We take very seriously the issue of interference in our elections, whether the intruder is a foreign government, criminal network or domestic actor. That includes the actions of the Democratic National Committee, which biased its party’s own primaries, effectively disenfranchising millions of Bernie Sanders’ voters; corporate media that gave Donald Trump billions in extra free airtime because he was “damn good” for network profits, in the words of CBS’ CEO; or voter suppression schemes like voter ID laws, Interstate Crosscheck and felon disenfranchisement that systematically deny millions of Americans their constitutional right to vote.
Recent revelations surrounding the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal underscore the expanding scope of election interference. The scandal represents a disturbing convergence of a massive data privacy violation with a “military-style”, “full-scale propaganda machine”, as described by whistleblower Christopher Wiley. Cambridge Analytica is accused of using without permission the private information of up to 87 million people, assembling thousands of data points on individuals to craft micro-targeted messages in a campaign of mass manipulation with the scale and sophistication of military-style psy-ops.
Cambridge Analytica is not alone in using this new, malignant form of election interference that combines big data, micro-targeting, and psyops. It adds yet another danger to the existing threats to secure and just elections. To restore confidence in our elections, each type of interference can and must be remedied, but time is short before the 2018 elections.
Therefore, we are calling for a nonpartisan, Emergency Commission on Election Protection & Voting Justice to oversee urgently-needed immediate as well as longer-term solutions to ensure a secure and just vote.
The Emergency Commission can advance many urgently-needed solutions. We must end voter suppression schemes and ensure the constitutional right to vote for everyone. Prior to the 2018 election, we need a rapid transition to paper ballots, especially in the 12 states that still use the most vulnerable electronic machines lacking any paper record whatsoever; cybersecurity best practices, universal rigorous post-election audits, and routine post-election recounts as warranted. Congress has provided substantial funding for cybersecurity in the March, 2018 Congressional budget. The funding should prioritize paper ballots, and be expedited to ensure reforms are in place by the 2018 midterms.
To begin addressing the abuses of big data, micro-targeting and military-style psyops, privacy protections must be created for personal data and internet/social media communications. In the rush to guard against propaganda and fake news, however, we must ensure that the rights of free speech and political opposition - increasingly stifled in current social media and conventional press - are restored and protected.
We must also take on the fundamental corruption of our elections that has been so normalized that it’s rarely even discussed: the stranglehold of big money over the entire process. We can break this stranglehold by establishing public financing for political campaigns and free air time for ballot-qualified candidates, which would greatly reduce the cost of political campaigns. We can expand voter choice and end fear-based elections through Ranked Choice Voting, which liberates voters to vote for what they want, instead of against what they dislike. And we can ensure voters are informed about the greater range of choices that they are clamoring for - by creating a new presidential debate commission not controlled by the two establishment parties.
To effectively deal with foreign election interference, we must address the fact that the US is not only a victim of election interference, but a leading perpetrator of it as well, whether through nonviolent or violent means. Given our track record, it is simply unrealistic and unethical to expect other countries to respect the sovereignty of foreign elections unless we commit to doing so as well. Effectively ending election interference requires international diplomacy and treaties.
Emergency Commission Can Restore Confidence in our Elections
The Emergency Commission would provide consistent long-term public education, advocacy and watch-dogging that will be required to overcome resistance to the reforms required to achieve truly fair elections. Establishing this Commission is a critical first step to restoring Americans' trust in democracy with a voting system we can trust, that is accurate, secure and just.