Dec 03 2021

Report Recommends Election Officials Take Steps to Combat Misinformation

Among its many recommendations, the bipartisan report says that election officials should invest in information security and transparency measures.

While the 2020 election was secured from cyberattacks, the election cycle and its aftermath were marked by widespread misinformation and disinformation. That has proved to be an ongoing and pernicious threat, according to a recent report, and federal, state and local election officials should take urgent steps to combat it.

The report, from the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder, outlines dozens of recommendations across multiple areas, including technology, society, government and media. The report says the United States is in a “crisis of trust and truth,” that the “information ecosystem is failing the public,” and that “the absence or loss of trust in government entities, community institutions, and journalism, combined with a growing number of bad actors and conflict entrepreneurs who exploit these weaknesses, have led to real harms, sometimes with fatal consequences.”

“This crisis demands urgent attention and a dedicated response from all parts of society,” the commissioners write in the report. “Every type and level of leader must think seriously about this crisis and their role in it. Each can and should enter this conversation, genuinely listening to the problems and taking real ownership of solutions.”

Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, co-chaired the commission with former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs and journalist Katie Couric.

For election administrators and officials, the report recommends measures to enhance election information security. Specifically, the report calls on the federal government and state governments to “improve U.S. election security and restore voter confidence with improved education, transparency, and resiliency.”

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How Election Officials Can Enhance Information Security

The report calls for increased and consistent funding for election security efforts, on a scheduled and long-term basis. The report recommends that election officials then use that funding for several key priorities.

One should be “widespread education and awareness campaigns on election processes and transparency (‘how elections actually work’)” to combat misinformation about the election process.

The report also recommends that officials invest in “systems, processes, and procedures that support evidence-based elections, allowing election officials to present demonstrable evidence of the accuracy of voter registration systems, ballot chain of custody, system access controls, and election results.”

Additionally, the report notes there should be “support for nationwide statistically significant pre-certification post-election audits that adhere to a set of accepted standards and best practices.” Since it will take time to develop, train and implement audits of election results, the report notes that it’s important to start this work right away.

RELATED: How does technology enhance election security and access?

Even with additional funding, state and local election officials will likely not be able to have the “expertise and capability to meaningfully monitor and analyze election related mis- and disinformation,” the report notes. It therefore recommends increased federal initiatives to help in such efforts.

Federal leaders should “establish and maintain relationships with state and local election officials, academia and non-profit leaders to quickly identify emerging narratives and facilitate responses by state and local officials,” the report notes.

Further, the report notes that federal officials should amplify “state and local messaging in the lead up to and following” federal elections.

The report points to a rumor-control program established by CISA in the last few weeks of the 2020 campaign as an example of such a resource.

“Elections across the U.S. continue to suffer from insufficient state and local funding, resulting in poor communication and growing distrust,” the report concludes. “While federal funding over the last four years has helped address funding shortfalls, inconsistent appropriations continue to impact the ability of election officials to make long term planning and hiring decisions. Consistent funding on an established timeline can help state legislatures in their own budgeting, and also allow election officials to enter into contracts, build staff, and train for longer term administration outcomes.”

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