Cyberattacks, Foreign Interference, and Digital Infrastructure: Conducting Secure Elections Amid a Pandemic

ASD’s Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ Director for Europe and Eurasia Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz provide a guide to help election officials in the United States and Europe conduct secure elections during the coronavirus pandemic. 


The coronavirus pandemic has introduced an additional layer of complexity into the already challenging task of conducting secure, democratic elections. Prior to the pandemic, many democracies were working to secure their elections from foreign adversaries, often with limited budgets. These challenges have only grown more acute because of the pandemic. Since the coronavirus arrived, much attention has, correctly, been focused on how to administer elections in a manner that reduces the likelihood of voters and pollworkers contracting the virus. However, after reviewing many elections held in Europe and the United States (hereafter referred to as the transatlantic region), including several during the pandemic, we believe that more can and should be done to secure human, physical, and cyber election assets. Both the pandemic and foreign interference threats show no signs of abating; meanwhile the pandemic creates further windows of opportunity for authoritarian regimes to interfere in elections.

This paper is not directed at any one specific country or election. Instead, it seeks to help democratic actors, particularly those in the transatlantic region, conduct more secure elections during these unprecedented times. It examines the challenges that many countries have faced with securing elections, including those posed by malign foreign actors prior to the advent of the pandemic. It then looks at how the pandemic has made securing elections even more difficult by examining how some election officials’ responses to the coronavirus have created new vulnerabilities in election infrastructure. Finally, the paper provides solutions to address the election security threats that the current crisis has exacerbated. The integrity of future elections held during the coronavirus pandemic could go a long way towards bolstering or undermining citizens’ trust in democratic institutions and elections.

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