Cybersecurity, Voting, and Misinformation: What We Have Learned From the 2020 Elections


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“With many Americans questioning the integrity of our elections, members from the Election Assistance Commission and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency’s Rumor Control group have worked until now to assuage those concerns.”

In a morass of skepticism and mistrust, the election season tapered off in confusion — Dominion Voting Systems became a target on Twitter, and President Donald Trump aired out his concerns over voting machines deleting millions of votes across the country. Had this been the case, the uproar would have been justified. Yet, there is no proof to support Trump’s claims. 

President Trump fired Chris Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), who disputed Mr. Trump’s false statements over the election’s legitimacy and the supposed disappearance of millions of votes. The Department of Homeland Security claims that the 2020 election has been “the most secure in American history.”

Trump’s claims stem from the conflation of problems regarding several states’ software programs, all of which were rectified without undermining the sanctity of the election. Delays in reported vote tallies, incorrect reporting of tallies, and human error contributed to the rise of the conservative voice mired in conspiracy theories. In Michigan, officials claimed that the issues came in the form of the counties’ unofficial tallies, which were fixed before greater levels of scrutiny took place. In Georgia, software glitches that delayed sending votes were fixed and now reflect accurate total votes.

Currently, voting machines are protected by a reasonable amount of bulwarks: they operate mostly offline, the types of models used are diverse, print paper backups of voter registration data exist, and states are bringing down servers easily intercepted by ransomware. These safeguards are useful, but the machines still must be managed with caution. Talks about the potential use of computer trojan TrickBot taking hospitals offline as Coronavirus cases peak, locking voter verification systems in Georgia, dumping voter registration data online, and other attacks serve as a benchmark for future steps for Homeland Security to take in order to secure elections with a vice grip on foreign hackers.  

However, the damage done in Georgia has left a lasting psychological impact on voters. Trumpian ideology continues to prevail among millions of Americans, who believe that the election was unfairly skewed to support President-elect Joe Biden. The issue extends far beyond the gamut of politics alone, slicing through the cultural fibers and pitting voter demographics against one another.

“The amount of misinformation during this election cycle is largely to blame on President Trump and his reliance on misrepresenting the news,” said Amelia Volpe ’21. “In the future, America needs to calm domestic disputes. Outsiders take advantage of the internal mistrust, so calming domestic tensions is key.”

The message rings true with the nation’s top computer scientists and election security experts, who have criticized the president for his deliberate efforts at spreading rumors of voter fraud. Even agencies like the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council have said the same message: claiming that the election is rigged without proof hurts America’s democracy. 

And while election security should be a bipartisan concern, members of the Republican party have gone against the grain when it comes to securing American elections. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is included in Senator Ron Wyden’s email about Republican posturing. Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said, “I wrote, and the House passed, the toughest election security reform bill to date, which then died in the Senate at Mitch McConnell’s hands.” Now, President Trump and Republicans are pushing for the same security measures that Mr. McConnell had blocked. 

“I think the biggest problem is the fact that many Republican leaders continue to enable Trump’s absurd accusations about the election process just because they don’t want the party to lose the support of Trumpist Republicans,” said Lay Len Ching ’21. 

To disapprove of election security measures by claiming they are partisan efforts is one thing. To have members of your party renege against the Senate majority leader’s stance is an entirely different playing field — one mired in hypocrisy. 

In the long run, the virtues exemplified by Mr. Krebs and his efforts towards making present and future elections a safe space for Americans to engage in, are inspirational and noteworthy. Americans must engage with democracy, not deceit. It is our civic duty to hold our government officials accountable for their actions and not allow strong-arm politics, brash rumors, and misinformation to eat away at the credibility of our democracy. In Mr. Krebs’ words: “Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow.”

“The amount of misinformation during this election cycle is largely to blame on President Trump and his reliance on misrepresenting the news,” said Amelia Volpe ’21.