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Elections Q&As for Lawmakers: What’s the Role of Artificial Intelligence?

With so much in the news concerning generative artificial intelligence, it’s important to remember that AI has been part of our daily lives for decades.

By Lesley Kennedy  |  January 29, 2024

About this series: NCSL hosted legislators and legislative staff in December 2023 to answer common questions surrounding election processes and options, with an eye toward bill drafting in 2024 and beyond. Experts delved into topics ranging from absentee and mail voting and the role of poll watchers to technology and maintaining clean voter rolls. State Legislatures News broke down the questions and answers to help inform lawmakers on the intricacies of elections. Check Elections Q&As for Lawmakers often for more information.

The Expert: Charles Stewart III, political science professor at MIT and director of the MIT Election Data + Science Lab

With so much in the news over the past year concerning generative artificial intelligence, including ChatGPT, DALL-E and other applications, Stewart says it’s important to remember that AI has been part of our daily lives for decades.

“If you’ve received a recommendation from Amazon to buy something, if you’ve dealt with a chatbot, if you have a Nest thermostat, you’ve been using AI,” he says.

Top Two Takeaways

  • AI can be trained to provide accurate information, such as polling locations, but also presents challenges with misinformation and disinformation.
  • AI promises to deliver innovative tools for election administration, improving resource allocation and enhancing signature verification processes.

Still, he notes that while it’s not a new technology, AI has seen significant developments. And in the realm of election administration, it has the potential to transform the way voters access information.

“For instance, millions of voters will go onto the web and Google something like, ‘Where do I vote?’ AI is being used in that interaction to provide more accurate information,” he says, also pointing to the possible integration of chatbots into the workflow of local or state election departments to refine questions from voters.

On the other hand, he cautions that AI can be used to mislead voters with deep fakes, misinformation and disinformation, and tools such as ChatGPT have been shown to spit out wrong information and even “hallucinate” fabricated “facts.”

“Those things have also been around a long time, but AI makes them easier to produce,” he says.

From an administrative perspective, Stewart says AI’s ability to analyze patterns could allow for swift adjustments to the allocation of election resources in the future. It could also simplify multilingual translations and refine signature verification, making the electoral process more efficient and accessible.

Stewart anticipates further integration of AI in election campaigns, from chatbots that allow voters to interact with candidates to sophisticated voter targeting and generation of campaign literature.

“For smaller campaigns, AI could eliminate the need for professional writers to craft materials,” he says. “The key is to recognize the enhancement of tools we’re already using.”

Lesley Kennedy is NCSL's director of publishing and digital content. 

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