This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The National Commission for Voter Justice held a panel discussion on election security Tuesday at Drexel University.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., the honorary chair of the commission, made a brief appearance with founder Barbara Arnwine and State Sen. Vincent Hughes, two of the co-chairs, to talk about restoring confidence and integrity to the nation’s voting system.
Jackson said there needs to be less focus on Wikileaks and more on “tricky-leaks,” or the tactics of voter suppression.
A report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law found that 16 million voters were purged between 2014 and 2016 – a 33 percent increase from the number purged between 2006 and 2008. These were done illegally or using error-prone methods, the report said.
With the 2018 midterm elections three months away, Jackson encouraged out-of-state college students to “vote where you attend school. Please vote where you attend school.”
Students in colleges often number in the tens of thousands, more than enough to swing an election in some states. Typically, there is low midterm turnout for this demographic, but the New York Times reported that colleges are encouraging more students to vote.
A recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of college students lean Democrat. Jackson, who ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 and 1988, said this could make a huge difference in small Republican districts.
“If they vote where they attend school, they break up all these districts,” he said.
He also said high school students should vote when they turn 18 and approach voting with the same zeal as going to college.
“When you register for school, you should be registered to vote,” he said. “Because that’s how you bring about progressive democratic change in your country in a nonviolent way.”
Hughes said that engaging young people on the importance of voting can help make beneficial legislation a reality.
In June, Hughes introduced a bill that would make college free for students in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Promise initiative offers free tuition to students of state colleges from families that make less than $110,000 and free room and board for those whose families make less than $48,000.
“If young people aren’t registered and voting,” he said, “they can’t move those agenda items forward,” such as jobs and making neighborhoods cleaner and safer.
Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Robert Torres and Maj. Christine Pierce of the National Guard’s Defensive Cyber Operations Elements team made a presentation on cyber-security. But panelists and the small audience agreed that voter participation was the best way to ensure secure voting.
“We’ve got problems around the issue of people thinking, forget security [because] their vote doesn’t matter,” said Hughes. “Now we’ve got a security issue, which only complicates this issue of whether people’s votes matter.”
Pierce discussed the state’s efforts to protect the voting process, including training, security assessments and protections. The Department of Homeland Security will pilot a program to train states on election system monitoring, and Pennsylvania is a pilot state.
Also, Torres said that the state is in the process of getting new voting machines to counties in preparation for the 2020 election.
“We want to ensure Pennsylvania voters that they’re voting on the most secure, auditable, and accessible equipment that can be available,” he said.