By Natalie Adona, Assistant Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters
Foreign interference in our elections has been a matter of deep concern since America’s founding. One difference between then and now are the sophisticated tools that exist to infiltrate digital systems. And there are now low-cost ways for bad actors to reach thousands, even millions, of people with a click of the mouse.
Officials at the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently urged Americans to help “[safeguard] the sanctity of your vote,” in an op-ed published on February 19, 2020. Their call for citizen vigilance is consistent with messages from the National Association of Secretaries of State, the National Association of State Election Directors, and dozens of others committed to protecting US elections—including California’s state and local election officials.
Nevada County Elections agrees—we need your help to protect our democracy. You can best do this by staying informed and relying on us for questions or concerns about your vote.
There are two main kinds of interference you’ve heard about: 1) attempting to penetrate a digital system, with the intent of changing or blocking elections and voting data; and 2) creating confusion online, especially on social media, for the purpose of turning Americans against each other.
Thankfully, there is no evidence so far of any cyber intrusions to any voting or registration systems. Furthermore, Nevada County uses a paper-based voting system that allows us to determine voter intent. We have physical and digital processes in place to thwart interference and safeguards like provisional voting to research challenges. We also conduct post-election audits to make sure we got it right. We make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.
Unfortunately, misinformation is the greatest danger to the 2020 election. I say this because my staff can only do what’s within our control. We can protect ballots and the voting equipment. We train vote center workers to balance voting rights with the need for security. And our social media accounts are tightly controlled by the County—it’s very hard for anyone to post on our behalf.
But narratives rooted in misinformation from multiple sources are difficult, if not impossible for us to control, leaving voters confused and scared of what might happen in 2020. A recent poll showed that 82% of US adults think they’ll read misleading information about the election and that foreign countries will spread false information about the candidates (77%). That same poll also reported that 59% of adults think it’s hard to identify misleading information. If that resonates with you, keep reading.
Here’s some recommendations on how to do your part:
- Remain skeptical of what you read on social media. Do your research—is the poster a reporter from a reputable news organization or a blogger with no experience in the subject matter? Are they who they say they are? The number of likes and shares is not an indicator of an article’s factworthiness or legitimacy. Bad actors on social media are experts at making posts go viral and have data on the stories that you and your friends are most likely to read and share. Ask questions; make sure that what you’re reading makes sense.
- If you feel worried, let us know. Come visit us! Ask us questions! The Elections Office conducts its activities transparently and anyone can observe our process. Our staff receive regular training on what the state and federal laws require us to do. We are members of the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center and maintain ongoing dialogue with federal, state, and local officials on cybersecurity awareness and incident response.
- Come to us first if you have an unexpected issue. We want to help! In fact, it’s what we’re here to do. We are experts at what we do and know how to address your issue. We always do what’s lawful and make every effort to ensure we can count your vote. Just come in (Providence Mine room, 950 Maidu Avenue in Nevada City), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or give us a call (530-265-1298) and we can help.
Thank you to all the voters of Nevada County, for your passion for American democracy, your patience with us, and your willingness to safeguard yourselves with the information you need to have a great election. Turnout is already at high levels and we look forward to counting everyone’s ballots!