by Shaughnessy Naughton, President of 314 Action, an organization that helps to elect scientists, engineers, doctors and others with STEM backgrounds to elected office. 314 Action has endorsed Elaine Luria in the 2nd congressional district.
Voters in Virginia may have been surprised last week to wake up to national headlines reporting “out and out fraud” in the state’s Second Congressional District. Perhaps they were even more surprised when they discovered the source of the meddling was not Moscow or foreign agents, but Republican Congressman Scott Taylor’s staffers, who forged petition signatures in an attempt to split the Democratic vote in November. American trust in government is at a near-historic low, but there is added insult to injury when a first-term Congressman like Taylor, who was hailed as a fresh face and a new voice, joins the culture of corruption.
It’s clear that Taylor would rather run against anyone but his Democratic opponent, Navy Commander and nuclear engineer Elaine Luria. Taylor supporters tried to muddy the water by maliciously sending robocalls designed to boost an opponent of Luria’s during the primary, too. Luria is a veteran, and her service to our country is likely first to catch the eye of voters in the district, which is home to more military members and veterans than any other in the country. But her technical background should not be overlooked, especially given the past week’s revelations.
While the election interference at the hands of the Taylor campaign is different from what occurred in 2016, it highlights the need for more elected officials who root their solutions in facts rather than the alternative. A scientist or engineer knows that it is bad practice—sometimes dangerous practice—to fudge the numbers on an experiment or on a systems test. Governments can’t function effectively when voters doubt the legitimacy of their leaders.
I have long argued for more scientists, engineers and technologists in public office, because they are uniquely attuned to address issues like election security. Imagine a scenario before the 2016 election in which an experienced cybersecurity expert was a member of the House Administration Committee who understood the technical reforms necessary to keep elections systems resilient and voter files safe. Safeguards might have been in place in advance.
While having a scientific background is no guarantee of integrity, the rigorous, objective approach scientists and engineers take to problem-solving is something Rep. Taylor could learn from. In an environment where accusations of foul play by international foes such as Russia are reaching a fever pitch, we expect and deserve better from those who represent us. Voters deserve to know that their vote counts and was cast in an election free from gamesmanship. And they deserve to know that the person representing them respects the democracy he swore to defend.
We need to do a better job ensuring our democracy works in a fair and transparent way. And, frankly, the best ways to do that are rooted in science and technology — fields that, say, a nuclear engineer who spent her career working with complex systems, is well suited to advocate for in Congress. In the meantime, voters should hold candidates accountable for their anti-democratic campaign tactics. That begins with getting consistent answers from Congressman Taylor about what he knew about the forged petition signatures his campaign submitted and when he knew it. If his answers don’t pass muster – and so far they haven’t – voters should make their voices heard at the ballot box.