IU President McRobbie: U.S. election system highly vulnerable

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie is a cybersecurity expert who co-chaired the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine's Committee on the Future of Voting. 

With the 2020 presidential election less than two weeks away, Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie said the United States election system is highly vulnerable.

McRobbie made the comments during Themester's "Securing the Vote" webinar, sponsored by the Ostrom Workshop’s Program on Cybersecurity and Internet Governance. In addition to his expertise in computer science and cybersecurity, McRobbie co-chaired the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine's Committee on the Future of Voting. McRobbie spoke about the committee's six recommendations to strengthen U.S. elections during the webinar:

  • Use human-verifiable paper ballots.
  • Perform risk-limiting audits before the certification of election results.
  • Do not use the internet for the return of marked ballots.
  • Regularly assess the integrity of voter registration databases.
  • Provide a means to verify whether a mail-in ballot has been received and processed.
  • Allocate congressional funding for a major initiative aimed at improving election security.

McRobbie said one of the challenges with the U.S. election system is that it's highly decentralized and there is no nationwide election authority. This varies greatly from other countries, including McRobbie's native Australia.

"In Australia there is one central, election commission that basically determines the format of elections and also is involved in the drawing of boundaries, too," McRobbie said. "So the whole issue of gerrymandering doesn't come up."

The lack of a nationwide election authority means the system varies greatly from state to state, including who has the option to vote by mail. Mail-in ballot requests have broken records throughout the country, despite false narratives about them causing election fraud. McRobbie said establishing a system that allows people to track those ballots could also help address those questions.  

"This is very important in that one hears a criticism of mail in ballots that they're never received," McRobbie said. "If you've got an electronic guarantee that it has been received, then that provides a much greater level of confidence in voting by mail."

The recommendations McRobbie discussed were made by the Committee on the Future of  Voting in 2018, with the suggestion of implementing the changes by this year's election.