Wik­ileaks recently posted nearly 20,000 emails belonging to top offi­cials in the Demo­c­ratic National Com­mittee, many of which derided the Bernie Sanders cam­paign while posi­tioning Hillary Clinton as the clear favorite of the Demo­c­ratic estab­lish­ment. The scandal, which hit just three days before the start of the Demo­c­ratic National Con­ven­tion, forced com­mittee chair­woman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign and strained the Demo­c­ratic Party’s efforts to build unity at the most inop­por­tune time.

We asked three North­eastern experts to weigh in on the scandal, with a par­tic­ular focus on how the data dump will impact the elec­tion, the voting process, and the cyber­se­cu­rity of polit­ical par­ties going forward.

Expert: William Crotty, the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Chair in Public Life and pro­fessor emer­itus of polit­ical sci­ence in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties:

Q: A colum­nist for The Huff­in­gton Post sug­gested that the DNC data-​​dump should spell an imme­diate end to superdel­e­gates. What, if any, changes do you think need to be made to the polit­ical process to ensure that future can­di­dates are treated fairly and major par­ties are held account­able to their constituents?

A: The Huff­in­gton Post has an argu­ment. A polit­ical party and its leaders have to be faction-​​neutral to have any cred­i­bility in set­ting and inter­preting party pro­ce­dures and in adju­di­cating internal con­tro­ver­sies. The DNC lead­er­ship under Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been any­thing but. She and her staff clearly and repeat­edly have seen their role as pro­moting the can­di­dacy of Hillary Clinton at what­ever the cost. The nom­i­nating rules put in place, their inter­pre­ta­tion, and the over­seeing of their exe­cu­tion have been arbi­trary. The Nevada and Iowa cau­cuses can serve as one example. Caucus results are easier to manip­u­late in rela­tion to the prej­u­di­cial man­age­ment of the pro­ceed­ings, who is cer­ti­fied as voting del­e­gates, the issues to be brought to the floor, the timing of crit­ical votes, what results are reported to the media, and so on—and these things have been sub­ject to con­stant com­plaint during the nom­i­nating season.

At one point I was granted a fel­low­ship to work in Wash­ington for the Demo­c­ratic National Com­mittee on these issues. The party at the time was making a stren­uous effort to come out of the chaos, severe fac­tion­al­iza­tion and cor­rup­tion of the orga­ni­za­tion and its com­mittee resulting from the tumul­tuous six­ties. The major focal point for an account­able, rep­re­sen­ta­tive and rel­e­vant party is its nom­i­nating system. I thought we did a good job in ensuring the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the can­di­date and issue pref­er­ences of party mem­bers. It appears all of this is a thing of the past. People in power are used to get­ting their way. They see their role and that of party insti­tu­tions as com­mitted to get­ting what they believe are in their interest. The reforms that came from this era were extremely con­tro­ver­sial with party power brokers. The intro­duc­tion of non-​​elected, voting con­ven­tion del­e­gates, i.e., the superdel­e­gates, was a con­ces­sion to these inter­ests. Yes, they should go. They serve no demo­c­ratic func­tion in a voter-​​dependent party system. I believe the Demo­c­ratic Party has a long way to go in these regards. There is no indi­ca­tion of any inten­tion to make such an effort in rela­tion to serving a broader base of member inter­ests and achieving a candidate-​​neutral fairer and more rep­re­sen­ta­tive nom­i­nating system. Wasserman Schultz has been involved in one con­tro­versy after another in rela­tion to the arbi­trary use of party powers. She should have been fired years ago. The Sanders people believe the nom­i­nating system was rigged and the Wik­ileaks releases present evi­dence to sup­port at least some of their con­cerns. I expect more such leaks during this con­ven­tion week with the con­se­quences yet to be seen.

Expert: Parker Ellen, assis­tant pro­fessor of man­age­ment and orga­ni­za­tional devel­op­ment in the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness:

Q: The per­cep­tion among a large swath of the voting public is that the leaked DNC emails show that the com­mittee was biased toward Clinton and even tried to under­mine Sanders’ can­di­dacy. Now that the cat has been let out of the bag, what might the DNC do to repair the damage that the emails have done with an eye toward uniting the party in the final four months before the pres­i­den­tial election?

A: I under­stand that many per­spec­tives assume a link between party unity and voting deci­sions in November. From an orga­ni­za­tional per­spec­tive, I view them sep­a­rately. The elec­tion is a near-​​term problem for DNC lead­er­ship that requires influ­encing Sanders’ sup­porters to vote for Clinton. To accom­plish their objec­tive, the leaders of the DNC will have to employ influ­ence tac­tics like rational per­sua­sion (using logic), inspi­ra­tional appeals (tap­ping into shared values), and apprising (let­ting Sanders sup­porters know how it will make them better off) to con­vince as many Sanders’ sup­porters as pos­sible to vote for Clinton. Uniting the party, i.e., pre­venting Sanders’ sup­porters from becoming fur­ther dis­en­fran­chised, is a dif­ferent and longer-​​term issue that requires rebuilding trust. Orga­ni­za­tional mem­bers trust leaders who demon­strate care for member inter­ests and who operate with integrity. So, in the long term, the DNC likely will need to replace some of the lead­er­ship with those who are per­ceived as more recep­tive to Sanders sup­porters’ inter­ests, and are con­sid­ered people of sound char­acter, i.e., scandal-​​free.

Q: Sanders noted that he was “dis­ap­pointed” by the DNC emails that sug­gested that com­mittee mem­bers favored Clinton, but he’s remained com­mitted to sup­porting his party at the polls in November. How much of an impact will Sanders’ reac­tion to the email scandal have on how his most ardent sup­porters respond to the fiasco, par­tic­u­larly in regard to how they’ll vote this fall?

A: I believe Sanders’ reac­tion could sway his sup­porters to “hold their nose” and vote for Clinton. The boos Sanders received when he asked sup­porters at an event to vote for Clinton show this isn’t a slam dunk. How­ever, influ­ence is based on power, and Sanders has an impor­tant source of power as it relates to his sup­porters. Specif­i­cally, he has ref­erent power, which is based in the affec­tion, respect, and alle­giance his sup­porters have for him. In fact, Sanders drew on this to make an almost per­sonal appeal, i.e., another influ­ence tactic, for sup­porters to vote for Clinton when he addressed them as “Brothers and sis­ters.” So, we have to assume his call to action will carry a lot of weight and con­vince even some the most ardent Sanders sup­porters to vote for Clinton. 

Expert: Christo Wilson, assis­tant pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence:

Q: According to a New York Times report, researchers have con­cluded that the Demo­c­ratic National Committee’s net­work was breached by two Russian intel­li­gence agen­cies, which had hacked the White House, the State Depart­ment, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year. Are you sur­prised by the ease with which this group of hackers was able to gain access to pri­vate infor­ma­tion from the DNC?

A: Maybe this is too cyn­ical, but data breaches do not sur­prise me at all any­more. Putting data online is easy; securing it is very, very hard. People, per­haps naively, assume that gov­ern­ment data­s­tores are more secure, but you have to remember that the DNC is not gov­ern­ment infra­struc­ture, nor is it sub­ject to the same kinds of strin­gent stan­dards that the White House or State Depart­ment would be.

Q: Polit­ical cam­paigns col­lect a lot of sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion, including addresses, online iden­ti­ties, and credit card num­bers, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve been taking cyber­crim­i­nals as seri­ously as they should be. What, in your view, should cam­paigns be doing to safe­guard pri­vate information?

A: All groups that col­lect pri­vate infor­ma­tion should imple­ment known best prac­tices for securing their data­bases: every­thing should be encrypted; access should be lim­ited to those who strictly need to know; the data should be min­i­mized, or even kept offline in cold storage; inde­pen­dent experts should be hired to audit the secu­rity of the sys­tems. Polit­ical cam­paigns are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­able because they are some­what ephemeral: they ramp up very quickly and col­lect lots of sen­si­tive data, but rarely have the time or man­power to securely imple­ment their infra­struc­ture. The DNC, on the other hand, has long-​​lived infra­struc­ture, so they really have no excuse for not obeying best practices.

Q: In an inter­view with Bloomberg, Mike Vickers, a former under­sec­re­tary of defense for intel­li­gence who believes that the Rus­sians were behind the attack, said, “What is unprece­dented, it seems to me, is the use of these tools for covert polit­ical influ­ence against the United States during a pres­i­den­tial gen­eral elec­tion.” As time goes on, do you foresee more organizations—or even countries—using the power of hacking to estab­lish polit­ical con­trol and sway public opinion?  

A: In a fully dig­i­tized, con­nected world, it seems inevitable that bad actors will attempt to leverage hacking for polit­ical gain. We already see this hap­pening to var­ious degrees; for example, author­i­ties in China and Russia try to covertly steer opinion on social media. Sim­i­larly, the joint U.S.-Israeli cyber­at­tack on Iran’s nuclear cen­trifuges was a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion, but the goals were also clearly polit­ical, i.e., forcing Iran’s hand in nuclear negotiations.