What to Expect When You are Expecting an Election
As a former state and former local election official, I’ve always enjoyed the run-up to Election Day. Now serving as the Senior Election Security Lead for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), this year is no different.
November 8th is fast approaching, and millions of voters have already cast their ballots. Although many people are just now beginning to pay attention to the election, thousands of state and local election officials have been preparing for this day all year. CISA has been working to support them, ensuring that the election officials on the frontlines of protecting and defending democracy have access to the resources, tools, capabilities, and information they need to build resilience against all threats.
The Constitution grants the power to administer federal elections to the states, which means that, if you’ve seen an election in one state, you’ve seen…an election in just that one state. That’s why it’s so important that we all turn to our state and local election officials as the trusted source on the procedures, rules, and up-to-date information on our local election.
While each state is unique in how it conducts elections, all elections across this country have resilience built into the voting process. State and local election officials work year-round to ensure a secure and accessible election, a process that anticipates unexpected events and plans for unforeseen challenges. Election officials are, by their very nature, planners. They know that you only get one shot at Election Day, and so they have plans, and backup plans, and backups to those backup plans.
Election officials learn from events that have occurred in past elections and plan out how they’ll handle them if they happen again. They plan for all kinds of “what if” scenarios. What if something happens to delay the opening of a polling place? What if a voting machine stops working? What if long lines form at a voting center? What if the power goes out at the tabulation center? As a former election official, I have experienced them all. It can be as simple as the election judge forgetting to bring the key to open the polling place door or a frozen water pipe bursting and flooding the county courthouse or a windstorm knocking out power across the city. No matter the disruption, election officials have a response and recovery plan in place.
As I talk with election officials across the country, we often discuss the fact that the election threat environment has grown more complex. In recent years, election officials have had to contend with increasing disinformation from foreign adversaries, which can cause confusion about election infrastructure and undermine voters’ faith in the process. Now, when something goes wrong—and with 8,800 election jurisdictions across the country, something will go wrong somewhere—the innocuous can be made to look nefarious.
That’s where we, as voters, come in. We have an important role to play too. If you see or hear news about delays or problems, don’t jump to conclusions. Ask your local election official about what you’re hearing. Go to their website. Call their office. They are the best source for real-time, accurate information on Election Day and beyond. You can also find great information and frequently asked questions compiled by our partners at the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors.
It is also important that we remember that election results reported on Tuesday night are not official. Even as news outlets call particular races, they too know that it takes days and weeks to have official results. In many jurisdictions, military ballots, absentee ballots, and other mail-in ballots will not yet be counted, and those ballots cast in-person on Election Day may still need verification. When the polls close, election officials remain in action—counting, processing, and conducting audits to be sure that the final, official results are accurate. Changes in the vote totals will occur as valid ballots are counted before the final, official results are announced. This process is normal and happens every year. It is precisely because of this rigorous counting and verification that voters can and should have confidence that their vote will be counted.
I still love the excitement of Election Day as citizens across the country exercise their right to vote and participate in our democracy. Whether you are an election worker, volunteering at the polls, or, like most people, just casting your ballot, we all have a role to play. As we look forward to next week, we can expect a safe, secure, resilient election.
So here’s to the men and women serving on the front lines of democracy, the tens of thousands of election officials and hundreds of thousands of poll workers. Thank you for your years of work. From one planner to another, good luck!