YOUR IPHONE IS NOT A MAGIC BOX, AND NEITHER IS ELECTION TECHNOLOGY

The end of life status for #voting machinery across the US has reached epic proportions. No area is immune. It's time to upgrade our tools and support innovation in election technology. On May 17-18, the Global Election Technology (GET) Summit in San Francisco is bringing together stakeholders from around the world to protect democracy and build the voting machinery of tomorrow.

On January 6th, the Department of Homeland Security designated election technology as critical infrastructure. Finally. This designation has been too long in the making. Voting equipment in the United States is outdated and incredibly vulnerable. If we don’t act now, we put at risk our most precious asset: Democracy. The good news is that we know the way forward.

For decades, the tools of our democracy — that iconic ballot box with some technology updates — has been our faithful companion. But those days are changing. The machinery we use is becoming obsolete. Designed in the 1990s, the current machines were only meant to last a 10–15 years. Now, 25 years later, the machines are breaking down and the costs to maintain them are increasing. It’s endemic across the country.

What happened?

The United States is the world leader in technology and innovation. But we failed to nurture innovation in election technology. Instead, we have a fragmented marketplace with a small number of actors. This has limited the opportunities for innovation and nearly eliminated competition. Election officials are often forced to extend contracts with existing vendors for lack of better options. It’s a systemic failure.

The chronic challenge for States and counties is the lack of a marketplace. Election officials need new machines, new technology, and fresh ideas. But the lack of technical standards prevents a national marketplace. There are thousands of counties around the country using different systems. This fragmentation makes it too expensive for startups to introduce new tools and scares away venture capital away.

It’s (not) complicated

Foreign threats have put a spotlight on our stale infrastructure. But this threat can be leveraged in a positive way to point us to in the right direction. Designating election technology as critical infrastructure is the first step to erect technical standards. Standards that open the door to new ideas, expanded resources, secure technology, and transparency.

This isn’t political, it’s technical. We rely on engineering standards every day in energy, finance, building a bridge, even sending email. Election technology should use the same best industry practices. It’s more cost effective and increases our confidence in the tools we rely on to exercise our vote.

The United States has fallen behind other countries, but we have the resources to lead again. The same leadership in innovation that gave us iPhones, Google, and autonomous vehicles, applies to election technology. And maybe it took meddling by a foreign nation desperate to make itself influential, but we finally have a broad coalition of stakeholders to lead us forward. There is bipartisan leadership to update our creaking infrastructure.

Let’s build the ballot box for the 21st Century

The work to protect our democracy requires a national effort. We invite you to join us May 17th-18th for the first ever Global Election Technology (GET) Summit in San Francisco. The Summit is a nonpartisan initiative to build election technology for the 21st century.

The GET Summit bridges technology and democracy by focusing on practical solutions. Technologists have an opportunity to develop tools that will be actually used. Policymakers get access to resources and expertise to update voting systems. And private industry can open new markets and apply best industry practices.

The GET Summit is an opportunity to promote election technology that gives us confidence in the integrity of our voting systems. This is not about rehashing past elections. It’s about ensuring all Americans have confidence in future elections. And bringing back common sense.

Charles Belle is the Founder of Startup Policy Lab. Learn more about the Global Election Technology Summit