Election security and safety is at the forefront of the broader presidential election narrative. There is an ongoing concern the election will be hacked–either by Russia or China–in 2020 like it was in 2016. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has–rightly–raised the health and safety concerns of voting in person; especially as the US is one of the world’s hardest-hit countries. Concern over the safety of in-person voting has led to a rise in interest and public debate over postal voting and fear that the US Postal Service (PS) will not be able to deliver postal votes in time to be counted.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly shaken how humans live their lives and as the 2020 presidential election looms, voting in-person has started to be questioned as safe. This question has thrust the USPS into intense political attention recently because of discussions surrounding the November 3rd election and the expansion of mail-in voting due to COVID-19. The expansion of postal voting is perfect fodder for President Trump’s long-time ‘concern’ about in-person voter fraud, shifting to vote-by-mail fraud. Legitimate voter fraud cases are extremely low, with President Trump’s own White House commission into voter fraud finding no “significant evidence” of voter fraud. Meanwhile, President Trump has requested his mail-in ballots for the 2020 election.
This political attention has not solely been spurred by demagoguery, but because congressional Democrats have sought to protect and expand voting rights, specifically postal voting, in the House-passed US$3 trillion stimulus bill. The intent behind proving US$3.6 billion–to expand postal and early voting–is in direct response to the challenges that COVID-19 poses to in-person voting, with a further US$25 billion to maintain operational capacity as of December 31st, 2019. This shift is concerning, not only because of how the voter fraud debate has politicised the USPS and its funding, but how politicians–both Democrat and Republican–think that universal expansion of mail-in voting will increase voter turnout which will benefit the other side more than their own.
In the background of a political debate over the USPS and a pandemic which has shifted how political campaigns and elections are running, there has been concern over the potential hacking of America’s election infrastructure. The Senate Intelligence Committee, on July 3rd 2018, released a report which affirmed the US’ intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had interfered in the 2016 Presidential election. While concern exists over who will try and hack the 2020 election–with Russia, China, and Iran considered likely state-based hackers–the Trump Administration has been putting policies and personal in place. The Trump Administration has taken to ‘naming and shaming’ Russia as a way to push back against state-based hacking. Meanwhile, the Department of Defence has moved to ensure that it is better placed to secure the election, with the broader intelligence community working to further the US’ cyber capabilities.
The confluence of these reasons has rightly led to a profound concern for the 2020 election, with President Trump repeating his 2016 discourse. Elections are vital for democratic societies and trust in their outcomes critical for a peaceful transfer of power between political opponents. Democratic elections do not crown a winner; instead, they convince the loser that they have lost. By conceding the election, the loser ensures that the winner can govern with the authority of a democratically elected official. Were President Trump to lose the 2020 election, he has established a discourse of doubt over the legitimacy of the election’s outcome and for court cases to start where the election leaves off, even as votes are still being counted and recounted.
Benjamin Cherry-Smith is a Master of Arts (Research) Candidate at the University of the Sunshine Coast where he researches ontological in/security in international politics.