The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Election security is back in the news.

Voters casting ballotsThe U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held hearings on Tuesday, and the consensus from national intelligence experts is that disinformation campaigns and attempts to disrupt our elections are the new normal.

Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, noted that “Russia perceived its past influence as ‘successful’ and aims to use the 2018 midterm elections as a potential target,” per a CBS news report.

In a followup, reports The Hill, top U.S. intelligence agencies announced they will host a briefing for election officials from all 50 states starting Friday on possible election threats from foreign adversaries, amid warnings from officials this week that Russia aims to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.

While the news may have slowed for a while, professionals never stopped thinking about Russian meddling in our elections—and what states can do to thwart those attempts. (It’s great Congress is thinking about elections security, too, but it’s a state responsibility.)

Among those who have been plowing ahead are the folks at the Defending Digital Democracy project, housed at the Kennedy School at Harvard. They’ve just released three “playbooks” on election administration security:

And Matt Masterson, commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, has helpfully listed five “take-home thoughts for election officials” in response to the continued discussions of, as he puts it, “the real and sophisticated threats against our nation’s election system.”

Getting these best practices into the hands of state experts is critical. Check them out and send them to colleagues.

NCSL also never stopped working on elections security. One oldie-but-goodie is this blog post from Sept. 1, 2016, providing questions legislators can ask to understand security protocols in their states. The questions bear repeating:

  • What physical security measures do you use? 
  • What equipment testing do you do? 
  •  How are the vote totals backed up? 
  • How do you guard against hacking? 
  • Is your equipment kept up-to-date based on any service bulletins coming from the vendor? 
  • What measures are you taking to protect voters’ data? 
  • What contingency plans do you have? 
  • When is a good time to tackle any concerns? 

Most recently, we’ve put up a webpage on elections security, based on what policies legislators can consider for before, during and after elections.

Our next move? While NCSL’s election staff doesn’t include cybersecurity experts, we know where those folks are, know how to reach them, and know how to research specific statutes and issues. Give us a call and we’ll connect and coordinate with you.

Wendy Underhill is the program director of NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.