Americans are growing more wary of voting as the election looms. What do we really know about voting machines and the people in charge of them?
When we talk about elections, we often focus on the campaign horse race, who is up or down in the polls, the back and forth between candidates, and maybe a little about which issues matter most to voters. Sometimes there’s even a little discussion about rules that have denied voting rights for hundreds of thousands of Americans of color.
What we rarely talk about is how we vote.
Is This Any Way to Vote?: Vulnerable Voting Machines and the Mysterious Industry Behind Them focuses on a few fundamental questions: How secure and reliable are the machines we use to vote? How do they work? How do our public officials choose which ones to buy?
For election results to be believable, the system needs to be clearly understandable to everyone. The credibility of American democracy depends on it.
In an interview about the book, WhoWhatWhy authors Celeste Katz Marston and Gabriella Novello discuss the nuts and bolts of how we vote in America and where our basic election infrastructure is vulnerable. They suggest the system can be improved by investing in better technology, supporting a more transparent procurement process, and enacting legislation to regulate smarter voting procedures. We also look at lessons learned from election processes — both good and bad — in other nations.
In times of political passion, Americans can be expected to make their voices heard through this bedrock act of our democracy. And yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended that fundamental expression: It has forced a number of states to postpone primary elections. It has laid landmines in the path of campaigns and surrogates. And with the US economy teetering from the pandemic shutdowns, it has cut into spending on crucial election measures (such as increased staffing to handle the rise of absentee voting) and the security steps that are supposed to guarantee a fair vote for everyone.
Despite the challenges, federal law and the Constitution itself mandate the 2020 presidential election must go on.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Maryland GovPics / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).