Earlier this month, the School of Public Policy and the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise (CPPPE) hosted a panel of elections officials and cybersecurity experts for a conversation on the current state of U.S. election infrastructure key functions and cybersecurity.
The panelists for the event were Curtis W. Dukes, executive vice president and general manager of the Best Practices and Automation Group of the Center for Internet Security; Leslie Reynolds, executive director of the National Association of Secretaries of State; and Brian de Vallance, chief operating officer of Cambridge Global Advisors.
CPPPE Director David Mussington served as moderator for the discussion. Mussington started the conversation by telling the audience, “This is about how to preserve the integrity of our elections. Some of this is new territory for election officials – but they need to get used to it because these threats aren’t going anywhere.”
When asked where the country is now compared to two years ago, de Vallance said, “I think we’re in much better shape. Before two years ago, I don’t remember talking about this particular threat.” He also noted that now there is a focus on the elections threat.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that nations look to compromise democracies,” Dukes said. “Are we better off than in 2016? Absolutely. We’re able to provide tailored threat investigations and we’ve created an elections infrastructure best practices handbook. We also created a self assessment tool for states to review the handbook and give themselves a self assessment.”
Reynolds also added that it’s important to maintain the role of state election officials in the process of securing and maintaining the infrastructure. “Generally, the constituents have more trust in the officials that serve them most closely.”
“When you look at the big picture, in 2016, Russia did what they did,” de Vallance said. “But they also created a blueprint. It’s a risk that others could take advantage of. I think it’s the pieces of the infrastructure that are newer that are vulnerable. Voter registration, for example, is newer to being online.”
Dukes added that social media is new to playing a role in elections. “We all live on social platforms – that gives nation states the ability to create a false narrative,” he said. “Nations will continue to look for opportunities to influence an outcome.”
In looking to the future of elections and cybersecurity, Reynolds said, “I hope there’s a better dialogue between cybersecurity experts and elections officials. I hope there’s a better way to communicate.”