How secretaries of state are preparing for a contentious election season

June 17, 2024

From combatting disinformation with facts to educating voters on deepfakes, Georgia, Arizona officials confident in secure November elections

Key Takeaways:

Four years after one of the most contentious presidential elections in decades, the disinformation and denialism that plagued the 2020 campaign season still reverberates today.

Now, states are using the lessons learned from that tumultuous period to shore up election security and voter confidence ahead of the 2024 elections, Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said durimg a recent event held at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center.

“We’re in a much better position now than we were in 2020 because 2020 was new. It was an experience in election denialism; we’d never seen a candidate refuse to agree to the [election] outcome,” Fontes said during a panel discussion moderated by tech reporter Kara Swisher. “We’ve seen a lot of the exact same unfounded accusations … so we’re honing in and improving our ability to respond appropriately and correctly.”

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A key focus ahead of the 2024 elections has been preparing voters by sharing what each state is doing to ensure secure elections and educating them on how to spot deepfakes and other disinformation.

“We’re just really making sure that we can prepare people the best we can,” Raffensperger said, sharing how Georgia is ensuring election integrity through a combination of logic and accuracy testing before voting and equipment monitoring across precincts during voting. “We’re trying to give voters confidence in the process. That’s what we work on every day so that they understand we’re going to have a secure, accurate, and fair election.”

Here are three key things to know about states’ election security efforts for 2024:

  1. State officials combat disinformation with facts.

When it comes to tackling disinformation, Raffensperger takes a simple approach: Talking to voters, whether through one-on-on discussions or at group meetings, and sharing multi-page letters that respond point by point to claims of election-related issues, such as inaccurate voter rolls.

“They may not like the results, but now they have the facts,” said Raffensperger, who conceded not everyone wants to hear the truth. “I want to make sure that whatever I give them is always fact-based. We can argue about opinions, but you can’t argue with facts.”

  1. AI and deepfakes don’t complicate issues as much as many think.

While artificial intelligence and deepfakes throw a new wrinkle into the 2024 election season, Fontes said they don’t really pose a new threat.

“To be very clear, what they do is they magnify and they amplify the same old threats, the same old lies, the same old disinformation that either tries to get people to not vote or tries to lie to them about a time, place, and manner of their vote, or something about a candidate—things of this nature just to misinform and hurt the process,” he said.

That means officials can focus on the fundamentals of election administration just as they have for decades, while still adjusting training to specifically counteract the newer election denialism that came out of the 2020 presidential campaign as well as AI-fueled deepfakes.

  1. More coordination and support is needed from the federal government.

Fontes said that federal support for ensuring election integrity is lacking, and lawmakers could do more to help as state regulations are limited in scope and aren’t coordinated well across borders.

“Congress has a terrible record here,” Fontes said. “We have zero sustained funding when the states have elections for federal offices under federal rules on federal ballots and federal case law and federal everything—except federal dollars. All of the duty for putting on federal elections is essentially the most enormous unfunded mandate on states.”

Raffensperger said there also isn’t enough coordination between state and federal partners, who have far greater resources to detect threats on a larger scale.

“I’ll let the feds decide what they’re going to do,” he said, “but it’s getting pretty late in the season for them to do much because it seems to take five to 10 years for them to pass a bill.”