“If there’s one positive piece that comes out of this it would be greater oversight of election vendors,” David Levine, elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, told me. Dominion, along with two other major vendors, control about 80 percent of the U.S. market for election systems. “If there’s a successful cyberattack against one of them, that could have devastating consequences,” he said.
On the other hand, the attacks by Trump and his supporters are basically made up out of whole cloth and contrary to all available evidence. Security pros worry these conspiracy theories that go far beyond any legitimate concerns will corrode public faith in elections and convince people it’s not worth turning out to vote.
“Unfortunately, there’s a danger that the entire effort to increase cybersecurity in elections will get tarred by the unfounded rantings of a few people,” Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told me. “There are legitimate things that need to be done to improve the security of our election systems and they should be done regardless of what some crazy people are alleging.”
There’s a potential silver lining as election security is likely to remain a hot topic in Washington after 2020.
The fact that it’s entered the discourse at such a high level among Republicans – even because of dubious circumstances – suggests there could eventually be a more bipartisan focus on ensuring future elections are conducted securely and transparently.
Election security has improved considerably since 2016 with the addition of paper ballots for millions more voters and a surge in post-election audits But there’s still a lot more to be done.
Security advocates now have to thread an important political messaging needle as the debate gets incredibly polarized. The issue was already precarious following the 2016 election when Democrats’ fears about Russian hacking were high – but Trump often reacted to discussion about election security and Russia’s efforts to undermine the 2016 contest as suggesting that his victory over Hillary Clinton was illegitimate.