Secretaries of State: Your Votes Are Safe With Us

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Secretaries of State: Your Votes Are Safe With Us | Opinion

By Steve Simon, Jocelyn Benson, and Adrian Fontes


Democracy prevailed in 2020 because people of integrity, on both sides of the aisle, ensured that it did. Since then, many people who stood guard over the election have faced threats for simply doing their jobs. In late February, an Indiana man pleaded guilty to threatening to murder a Michigan election worker. In March, the Justice Department announced a two-year prison sentence for a man who traveled from Ohio to Arizona to make threats against election officials. We are working in our states to protect the people who protect democracy. This means effectively countering threats to voters and election officials—and the fast-spreading conspiracy theories that fuel those threats.

It's clear we are in the middle of a coordinated, far-reaching effort to use lies to dismantle democracy and harm voters' faith. As the chief election officers for Arizona, Michigan, and Minnesota, we're determined to ensure democracy not just survives this moment, but emerges with stronger, more secure, and more accessible elections than ever before.

We've found support from both sides of the aisle on this mission, despite insidious anti-democratic rhetoric coming from some factions in our political discourse. While we must remain vigilant to address voter suppression tactics, protecting, defending and expanding our democracy can and should be a bipartisan endeavor at the state and local level.

Despite the noisy rhetoric, the reality is that in 2024 voters will have more opportunities than ever to cast their votes and ensure their voices are heard.

As a nation, we have largely moved away from a singular "Election Day." In fact, 2018 was the last presidential or midterm election where a majority of voters cast ballots at a polling place on Election Day.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 46 states allow early in-person voting, with an average length of 20 days. Twenty-eight states allow citizens to vote from home for any reason. States like Arizona have embraced no-excuse voting from home since the early 1990s without any issues. In Michigan, every voter now has a right to vote from home or during at least nine days of in-person "early voting," and in Minnesota voters can vote from home or their local elections office for a full 46 days before the election. Eligible citizens in both states are also registered to vote automatically when they get their state ID or drivers' license, and there is no registration deadline—they can register up to and on election day itself.

Evidence consistently shows that all these options are safe and secure methods to cast paper ballots, and post-election audits in Michigan and elsewhere confirm they work. Conspiracy theorists may seek to spread disinformation, but facts don't lie. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud "related to mail ballots is virtually nonexistent thanks to numerous safeguards."

The 2020 election, when 69 percent of people voted by mail or early in person, was "the most secure in American history" according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

We're determined to ensure we can say the same after the polls close this November, even as we know bad actors are already planning potential disruptions to confuse voters and deter their faith in the elections process.

For example, artificial intelligence technology can create fake but realistic-looking videos, images, and audio of elected officials, known as "deepfakes." In New Hampshire, nefarious forces used a deepfake of President Joe Biden to discourage citizens from voting in this year's primary. The effort largely failed, in part because state and local officials reacted quickly and worked with the media to share the truth with residents.

Indeed, rapid response is vital. Secretary Fontes is working on implementing a technological solution that adds a digital signature to content that guarantees authenticity, as well as processes to verify third party content. This is part of efforts that would alert voters and the media to deepfakes the moment they are discovered. In addition, we are coordinating with election officials across our states to host tabletop exercises to prepare election officials, law enforcement, and first responders to plan and prepare their responses to various scenarios, including the use of artificial intelligence.

When it comes to countering misinformation and disinformation, transparency is our greatest ally. So, to build trust among voters and skeptics, Minnesota, like many states, publicly tests voting machines before elections to ensure their accuracy. Secretary Simon is inviting media and members of the public to witness the process as a type of "pre-buttal" to disinformation, blunting its effects.

Democracy is a team sport, so in Michigan, Secretary Benson is building a team of trusted messengers—including leaders in faith, business, and education—to spread reliable, true information about the safety and security of our elections.

These examples are all rooted in research. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, and the subsequent tragedy at our United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, we worked with the NewDEAL Forum, a nonpartisan organization, to develop a Democracy Playbook containing dozens of specific actions officials can take to strengthen confidence in our elections. We are proud to be among the numerous states that have implemented its recommendations.

Election deniers and conspiracy theorists may be noisy, but they only succeed if we stay silent. Just as democracy prevailed in 2020, it can and will do so again in 2024. As election officials, we will continue our work to protect our elections against all bad actors who seek to undermine that basic American promise of one person, one vote. And we'll proudly stand guard to ensure that every vote is counted, and every voice is heard.

Steve Simon is Minnesota's secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson is Michigan's secretary of state and Adrian Fontes is Arizona's secretary of state. They work together on the NewDEAL Forum Democracy Working Group.