Symposium at U.S. Capitol seeks solutions to election security

January 29, 2020

WASHINGTON D.C. -- A thriving democracy requires fair elections, but U.S. elections face real threats from multiple sources, including state election infrastructure attacks and social engineering on social media platforms. As the 2020 election approaches, lawmakers, election officials, Congressional staffers, researchers, members of the intelligence communities, academics, candidates and media will come together in the U.S. capital for the first-ever “Hacking the U.S. Election: How Can We Make U.S. Elections More Secure?” symposium to work to secure U.S. elections.

The symposium will be held Feb. 24 at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by Penn State Dickinson Law, the Penn State Institute for Computational and Data Sciences, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and the Brennan Center for Justice, with assistance from first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and Pennsylvania’s 43rd Governor Thomas J. Ridge, and Congressman Fred Keller. This symposium brings together experts and officials in the fields of election security, social media and democracy to identify, discuss and seek solutions to secure U.S. elections. The event is free and open to the public, but those interested must register in advance here.

“This symposium is aimed at promoting bipartisan legislative efforts and supporting the work of state election officials, researchers and the intelligence community to detect and combat these attacks on our electoral process,” said Anne Toomey McKenna, Penn State Dickinson Law’s Distinguished Scholar of Cyber Law and Policy, Penn State Institute for Computational and Data Sciences co-hire, and one of the symposium’s organizers.

McKenna and Ridge have been working closely together with the sponsors since the summer of 2019 on the issue of securing U.S. elections. Through their collective research, the team identified critical needs in two areas, election cybersecurity that Ridge explains are due to “vulnerabilities in our aging election system infrastructure that enable susceptibility to cyber hacking,” and social engineering, which McKenna describes as “intentional efforts to affect U.S. election results; erode confidence in the electoral process; and undermine the stability of our democracy through targeted propaganda, disinformation and online manipulation.”

“Threats to U.S. elections through election infrastructure attacks and social engineering are occurring and disrupting democracy,” said Ridge. “These are facts based on sound intelligence, not partisan politics.”

Ridge added that combating these threats requires awareness and understanding of the evolving nature of the threats, including social engineering and disinformation campaigns.

“The foundational tenet of democracy is the ability of citizens to vote for their representation. The 2020 election cycle is already underway and it's clear that our elections are under attack,” said Maurice Turner, deputy director, Internet Architecture Project, Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT). Turner is a well-known technologist who works with numerous state election officials on election security. “It's essential that we address serious cybersecurity threats and misinformation campaigns against our elections in a collaborative, nonpartisan manner. Citizens need complete confidence that the votes they cast are counted correctly, and efforts like this event can play an important role in that."

Lawrence Norden, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Election Reform Program, leads the Brennan Center’s efforts in election security and will be one of the speakers at the event. The Brennan Center is co-sponsoring the event as part of its efforts to ensure that the “U.S. election infrastructure is secure and accessible to every voter,” and to further its work to “protect elections from foreign interference.” 

Ridge will lead the event and speak on a bipartisan election security legislative roadmap to support states.

“As the former governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I know firsthand that states are on the front lines in securing our elections,” Ridge said. “Aiding states to combat these threats requires bipartisan efforts at the federal level.”

In addition to Ridge and Norden, other speakers include federal lawmakers, senior intelligence community members, researchers, and attorneys, such as Jared Dearing, executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections; Kevin Munger, New York Times op-ed contributor and assistant professor of political science and social data analytics, Penn State, who will address his cutting edge work on the internet, data and democracy; Danielle Conway, dean, Penn State Dickinson Law; Tom Brier, a Penn State Dickinson Law alumnus and congressional candidate who will share the scope of information campaigns can gather about citizens; Emma Llansó, director of CDT's Free Expression Project and McKenna, whose law practice, research, teaching and publications have focused extensively on the law and social media platforms, speech and privacy.  

To register, or for more information, visit the ICDS election page.

Last Updated January 29, 2020