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Our Challenge; Our Answer: Election 2020

This year, there are forces both foreign and domestic that are placing unprecedented stress and strain on our system of elections.

Authoritarian regimes opposed to American democracy continue to launch cyberattacks against election systems in the United States. They possess the capabilities to significantly disrupt the 2020 election cycle, thus undermining public confidence in the fairness and accuracy of election results. Disinformation campaigns being run by these authoritarian states (Russia, China, Iran, and others) are currently sowing division and discord in the American electorate and can be weaponized to spread false information about the election process itself. We can expect these efforts to intensify, all in an attempt to undermine public confidence in the election system and by extension in democracy itself.

In addition to this foreign threat to the integrity of our elections, here at home a once in a century pandemic has created an unprecedented strain on election systems across the country. The ranks of election workers, donned in the gear of first responders, are thinned out due to the crisis. Our ability to conduct a general election in a pandemic is untested, and the public is rightfully concerned. Such fear may cause election officials to abandon their posts. Such fears may cause voters to stay home (and under current conditions in Connecticut) be denied their right to vote.

The forces arrayed against us are formidable. The challenge to our democracy is real.

Our answer to the challenge before us is to build these partnerships and marshal our forces behind a plan that ensures Connecticut’s elections will be safe, secure, and accessible for all voters.

Congressman Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Connecticut’s congressional delegation have secured over $10 million to help our office secure election systems from cyberattack, along with additional funds to prepare our polling places for operating in a time of pandemic. Today, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is announcing her plan to put those resources to work in every town in this state.

The Connecticut National Guard, at the direction of the Secretary of the State, will perform a high-level assessment of the cybersecurity posture of each town as it relates to their election infrastructure. This will help us target the greatest vulnerabilities in our election’s system.

Our office has already identified approximately 20 municipalities that have chronic issues with their connections to networks necessary for the election process. We are providing upgrades to these towns’ networks to eliminate cyber “hot spots” that present potential security risks. Additionally, our office will provide matching grants to municipalities that commit to investing in upgrading outmoded workstations that are vulnerable to cyberattack.

We are offering cybersecurity training for all local election officials and mandating it for the certification of registrars of voters. We will also be deploying election support officers from our office to support the work of local election officials in the 2020 election cycle. All this while we continue to upgrade the security systems that protect online voter registration systems that have been the subject of foreign cyberattacks.

Secretary Merrill’s plan also puts recently approved CARES Act funding to work in each of our communities by providing the support necessary to have safe polling places in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic health crisis. The people of Connecticut should not have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote. Current circumstances of this pandemic make that choice a reality for too many of our fellow citizens. The Secretary of the State is taking action to ensure that access to voting is a reality no matter the circumstances.

The foundation of democracy in America is our system of elections. The legitimacy of our electoral system is the bedrock upon which a government of the people, by the people and for the people is accepted and established. That legitimacy depends on public confidence in our election system. Working together, we will meet this challenge.

Scott Bates is the former Senior Policy Advisor for the U.S House Homeland Security Committee. He now serves as Connecticut’s Deputy Secretary of the State.

 

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