Without free, fair, open, and trustworthy elections, democracy itself is in peril. But the scary truth is that at this moment of extreme political polarization—with a history-changing U.S. presidential election in the balance, and with multiple actors striving to sway voters through means both legitimate and nefarious—we can’t be 100% sure that the voting process will work the way it’s supposed to in November 2020. In this episode we hear which threats election security experts are most worried about, and how we might imagine a way out of the current mess.
The moment in the voting booth when you put your pen to your ballot (or put your finger to the electronic touchscreen, as the case may be) is democracy distilled. It’s the act that makes America a republic. But while the casting your vote is critical, it’s everything that happens before, during, and after that moment that makes up the larger election system. And these days there are whole armies of people working to influence and disrupt that system—and opposing armies working to protect it and make it safer and more accessible.
In this special Halloween 2019 edition of Soonish, we look at the scary vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system that were exposed after the 2016 presidential election, and we meet a company working to make it possible for everyone to vote securely on their smartphones.
We hear from a retired U.S. Air Force major general who’s deeply worried about the lack of good “cyber hygiene” within state election agencies, and national security experts who fear the 2020 presidential vote could once again be manipulated and distorted by social media misinformation and disinformation.
And we meet a science fiction author who says democracy is always a work in progress, but argues there’s an urgent need now for better media literacy and clearer thinking about how to strengthen the key beliefs, norms, and institutions behind democracy.
Check out the complete show notes, including a full episode transcript, at soonishpodcast.org.
00:00 Hub & Spoke Sonic ID
00:13 Opening Theme
00:22 A Scary Story from the Senate Russia Report
02:49 E-Voting Machines Without Paper Trails
03:38 The Nightmare Scenario
04:28 Maj. Gen. Earl Matthews on Cyber Hygiene
06:33 More Money for Election Security
07:23 The Big Question: Can We Achieve Fair Elections?
07:52 The Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984
09:47 Nimit Sawhney at SXSW
10:58 The Founding of Voatz
13:58 How to Vote on Voatz
22:03 Baby Steps and Criticisms
24:19 Meet Centenal Cycle Author Malka Older
27:58 Elections as Systems, and the Dangers of Disinformation
30:59 Adapting to New Communications Platforms
32:32 The Fragility of Legitimacy
33:45 End Credits, and a Shout-Out to Open Source
The Soonish opening theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay.
Additional music is from Titlecard Music and Sound.
Episode logo photograph by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.
Sound effects / foley from Freesound.org.
If you like the show, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show.
Listener support is the rocket fuel that keeps this whole ship going! You can pitch in with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish.
Give us a shout on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.
Please check out Open Source, one of the newest additions to the Hub & Spoke audio collective. Try the episode Do we want democracy or two-day shipping? with Matt Stoller from the Open Markets Institute.