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The Politicization of Securing Elections

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Peter Melan
September 17, 2019

Who predicted that making sure the elections of local, state and federal officials became a game of politics? How did the problem pit Democrats against Republicans in ensuring elections were secure from hackers or outside parties who make attempts to sway the race towards a particular candidate? Where did the country fail in maintaining our democracy that has been sacred for hundreds of years? Senators are blocking legislation attempting to hold the perpetrated actors accountable and a Governor who vetoed a bill that appeared not to go far enough but required counties to spend millions of dollars to purchase new voting machines with no funding.

The political system is a mess. Gridlock, minimal discussions amongst the political parties and ideologies contribute to the dysfunction everyone reads in the newspaper or watches on television. Moreover, one would think that securing elections would be a slam-dunk for all officials actually to agree on, yet the fight continues with little resolution.

To formulate the problem, Pennsylvania created a mandate for all 67 counties to purchase new voter machines that created a paper record and streamlining the post-election results. The cost to comply with the Department of State is estimated to be between $125-150 million, with initial discussions that the state would not help with the cost. Immediately after a veto by the Governor for a piece of legislation that would have enhanced election security, he allocated funds of $90 million in bonds that counties could use to help offset the expense. As an aside, the veto pertained to an amendment that the legislature placed to prevent straight-ticket voting, which the Governor vehemently opposed.

Counties performed the task given to them and followed protocols regarding bidding and open meetings to allow for proper vetting. There were specific cases of some counties receiving gifts that the Auditor General quickly realized resulted in ethical issues. According to the Auditor General, election board members received trips and tickets in hopes of soliciting business. Many in the private sector view this practice as acceptable; however, in the public sector, it is highly frowned upon and poses significant ethical violations. It furthers the public notion that there is an overt attempt at profiting on the backs of taxpayers and deepening the lack of trust between elected officials and constituents. It breeds pay-to-play and the public does not deserve to continue a downward spiral of not trusting their elected officials who had votes purchased with a free trip to Las Vegas.

The problem in Pennsylvania worsened down to the county level where political parties on election commissions displayed their ideologies and genuine opposition to the overall selection of the voting machines. The commission members were asked to visit other counties where the voting machines were already installed and had reservations about the legitimacy of elections. The manufacturer and election officials remediated all of the concerns expressed. The battle was not over and time became of the essence due to the upcoming elections in November.

Entering the final stage of the opposition to voting machines was a statewide initiative by citizens who filed challenges to the Department of State regarding the certification process. For a specific vendor who received praise from several county boards of elections, objectors raised concerns had already been refuted and ultimately the appeals were denied. The appeal denied was the final step in the process. Counties are permitted to proceed with using the machines voted on by their elections commission but without fanfare and public outcry from those who continue to raise objections.

So where does this all end? The sanctity of our elections is what our forefathers fought for and outlined in the Constitution. No part of the discussions during the 1700s regarding fairness and openness foresaw the bickering and outright opposition to wanting safe and secure elections. It does fall back on our legislative body to set aside our political ideologies and differences to continue restoring faith in a system that appears to have broken over the last several years. There is no finger-pointing at one particular political party or a specific individual, but elections are the backbone of our democratic process, and everyone should remain intent on maintaining and supporting the initiative of securing the electoral process.

Let us not go back to the presidential election of 2000 where the argument surrounded hanging chads with an image of an election official using a magnifying glass to inspect a voter’s intent. The system needs fixing, and there is no room for posturing and political grandstanding in the name of a given party or perceived bad actor. There are enough experts in this country where the ability to come together as a whole to prevent tampering in elections should become a priority without the need for profiting. We need to do something good for the country.

Author: Peter Melan is an at-large councilperson in the City of Easton, PA and the chair of public safety. He is in his first year of graduate studies in Public Administration at Ohio University. Peter is known for his creativity in solving problems using non-traditional methods, and for his experience in project management and data analytics.

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