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Analysis

Restrictive Voting Bills Will Make Elections Easier to Hack

Voter suppression laws are sold as strengthening election security, but they actually do the opposite.

This origin­ally appeared in Slate.

When Gov. Brian Kemp signed Geor­gi­a’s new restrict­ive voting provi­sions into law, he claimed the contro­ver­sial changes—in­clud­ing making it harder to request mail ballots and use drop boxes—are neces­sary to improve elec­tion secur­ity. These bills, of course, spring from the Big Lie about our elec­tions, but there is another irony here. Much of the “elec­tion integ­rity” legis­la­tion in Geor­gia and around the coun­try would actu­ally weaken our elec­tion systems and reduce their capa­city to recover from a tech­no­lo­gical prob­lem, whether a malfunc­tion or an attack.

During the 2020 elec­tion, the increased vari­ety in voting meth­ods and the longer time frame for voting meant that, in many states, elec­tion offi­cials were hand­ling smal­ler groups of voters and ballots at once than they were in past elec­tions. If a tech­no­lo­gical prob­lem arose, the reduced crowds made it easier to diagnose and solve the prob­lem and get voters voting again.

For example, during early voting in 2020, Geor­gi­a’s statewide voter regis­tra­tion data­base was having trouble hand­ling the logins of elec­tion staff across the state. The prob­lem caused extremely long lines. Geor­gia offi­cials weren’t able to fix it imme­di­ately, but within a few days the issue was addressed, lines improved, and voters who might have not been able to stand in long lines because of work or other oblig­a­tions still had oppor­tun­it­ies to cast their ballot. If there had only been one or two days for in-person voting, those voters might not have had another chance. And the lines would have been even longer, with many more voters show­ing up to cast their ballot at once.

Many of the so-called elec­tion integ­rity bills would reduce the avail­ab­il­ity of ballot drop boxes—one bill in Flor­ida would elim­in­ate them entirely. During the 2020 elec­tion, drop boxes were a conveni­ent voting option for many people who might have been concerned about the reli­ab­il­ity of the post office: Voters could drop their absentee ballot into a nearby box instead of show­ing up to polling places on Elec­tion Day. This helped reduce the lines at polling places for those voters who preferred or needed the in-person option instead. Drop boxes helped all voter­s—­ab­sentee and in-person—by making sure they didn’t all show up to the polling place on Elec­tion Day, which would have made it harder for poll work­ers to deal with inev­it­able tech­nical prob­lems or cyber­at­tacks. Even if fears of delays with the postal system subside in the future, cyber­at­tacks or staff­ing cuts could result in slow mail service, or elec­tion offi­cials could have trouble processing ballot requests quickly, lead­ing to delays in voters receiv­ing their ballots in time to mail them back. Drop boxes will help ensure the resi­li­ency of the system.

And finally, bills being intro­duced attack­ing same-day voter regis­tra­tion under­mine the recov­ery capab­il­it­ies these systems provide for two of the biggest vulner­ab­il­it­ies in U.S. elec­tions: voter regis­tra­tion data­bases and elec­tronic poll books. Many of them—in­clud­ing in Geor­gi­a—are not form­ally certi­fied to any secur­ity stand­ards. This makes them more vulner­able to cyber­at­tacks or break­downs. When regis­tra­tion is required in order to be eligible to vote, attacks on the regis­tra­tion lists can have a devast­at­ing effect, imped­ing the abil­ity of elec­tion work­ers to check in voters at polling places or process their mail ballots. Same-day regis­tra­tion is a fail-safe—even if the list is comprom­ised, voters can register on the day they show up to vote and cast their ballots.

While the push to restrict voting and under­mine elec­tion secur­ity is disheart­en­ing, the crush of new bill­s—as of March 24, legis­lat­ors had intro­duced 361 bills with restrict­ive provi­sions in 47 states—has pushed Congress to take action. The House passed the For the People Act, which includes crucial elec­tion reforms, and the bill has been intro­duced in the Senate. The For the People Act would create a national stand­ard for voting access and secur­ity by, among other things, ensur­ing minimum require­ments for early voting, voting by mail, drop boxes, and same-day regis­tra­tion. The bill would have other elec­tion secur­ity bene­fits, includ­ing repla­cing insec­ure paper­less voting machines (which are still used in seven states) and promot­ing postelec­tion audits to build confid­ence in results. The For the People Act would cancel out many of the worst restric­tions on voting access that have been intro­duced or become law.