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U.S. Election Security: Still Major Room for Improvement, Report Says

The U.S. government and private industry can and should do more to “protect the integrity and independence” of the nation’s elections, a new report released by a Stanford University group said.

The 108-page white paper, entitled Securing American Elections: Prescriptions for Enhancing the Integrity and Independence of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections and Beyond, composed by former government and IT officials and academics, called for a major overhaul of election security, particularly in the run up to the 2020 elections. The body of work was spurred on by the persistent fallout from Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election cycle, the authors said. Most notably, the report’s originators include Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and Alex Stamos, Facebook’s one-time chief security officer.

In prefacing the exhaustive paper, McFaul said it indirectly sprung from the unsuccessful call for a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate what happened in 2016, how the U.S. responded and what policies should be adopted going forward. While that idea to create an advisory council to investigate election interference “never took root,” McFaul said, the Stanford effort is a step to “develop a sophisticated, comprehensive, and successful strategy” to repel attacks from foreign actors intending to disrupt the U.S. electoral process.

The report sets out a set of 45 specific recommendations categorized by seven clarion calls:

  • Increase the security of the U.S. election infrastructure.
  • Regulate online political advertising by foreign governments and nationals.
  • Confront efforts at election manipulation from foreign media organizations.
  • Combat state-sponsored disinformation campaigns from state-aligned actors.
  • Enhance transparency about foreign involvement in U.S. elections.
  • Establish international norms and agreements to prevent election interference.
  • Deter foreign governments from election interference.

Nate Persily, one of the report’s authors who heads Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, told the Washington Post that the group intends to lobby Washington politicians from both parties to include many of the recommendations in their party platforms in 2020. Significant cybersecurity changes in practice and policy ahead of the 2020 election is what the group wants, Persily said.

“We’re not naive,” he reportedly said. “We recognize that the topic of Russian intervention in the 2016 election provokes a partisan reaction and there’s a partisan allergy to some types of recommendations. But we believe Democrats and Republicans can unite around what are some common-sense reforms.”

Here’s a small sampling of the recommendations:

On U.S. election infrastructure.

  • Require that all vote-counting systems provide a voter-verified paper audit trail.

On foreign political advertising.

  • Prohibit foreign governments and individuals from purchasing online advertisements targeting the American electorate and aimed at influencing U.S. elections.

On foreign election manipulation.

  • Mandate additional disclosure measures during pre-election periods.

On disinformation campaigns.

  • Remove barriers to the sharing of information relating to disinformation, including changes to privacy and other laws as necessary.

On transparency.

  • Mandate transparency in the use of foreign consultants and foreign companies in U.S. political campaigns.

On election interference.

  • Distinguish legitimate cross-border assistance from illicit or unlawful interventions.

On deterring election interference.

  • Conduct a continuous strategic disruption campaign against adversaries that seek to interfere with U.S. elections.
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