Mission: Protect Our Democracy

21st century solutions are required to address the issues facing our election infrastructure.

As a veteran, I have had the honor of protecting our democracy through combat overseas. Every day our military accomplishes its mission, regardless of the partisan politics going on in Washington.

Fighting in active wars overseas is just one way that we need to protect our way of life. Our great country will not last if Americans lose confidence in our institutions and question the integrity of our elections. We’ve all been inundated with the partisan spin from both sides of the aisle regarding Russia’s interference in our elections. However, not much has been done to prevent any foreign power from future meddling in our elections. Even some of the recommendations have not passed the sniff test; one being the return to solely paper ballots. We will not be the leader of the free world for much longer if we look backward. We must find solutions to this complex problem by looking to the future.

In this sense, Congress has failed its mission.

Step one should be to provide the adequate funding for states so they can upgrade their out-of-date election systems. Most states have outdated election processes, loose guidelines, and currently lack the bandwidth and expertise to appropriately deal with the problem at hand.

This funding should go to upgrade not only the hardware but also the software that is meant to prevent any outside tampering. Election security should also focus on providing appropriate training to each state and their election workers on how to adequately monitor these systems. The end goal is to not only be reactive to outside tampering, but rather proactive in preventing outside tampering.

As a veteran with an IT background, I know that the private sector has a unique source of cybersecurity knowledge that the government often lacks. Simply, the private sector is constantly innovating, and the Federal government is merely reacting. We need to increase collaboration between the private sector and government regarding the prevention of outside tampering in our elections. Why don’t we have the top private sector digital security companies audit our election system and tell Federal and local governments where we are vulnerable, what we need to fix, and better yet what is coming around the corner in five or ten years. We can start looking to the future, and stop reacting to today’s threats.

But we can’t stop there with private-public collaborations.

Occasionally a company will hold contests in which they will ask for anyone, usually hackers and security professionals, to try to hack their system. If they successfully penetrate the system in question, they get a reward - but most importantly, the company learns from an outside perspective where they are vulnerable, and the company will grow stronger by fixing that weakness.  It may seem counterintuitive to encourage someone to hack an organization’s system, but it’s the process of identifying defects and fixing them that allows for real growth to occur.

Why can’t we implement this same strategy to not only help secure our voting systems, but to also prevent future attacks?

The answer is that Congress is made up of career politicians who are better suited to address the issues of the 1980s rather than the continually evolving digital world we live in today. Simply put, we need new leadership in Congress to solve the problems of today and also the issues of the future.

Additionally, we need to have independent audits of our elections. We need an independent review and test of each election system. This will allow for a couple of things to occur. First, this will help verify that no alteration of ballots or malfeasance took place. Secondly, this will start setting a baseline of data and benchmarks that we can use to begin measuring any future outliers. Lastly, having an independent group verify the process only adds more integrity and trust for the public that the elections were fair and legitimate.

Finally, many of our allies have faced or will face the same attempts to sow discord and interference in their elections. The U.S. must be a leader and collaborate with our allies on best practices and see how we can all protect our democratic systems from foreign interference. Let’s face it: securing our and our allies’ elections is a vital step to ensure democratic regimes’ national security and protection of our global way of life.

It’s true that this proposal only addresses one aspect of foreign interference in our elections. However, it is a crucial first step in preventing future electoral interference and protecting our democracy. This is a complex problem, yet we must stand up and accept this mission. If we don’t, then our democracy will fail, and our great country will no longer lead the free world.