The first votes of the presidential election will be tabulated after the Iowa caucuses next month using the sort of internet-connected system that worries election security experts. They say preventing the sort of interference that sullied the 2016 election should be more of a priority than speed in compiling the returns.
But the Iowa Democratic Party plans to deploy a smartphone app to officials running the caucuses across the state for use in calculating and transmitting the results the night of Feb. 3. Putting such vote totals into cyberspace makes them readily vulnerable to nefarious hacking.
Party leaders say they are aware of the potential problems but believe their system will repel them. If that doesn't happen, the opening round of the intense contest for the Democratic nomination will be condemned to global ridicule.
Iowa's Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, is promising to revive her quest to end the state's status as the only place in the country where convicted felons are permanently barred from voting.
She says she is optimistic that when the General Assembly convenes next week, her fellow Republicans in the majority will pass legislation starting a process lasting several years for giving voting rights back to felons as soon as they complete their sentences.
The franchise has been given back to more than 2 million ex-convicts in at least eight states during the past decade, fulfilling a top goal of civil rights groups, who view restoration of the vote as an essential part of making criminals who have done their time productive members of society. Resistance has come mostly from red states. Most freed felons are black or Hispanic and vote reliably Democratic.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate has joined the chorus of Republican officials who claim to have found evidence of voter fraud.
Pate announced late last week that he had referred nine voters to county attorneys for allegedly voting twice in the 2018 election. They are suspected of voting in Iowa after having voted in another state. Another 27 were identified, Pate said in a news release, of voting in Iowa first and then in another state.
The information was discovered through Iowa's involvement in the multi-state Electronic Registration Information Center, which shares data in order to improve the accuracy of voter rolls.
Along with the candidates and the issues, the 2020 presidential election is also going to be about the voting process itself.
Russian efforts to hack into the voting systems of 2016 have boosted election security to a critical concern this time, prompting states to spend tens of millions buying new equipment, hiring cybersecurity wizards and installing software that warns of intrusions — among numerous other steps. More purchases of hardware, software and expertise are coming in the months ahead.
Whether enough money gets spent, and wisely, won't be known for sure until Nov. 3, 2020 — when the system will be subject to the one test that really matters. And whether the country decides the presidential election result is trustworthy will likely come down to how reliably things work in the relatively small number of states both nominees are contesting.
With 11 months to go, The Fulcrum reviewed information from state elections officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Election Assistance Commission and news reports to get a sense of the election security landscape. Here's the state of play in the 13 states likeliest to be presidential battlegrounds.