected the riskiest voting technology — internet balloting — but a few embraced it. And a pandemic-ravaged nation managed to vote safely and reliably, but election offices are still woefully short of money and staff.
Perhaps most of all, this year also exposed the United States’ vulnerability to election threats from within, as President Donald Trump and other leading Republicans promoted discredited conspiracy theories to try to nullify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
“The big picture lesson from 2020 is that ensuring an accurate result isn’t enough,” said J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor and leading election security expert. “Elections also have to be able to prove to a skeptical public that the result really was accurate.”
Restoring that trust starts — but doesn’t end — with improving the election technology, policy specialists say.