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Why more, earlier voting means greater election security—not less

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The pandemic made for a lot of differences in this year’s US elections, including vastly expanded access to mail-in ballots and early voting. That upended the Election Day rituals many Americans had become used to—but it resulted in more people voting than ever before. 

It also meant they voted more securely than ever.

Officials around the country spent the last four years working to make election systems more resilient, so that if one thing goes wrong, there is still a way to keep the democratic process moving forward. E-poll books have paper backups, for example, while ballots have paper trails, and voter registration databases have offline backups.

But by extending the election so that it covered a longer period—several weeks or even a full month—they ended up with a system that can roll with the punches in a new way.

“If you have everyone voting on Election Day, it makes it harder to deal with any issue that arises,” says David Levine, who has been an election official in Washington, DC, Virginia, and Idaho. “If voters get stuck in lines, if equipment has issues, voters have fewer options to remedy the situation. Access will continue to expand beyond the pandemic because voters like it, and election officials recognize that having more opportunities to vote makes election security easier.”

Stretching out voting so that officials have a week or even a month to deal with it means the severity of any problem—whether it’s a technical glitch or a malicious attack—is greatly reduced. 

One example came in October, when registered Democrats in Florida started receiving intimidating emails warning them to “Vote Trump or else!”

The emails claimed to be from the American hate group Proud Boys, but American intelligence officials said, shortly after analyzing the evidence, that they were actually sent by Iranians attempting to interfere. 

The messages could have sparked chaos, but they were a dud because they arrived in the middle of a long period of voting, rather than before it started. American authorities had more time than normal to address the problem, and many people had already cast their ballots. 

“If that had happened the day before November 3, and if that was the only day for voting, the consequences could have been much more significant,” says Levine, who is now focused on election integrity as a fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan group designed to counter foreign interference.

The evidence shows that Americans like expanded voting once they have access to it. While the issue gets contentious on a national level, the record from states and local governments shows that if you give voters more options, they want to keep them. In the last two decades, blue and red states alike have tried out all-mail elections—and stuck with them. 

Whether these changes persist is yet to be seen. But although the 2020 election process is almost over (the Electoral College casts its votes on December 14), the task of improving the next election begins almost immediately. Typically off-year elections, like the ones that the United States will hold in November 2021, are excellent testing grounds for new ideas. So within the next few months, the Biden administration and states around the country will start focusing on the future.

This is an excerpt from The Outcome, our weekly email on election integrity and security. Click here to get regular updates straight to your inbox.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Qualcomm veteran to replace Alain Crozier as Microsoft Greater China boss

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Microsoft gets a new leader for its Greater China business. Yang Hou, a former executive at Qualcomm, will take over Alain Crozier as the chairman and chief executive officer for Microsoft Greater China Region, according to a company announcement released Monday.

More to come…

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Autonomous drone maker Skydio raises $170M led by Andreessen Horowitz

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Skydio has raised $170 million in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Growth Fund. That pushes it into unicorn territory, with $340 million in total funding and a post-money valuation north of $1 billion. Skydio’s fresh capital comes on the heels of its expansion last year into the enterprise market, and it intends to use the considerable pile of cash to help it expand globally and accelerate product development.

In July of last year, Skydio announced its $100 million Series C financing, and also debuted the X2, its first dedicated enterprise drone. The company also launched a suite of software for commercial and enterprise customers, its first departure from the consumer drone market where it had been focused prior to that raise since its founding in 2014.

Skydio’s debut drone, the R1, received a lot of accolades and praise for its autonomous capabilities. Unlike other consumer drones at the time, including from recreational drone maker DJI, the R1 could track a target and film them while avoiding obstacles without any human intervention required. Skydio then released the Skydio 2 in 2019, its second drone, cutting off more than half the price while improving on it its autonomous tracking and video capabilities.

Late last year, Skydio brought on additional senior talent to help it address enterprise and government customers, including a software development lead who had experience at Tesla and 3D printing company Carbon. Skydio also hired two Samsara executives at the same time to work on product and engineering. Samsara provides a platform for managing cloud-based fleet operations for large enterprises.

The applications of Skydio’s technology for commercial, public sector and enterprise organizations are many and varied. Already, the company works with public utilities, fire departments, construction firms and more to do work including remote inspection, emergency response, urban planning and more. Skydio’s U.S. pedigree also puts it in prime position to capitalize on the growing interest in applications from the defense sector.

a16z previously led Skydio’s Series A round. Other investors who participated in this Series D include Lines Capital, Next47, IVP and UP.Partners.

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Space startup Gitai raises $17.1M to help build the robotic workforce of commercial space

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Japanese space startup Gitai has raised a $17.1 million funding round, a Series B financing for the robotics startup. This new funding will be used for hiring, as well as funding the development and execution of an on-orbit demonstration mission for the company’s robotic technology, which will show its efficacy in performing in-space satellite servicing work. That mission is currently set to take place in 2023.

Gitai will also be staffing up in the U.S., specifically, as it seeks to expand its stateside presence in a bid to attract more business from that market.

“We are proceeding well in the Japanese market, and we’ve already contracted missions from Japanese companies, but we haven’t expanded to the U.S. market yet,” explained Gitai founder and CEO Sho Nakanose in an interview. So we would like to get missions from U.S. commercial space companies, as a subcontractor first. We’re especially interested in on-orbit servicing, and we would like to provide general-purpose robotic solutions for an orbital service provider in the U.S.”

Nakanose told me that Gitai has plenty of experience under its belt developing robots which are specifically able to install hardware on satellites on-orbit, which could potentially be useful for upgrading existing satellites and constellations with new capabilities, for changing out batteries to keep satellites operational beyond their service life, or for repairing satellites if they should malfunction.

Gitai’s focus isn’t exclusively on extra-vehicular activity in the vacuum of space, however. It’s also performing a demonstration mission of its technical capabilities in partnership with Nanoracks using the Bishop Airlock, which is the first permanent commercial addition to the International Space Station. Gitai’s robot, codenamed S1, is an arm–style robot not unlike industrial robots here on Earth, and it’ll be showing off a number of its capabilities, including operating a control panel and changing out cables.

Long-term, Gitai’s goal is to create a robotic workforce that can assist with establishing bases and colonies on the Moon and Mars, as well as in orbit. With NASA’s plans to build a more permanent research presence on orbit at the Moon, as well as on the surface, with the eventual goal of reaching Mars, and private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin looking ahead to more permanent colonies on Mars, as well as large in-space habitats hosting humans as well as commercial activity, Nakanose suggests that there’s going to be ample need for low-cost, efficient robotic labor – particularly in environments that are inhospitable to human life.

Nakanose told me that he actually got started with Gitai after the loss of his mother – an unfortunate passing he said he firmly believes could have been avoided with the aid of robotic intervention. He began developing robots that could expand and augment human capability, and then researched what was likely the most useful and needed application of this technology from a commercial perspective. That research led Nakanose to conclude that space was the best long-term opportunity for a new robotics startup, and Gitai was born.

This funding was led by SPARX Innovation for the Future Co. Ltd, and includes funding form DcI Venture Growth Fund, the Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, and EP-GB (Epson’s venture investment arm).

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