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August 05, 2022

2020 election shakes up midterm-vote preparations

Most state and local administrators are operating under the shadow of the 2020 election, said a panel of frontliners preparing for the nation’s midterm vote.

Speaking Thursday during the American Bar Association Annual Meeting program “A Bird’s-eye Vantage Point of Defending Democracy,” the election officials said that states around the nation are taking proactive measures to ensure a safer and more secure vote in November.

William J. Kresse is one of three members of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, the independent agency that runs elections in the city. Kresse said that about 40% of Americans lack confidence in the election system, due in large part to “misinformation and disinformation” that surrounded the 2020 presidential vote.

In response to accusations of fraud, many states around the country are implementing stronger measures to protect the integrity of ballots, as well as provide enhanced physical security for poll workers in the face of recent threats of violence against them — and their families.

Chicago’s new reforms are representative of the many election improvements being implemented around the country.

According to Kresse, the Windy City has strengthened its security protocols, while also working to address election misinformation and expand access to the voting booth.

On Election Day, Chicago plans to station 500 police officers, both active and retired, at polling sites, he said.

And beyond minding physical safety issues, cybersecurity is of equal importance to administrators. “We have zero connections between our vote tab equipment and the internet,” Kresse said, noting that he’s hired a professional with a Ph.D. in cybersecurity and “all of the staff is trained in cyber[crime] prevention.”

Moreover, Kresse said the city has also put in place “a lot of deterrence” for fraud, including making sure that 100% of their machines complete pre-election tests and using tamper-proof seals for added security.

As to election-related disinformation, Kresse said a director of public information actively uses social media to combat misinformation by sharing educational messages about voting. And on Election Day, live tweets about voter turnout and results are shared.

“We are transparent,” Kresse explained, adding that his team now responds directly to organizations and individuals who share misinformation.

Working on several fronts, Kresse’s team also seeks to expand its voting rolls. Chicago has grown its mail-in vote program and now provides more options for early voting, such as its new downtown supersites, where citizens can vote outside of their precincts.

“One of our favorites is the United Center,” Kresse said. In 2020, the large sports venue was converted to a huge poll site where people from across the city could vote.

With some fears about the security of absentee ballots, Chicago has also expanded the number of special polling places in areas such as Cook County Jail and at 91 of its nursing homes in the city. “Residents can just come down and vote on their own in a voting booth,” Kresse said.

Beyond the kind of preparations that are happening in Chicago, other geographic areas are similarly expanding measures for ballot integrity and to ensure a smooth Election Day.

Some areas are even planning for the kind of supply-chain problems that the nation experienced during the pandemic, said panelist David A. Wheelerpartner at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP.

No worries about that in Chicago — Kresse said the special paper needed for ballots was purchased years in advance of the election to ensure they will not run out.

“A Bird’s-eye Vantage Point of Defending Democracy” was sponsored by the Section of State and Local Government Law.