Humphrey School News—October 19, 2016

Amidst National Debate on Election Integrity, Humphrey School Expertise and Program Take Center Stage

Read the headlines in just about any local or national media lately and you’re almost forced to consider whether next month’s presidential election could be “hacked” or “rigged,” and whether Russians could pick the next U.S. President. 

“Impossible,” said Doug Chapin, director of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Program for Excellence in Election Administration during a nationally broadcast forum on the integrity of U.S. elections. “It’s impossible to change the outcome of an election remotely.”

During a forum titled “Can U.S. Elections Be Rigged?” and hosted by the Humphrey School in Washington, DC, on October 19, Chapin shared insights and technical details about the integrity of elections systems throughout America. Joined by Tammy Patrick, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, he described checks and balances in place, advancement in elections technology, and the commitment of the professionals who administer elections around the country. Professor Larry Jacobs, director of the Humphrey School's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, moderated the discussion. 

“There is meticulous oversight of the election process,” said Patrick, who served on the Presidential Commission on Election Administration established by President Barack Obama, and focuses on implementing its recommendations. “If rigging or hacking were happening, we would know.”

According to Patrick and Chapin, well-run elections are all about the details—ballot rotation, how many ballots are ordered and printed, choice of font and placement of candidate names, ensuring auditable systems are in place, and much more. They say the latest national focus on potential fraud has negatively and unnecessarily impacted voters’ confidence in America’s elections system.

“The timing for this is unfortunate,” said Patrick. “Normally during this period in the election cycle, we’re not talking about cybersecurity. I don’t want to discount the conversation, but we should have had this last year, and not this close to the election.”

Both agree that what should be part of the conversation is how to improve elections systems around the country, and look toward the future. In many cases, counties and towns that run elections are operating under voting laws that have been in place for 50 or 60 years, and are in need of updating. A 2004 report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration made several recommendations for improving and updating systems, including professional development of election administrators and training the next generation of election officials. The report also urged universities to integrate election administration into their curriculum in a concerted effort to expand professional expertise in the field.

The Humphrey School responded to the report with its Certificate in Election Administration. The new program is completely online, and is designed to train professionals who work in elections on the latest tools and technology, and ever-changing complex election laws. It is also intended for students who may be interested in careers in elections administration.

“America needs to understand that the job of election administrator has changed,” said Chapin about the dire need to train elections workers. “It’s not just counting votes any more, it’s also about cybersecurity and technology. With this program, the Humphrey School is investing in the future of America’s election system.”

Current students of the 12-credit certificate program include the elections administrator from Hennepin County in Minnesota, and other professionals and graduate students from around the country. The online format allows them flexibility to obtain this innovative training while also working full-time, even during a busy election cycle.

For many Americans not immersed in the field, but besieged by national headlines, the “future” is more about what happens on November 8 than long-term election reform. So while he is committed to continuous improvement of the election system, investment of resources, and better training, Doug Chapin consistently urges the voting public to have faith in the system that’s in place today, and a valid election.

The challenges, according to Chapin, that could surface on Election Day include long lines, a locked door to the polling place, wrong names in voting records, or in the worst of cases: someone who is eligible to vote and can’t.  Not hacking or rigging.

“Things won’t go perfectly, but the outcome is something we can rely on.”

Learn more about the Humphrey School's Certificate in Election Administration here.

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