INDIANAPOLIS — If the Indiana election system were human, it would be the “healthiest 200-year-old you’ll ever find,” according to a radio ad released Monday by the office of Secretary of State Connie Lawson.
The audio is part of a $500,000 campaign by Lawson’s office in partnership with an Indianapolis marketing firm to increase public awareness around cybersecurity, voting and the relationship between the two ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.
“In Indiana, the security of our voting system is of the utmost importance. This public awareness campaign demonstrates to voters that proper precautions are in place to secure their vote,” Lawson said in the campaign announcement. “We take great care to prepare our election administrators for each cycle, and in partnership with counties, other states, and the federal government we are developing new answers to security concerns and election policy.”
While the secretary of state’s office could spend over a million dollars on voter education and outreach, a representative for Lawson said the office contracted with local consulting firm Hirons to design a more specific campaign geared toward cybersecurity education..
Hirons is set to receive up to $500,000 from Lawson’s office during the campaign, which will conclude on Dec. 31, 2018. In documents obtained by The Statehouse File, Hirons officials indicate they plan to spend $75,000 on public education and awareness support, $160,000 on multimedia creative services, $15,000 on website development and $250,000 on media planning and buying.
In their pilot radio ad, a soft female voice describes the vote as a force that brings people together, across class lines and professions, to participate in democracy with the same level of power.
“We each have our own world. The plumber and the stockbroker don’t cross paths very often. The socialite and the tattoo artist don’t go to the same restaurants,” the ad begins. “But for 12 hours all across Indiana the luxury sedan and the pickup truck sit beside each other in a VFW parking lot. The 18-year-old and the 80-year-old talk basketball while standing in line. So what’s the great equalizer? The vote.”
And that’s why it’s so important to maintain an efficient and secure voting system, the campaign and local experts conclude.
“It might be a little clumsy in its language in the beginning,” said Aaron Dusso, chair of the political science department at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis, after listening to the radio ad.
“But the issue of safeguarding elections is a real one,” he continued, adding that it’s important that Lawson is making an effort to alert the public of ongoing threats.
And good news — the looming threat of internet-based cyberattacks isn’t central in the state. To date, no machines used in Indiana elections are connected to the internet.
An estimated 40 percent of Indiana counties use optical scan devices — or, devices that collect paper ballots that resemble scantron sheets commonly used in school exams. The remaining 60 percent use direct record electronic systems, where voters may submit votes on all-electronic machines. A paper tab within the machine tracks each vote.
In addition, there is no central point to which votes are sent — each precinct is responsible for reporting totals to their local county clerk’s office.
However, according to a 2017 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a counterpart of New York University’s School of Law specializing in topics like voting integrity and security, Indiana is still falling behind in other ways.
Indiana is one of 22 states where the majority of ballot collection systems used were manufactured prior to 2006. And the state’s largest county, Marion County, last purchased its ballot collection equipment in 2002. At least one of the models used, according to the report, are no longer manufactured.
This can pose numerous problems for election officials. If a machine malfunctions and is no longer manufactured, replacement parts may not be available. The device may also become incompatible with software used to tally votes.
But Lawson’s office has said they aren’t alone in the struggle.
To manage election security in all 92 counties, her office has enlisted the help of Ball State University’s Voting System Technical Oversight Program, a group that tests all election equipment used. They also coordinate with the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an independent group that partners with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide immediate, 24/7 security updates to election officials nationwide.
Even so, the report by the Brennan Center said these preemptive practices are important, but often not enough. The group recommends that states implement “risk limiting” post-election audits — “a process that employs statistical models to consistently provide a high level of confidence in the accuracy of the final vote tally,” according to the Brennan Center. Only Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island require post-election audits.
And for the sake of the public, officials argue, that’s an important step to convince voters they can feel as comfortable with the results of an election as they are with the process.
In the nation’s history, Dusso said, voting scandals tend to emerge from internal sources.
“The real challenge to our democracy and voting has always been the election officials themselves,” he said.
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.