Brennan Center Kickstarts Effort to Assist States in Election Contingency Plans

August 22, 2018

New York, N.Y. –  As the Senate delays a bill designed to protect elections, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law said it’s not too late for state and local officials across the country to shore up voting system security before the November midterms. Between now and Election Day, the Brennan Center announced it will be collaborating with election officials to ensure they have the strongest possible contingency plans in place to protect the vote this fall.
 
“We have a choice right now,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We can either bemoan the rise in cyber threats against our elections, or act today to implement simple, commonsense security plans to ensure that everyone can vote this November and that all votes are accurately counted. While there is still much to do to upgrade and replace the country’s most vulnerable election infrastructure, there are basic steps election officials can take to protect our system from hacks or even basic failures on Election Day.”
 
As part of that effort, the Brennan Center has published a toolkit, Better Safe Than Sorry: How Election Officials Can Plan Ahead to Protect the Vote in the Face of a Cyberattack. It outlines five critical areas that any contingency plans must address in the event of possible equipment failure or foreign interference. The Brennan Center has distributed it to more than 2,000 election officials, as well as a planning checklist. The Brennan Center is also marshalling other voting rights groups and the public to support election preparations.
 
The toolkit provides guidance on how to:

  • Prevent and recover from electronic pollbook failures and outages
  • Prevent and recover from voting equipment failures
  • Prevent and recover from voter registration system failures/outages
  • Prevent and recover from election night reporting system failures/outages
  • Develop an effective communication strategy for the general public in the case of any unexpected event

These recommendations come as Senators have delayed consideration of the Secure Elections Act — a bill by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — which would have marked an important starting point for shoring up the nation’s election infrastructure in advance of the 2020 elections.
 
“We’re disappointed that the Senate won’t be taking up this bill at such a critical time,” said Liz Howard, counsel in the Brennan Center’s democracy program and a former Virginia election official. “We hope members of Congress will work to provide more resources to already-strapped local and state election officials. Our democracy depends on it.”
 
Earlier this year the Brennan Center released results of a survey it distributed to election administrators across the country, finding that 229 officials in 33 states reported they need to replace voting machines by 2020. More than 500 officials in 41 states said they will use machines and computers this fall that are more than a decade old.
 
“Election officials are working year-round, often with limited resources, to make sure things run as smoothly as possible on Election Day,” said Edgardo Cortés, an election security advisor at the Brennan Center and the former Virginia Commissioner of Elections. “They are on the front lines of protecting and securing our democracy. We’re excited to work with them to put in place crucial safeguards over the next two months and in the years to come.”
 
Read more about the Brennan Center’s efforts to protect the vote here.

For more information or to connect with a Brennan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646-292-8316.

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