CISA, EAC release communications guide for state, local election offices

Voters cast ballots in Georgia's primary election at a polling location on May 21, 2024 in Atlanta. Two federal agencies are teaming up to share information and resources with local officials on election administration and security.

Voters cast ballots in Georgia's primary election at a polling location on May 21, 2024 in Atlanta. Two federal agencies are teaming up to share information and resources with local officials on election administration and security. Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Amid growing distrust in democratic systems, the Biden administration is equipping governments with more resources to help keep their elections secure.

The top U.S. cybersecurity agency and federal election information clearinghouse jointly unveiled a guide to help election officials develop a public communications plan for conveying accurate information on election administration and security.

Both the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Election Assistance Commission targeted state, local, tribal and territorial officials in the guidance released Monday, arguing in a prepared statement that such offices are the “trusted, authoritative sources for election information” and “frequently engage in public communications and answer questions from the media and the public” on ranging voter topics like registration, polling locations and security measures.

“Election officials can mitigate risk to election infrastructure and operations by developing a public communications plan that conveys accurate information about how they administer and secure elections and by preparing their teams to communicate effectively during incident response,” the guide says.

Administrators are grappling with myriad election safety concerns in the U.S., especially with the advent of generative artificial intelligence tools and growing distrust in democratic systems. CISA and EAC argue a lack of public understanding around election outcomes could ultimately undermine their integrity, but communications “can provide voters with the information necessary to have confidence that an election has been administered securely,” the guide adds.

Officials, lawmakers and researchers have voiced increasing worries that AI tools could greatly enhance the spread of election misinformation or support disinformation operations aimed at undermining the electoral process as November approaches. Those machine-generated materials have already worked their way into elections around the world, but have yet to fully turn the tide of their outcomes.

“If the bad guy started to launch AI-driven tools that would threaten election officials in key communities, that clearly falls into the foreign interference category,” Senate Intelligence Committee chair Mark Warner, D-Va. said in a press briefing at RSA Conference last month.

Voters already got a taste of AI-manipulated content after a Democratic operative oversaw a robocall scheme in which an artificial voice of President Joe Biden was dispersed to voters in the New Hampshire Primary, telling them to delay their votes until November. In a show of fast public messaging, the New Hampshire attorney general’s office declared the voice to be fraudulent shortly after its dissemination.

The Federal Communications Commission has taken a lead on clamping down on AI-generated political ads, though the efforts may be legally muddled after the top member on the Federal Election Commission said the communications agency is overstepping its authority, the Washington Post reported June 6. The FCC has already banned the use of AI-generated voices in robocalls.

The Supreme Court will soon decide on Murthy v. Missouri, a case that first began in the Fifth Circuit appellate court last July, fueled by allegations that federal agencies like CISA were coercing platforms to remove content related to vaccines and 2020 presidential election results. Those agencies had ceased efforts to communicate potential disinformation campaigns to social media companies due to the court case, but they recently resumed such talks, Warner confirmed in May.

The high court is expected to decide whether agencies are allowed to stay in contact with social media firms about potential disinformation. Missouri's then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed the suit on the grounds that the Biden administration violated First Amendment rights pertaining to free speech online in a bid to suppress politically conservative voices.

The National Security Agency’s recently retired chief said in a private media briefing this month that he feels good about election integrity this year. “We’re going to know the threat better than they know themselves,” said Gen. Paul Nakasone. “We’re going to take all the information that we need, and we’re going to share it with both DHS and the FBI. And we’re going to take action when we see adversaries outside the United States trying to either influence or interfere in our election,” he added.