In September, Indiana University (IU) hosted a collaborative research symposium in partnership with the Australian National University (ANU) to discuss election security. The event, titled “Making Democracy Harder to Hack” brought together academics, policymakers, civil society groups, and business leaders, and focused on “the bilateral dialogue between the US and Australia with the goal of identifying and managing cyber risk and securing elections infrastructure against foreign interference.”
IU President Michael McRobbie, an ANU alum, co-chaired a committee that ran a two-year study of US election security following the 2016 elections and the investigation into Russian meddling. The committee launched a report with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on September 6th recommending that the United States conduct elections using human-readable paper ballots in the 2018 and 2020 elections as no current technology can guarantee the secrecy, security, and authenticity of any ballots returned on the internet or any network connected to it. Australia has faced its own issues with foreign interference in elections having grappled with repeated attempts by China to interfere in its political system.
Through the symposium workshops, the two universities discovered that their respective countries had far more to opportunity for cooperation than anticipated. Both countries have passed new foreign agent registration laws, and consider the manipulation of public opinion and overseas ownership of news outlets to be major concerns.
There are many differences in approaches to elections though. Australia’s electoral system is more centralized than that of the United States and uses paper forms, tallied by hand. This is a vast contrast from the United States, where voting systems and forms vary widely by state and often involve privatized infrastructure using antiquated technologies. Australia’s government has also worked to defend the cyber-infrastructure of its political parties, something the US government has not made a priority even after the hacks of Democratic and Republican National Committee emails in 2016.
In an article following the symposium Scott Shackelford, Associate Professor of Business Law and Ethics, and Cybersecurity Program Chair, IU-Bloomington, Indiana University along with Matthew Sussex, Academic Director, National Security College, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University wrote that the United States could learn a lot from Australia’s policies of using paper ballots and providing government cyber defense to political parties.
IU and ANU have a long history of collaboration, including the ANU-IU Pan Asian Institute, which is based in the IU School of Global and International Studies. Founded in 2010, the institute brings together scholars and students from both institutions to discuss their mutual interests in Asia. In 2017 their cooperation on Asia was expanded with an agreement to focus on collaborative research into the Asia Pacific region by fostering graduate student research exchanges, exchanges by academics and distinguished scholars, and cooperation on the teaching of less commonly taught languages by allowing students of one university to attend language training with the other.
Caitlin Brophy is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.