The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Phoenix—NCSL's Cybersecurity Task Force took on election security during the NCSL Capitol Forum.

California Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D) set the stage by identifying two elements that, together, make up the broader category of election interference: Misinformation campaigns conducted primarily over social media and attacks on elections infrastructure.

I have begun to think of misinformation as the “soft” side of election security, and infrastructure attacks as the “hard” side. Speakers addressed both.

“Soft” Nuggets

“What Russian and other foreign actors want is to inject chaos and to destabilize us, not to favor any one candidate or party.” This came from David Salvo, representing the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan organization working on election security and the protection of democracy more broadly. He added that Russia isn’t the only potential source of election interference, naming China, North Korea, Iran and Israeli private firms as other places to look.

Salvo added: “We’re not special here. It’s not about the U.S., it’s not about Donald Trump. It’s a global effort to destabilize democratic institutions.”

“The bad guys use disinformation because it works. It’s getting cheaper and more effective,” said Maurice Turner from the Center for Democracy and Technology. Unlike misinformation, which is false, disinformation, Turner added, is false and is used with an intent to cause harm. In the 2019 Kentucky governor’s election, bots spread false information about ballot destruction in a “Bye Bye Bevin” disinformation campaign. 

“Hard” Nuggets

“Don’t talk to me about whether you should pay ransomware or not. Talk to me about improvements and investments in training, modernizing and backing up your data.” This advice comes from Matthew Travis of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“Without jewels, you don’t have a jewelry store. Treat your data like jewels,” he said. In the context of elections, “jewels” are the voter registration data.

“You can be credible messengers. Set a good example. When running your campaigns or your offices, are you prioritizing training and investments in security?” Travis added.

Want more? Here is Turner’s presentation, Salvo’s presentation, a cyber-essentials infographic from the DHS, and NCSL’s report, "Election Security: What Legislators (and Others) Need to Know."

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

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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.