Area of Concern

Civic Futures

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, the Elections Group, and Institute for the Future (IFTF) released How Election Officials Can Identify, Prepare for, and Respond to AI Threats. Developed by experts in election administration, cybersecurity, and AI, this new tool provides scenarios for hypothetical situations involving AI-related attacks on election infrastructure, attempts to spread misinformation about voting, and efforts to interfere with election officials’ work. The scenario planner offers practical advice for responding to these threats.

Advances in AI technology have added the kind of sophistication to deepfakes and misinformation that we have never seen before. It’s important for our elections officials to be able to anticipate and be ready for this. Learning how to spot, identify, and better prepare for AI-generated content meant to interfere with their work is essential to mitigating these kinds of disruptions. Toshi Hoo, Emerging Media Lab Director at Institute for the Future
Many election officials we’ve spoken to have said that despite the considerable hype around how AI may disrupt elections, they do not have the detailed guidance they would like to prepare. This scenario planner provides them with that guidance, and shows they already have much of the knowledge and technology they need to help prevent AI from unsettling election operations this year. Lawrence Norden, senior director of the Elections & Government Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law
Election officials have been preparing for this moment since 2016, and certainly since 2020, enhancing cyber and physical security and public communications, all through strong partnerships. The 2024 election layers in generative AI, increasing the need for election officials to be performing well on all fronts, which is why we created the AI Planner. This tool reinforces that dedication to the comprehensive approach they've taken to security will support their efforts at navigating AI threats effectively. Noah Praetz, President and Co-founder of The Elections Group, a nonpartisan election administration consulting firm

The planner was inspired by authors’ conversations with election officials about concerns over AI and lessons learned from Arizona election officials’ tabletop exercises on AI in December 2023. Among the hypothetical situations in the scenario planner:

  • A deepfake video uses an election official’s voice and image to spread false instructions on how to vote.
  • An election staffer receives a convincing, AI-generated phishing email directed at election officials with bait links that could infect the election systems with malware.
  • Logistical disruptions such as phone calls seeking information about polling place hours are automated to flood election office phone lines as well as staff mobile phones. AI systems can generate calls that are highly personalized to mimic real people and voters by sharing real voters’ data, and can potentially overwhelm staff, resources, and interrupt election work.

For each scenario in the planner, the authors make recommendations for handling it, with specific steps for stopping an attack and reducing the damage.

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