Protect the vote: Listen to first responders battling for fair and accurate elections

Posted 8/7/20

Are you worried about the integrity of Election 2020?

You’re not alone.

Whether it be cybersecurity or misinformation and disinformation or crisis communications, your public election …

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Protect the vote: Listen to first responders battling for fair and accurate elections

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Posted

Are you worried about the integrity of Election 2020?

You’re not alone.

Whether it be cybersecurity or misinformation and disinformation or crisis communications, your public election officials are facing battles on multiple fronts to ensure fair and accurate vote counts.

Journalists are being warned not to expect to call winners on Election Night, Nov. 3, as they might do for a typical election. The pandemic has turned everything upside down.

According to the NC Watchdog Reporting Network, county boards of election, the state elections board and the General Assembly are working together to deal with “one of the most difficult elections, administratively speaking, this state has ever seen.”

Facing a shortage of poll workers, the county boards of election are scrambling to find registered voters to work the polls for the 17 days of early voting in October and on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Next week you can tune in to listen to how North Carolina officials are preparing to protect the integrity of the elections.

The virtual workshop, organized by the USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative with funding from Google, will be held on Zoom from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The session is for candidates and their campaigns, for state and local election officials, and for you, the voter.

The non-partisan, independent initiative is rolling through all 50 states, and the one for North Carolina will be the 39th workshop for executive director Adam Clayton Powell III and his team from the University of Southern California.

“Our candidate is Democracy,” Powell said, echoing a line that came out of the original brainstorming for the initiative with managers of national compaigns.

“We don’t really have a national election,” he added. “We have on the order of 10,000 local elections, and then we add up the numbers.”

Among the confirmed speakers, in addition to USC’s national experts, is Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of North Carolina’s State Board of Elections.

At a previous workshop, on the topic of cybersecurity, Powell showed a video from a late-night talk show host noting that the most popular password in America is “password123.”

Citizen-on-the-street interviews revealed how willing people were to give up their passwords. One security tip was to use “pass-phrases,” not words, such as “NorthCarolinaIsGr8!”

The arrest in Tampa, Florida, of a 17-year-old “mastermind” in the hacking of Twitter accounts of dozens of high-profile figures, including presidential candidate Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, in a cryptocurrency fraud scam should be a wakeup call to everyone, Powell said.

Using two-factor or multi-factor authentication to secure accounts is highly recommended by Powell’s team to guard against phishing attacks or malware attacks.

“My primary concern is actually not about cybersecurity,” said Don Blevins Jr., the chief election official of Fayette County in Kentucky, which saw the fourth workshop of the 36 to date. (Workshops in Rhode Island (Aug. 4) and New Mexico (Aug. 6) will occur before North Carolina’s workshop.) “My primary concern is that the public will lose confidence in elections through misinformation or other types of activities that might lead them to believe their vote doesn’t count or that the election is rigged... I think that is a far greater challenge we need to watch for.”

In a session on crisis communication for campaigns, Powell said, “Get to know the people who are going to cover you when the bad thing happens before the bad thing happens. Someone said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I don’t think I trust the media.’ It doesn’t matter. You better get to know them, or you’ll start out way behind.”

The USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative offers resources to campaigns, election workers, elected officials, university scholars, news media and interested citizens. For more information, visit www.electionsecurity.usc.edu.

Buck Ryan, director of the Citizen Kentucky Project on civic engagement, is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky. He is conducting a case study of the Chatham News + Record, which he views as a model of success for community newspapers here and abroad.

Zoom into Aug. 11 election workshop

You can listen to how North Carolina officials are preparing to protect the integrity of the November elections in a virtual workshop from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 11. Here’s the link to sign up for the free event:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/usc-election-cybersecurity-initiative-north-carolina-workshop-registration-114121364072?aff=erelexpmlt

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