The Elections Battle Staff Playbook

December 2019

Introduction: The Current Operating Environment

Elections succeed when they are carried out in a fair and transparent manner that maintains voters’ confidence in the process. Today, protecting and preserving people’s confidence is more challenging than ever. Election officials have to continuously ensure that the election infrastructure is secure, the information is accurate, every ballot is counted, and the results are reported quickly. At the same time, bad actors have an increasing number of threat vectors—from social media bots to cyber attacks—with which they can attempt to discredit the process on both the micro- and macro-levels.

Over the past decade, these actors have increasingly used their resources and abilities in both crude and sophisticated ways to exploit vulnerabilities and undermine our democracy. Unfortunately, a malicious actor does not have to subvert the entire elections process to put the American voter’s confidence in the system at risk. In reality, a successful attack on one election jurisdiction—or merely the perception that a successful attack has occurred—can have effects that ripple across the country.

Recent attacks such as these have brought election integrity to the forefront of our national consciousness, and ever-evolving tools and tactics make defending our democracy even more challenging. Election officials know the complexities and vulnerabilities of the election process better than anyone else. No jurisdiction or state can take on this challenge alone. With effective information sharing—both within election teams and vertically between different levels of the election leaders—we can make our decentralized election system a strength rather than a vulnerability. Ultimately, this Playbook seeks to mitigate growing threats against our elections by optimizing election operation processes and enhancing our ability to cooperate among leadership teams across the country. 

Top 10 Take-Aways for Building Your Battle Staff:


People and Purpose

1. Map out your elections ecosystem and identify the types of relationships between various people/entities: Operational Control or Coordinating.
2. Build out your broader team through alliances and augmentees (temps, interns, recruits from other state/county agencies, etc.). Expand your staff on the frontline then train and equip them with SOPs to manage simple but common problems.
3. Assign all Battle Staff members a role along with task and purpose that they are best suited for based on their skill sets and level of expertise. Those with specific skills or expertise (rovers and IT staff) can tackle complicated problems, while the Battle Staff focuses on more complex problems.


4. Establish Communication Paths: identify who needs to communicate with whom, how they are going to do it (in method and in format), and when. This applies for both internal (“down and in”) and external (“up and out”) communication.
5. Develop a PACE plan and create formats for scheduled and non-scheduled communication.

Incident Management

6. Identify your Critical Information Requirements (CIRs) that address the full scope of issues that impact election operations or election integrity. Structure criticality levels to prioritize CIRs based on the incident’s impact to critical operational systems and the overall operating environment.
7. Develop an Incident Tracking System to consolidate and monitor CIRs. Train all staff members on the appropriate tools needed to collect and analyze the data, and perform stress tests to ensure that reporting on the information collected is sufficiently structured to deliver the intended value. Develop a dashboard to visualize important data and signals that enable the staff to remain focused on priority items. Identify the most important things to monitor—they may be different for each member of the Battle Staff.

Bringing It All Together

8. Build your Operations Center.  Find a physical space and develop a plan for integrating people, processes, and information. The layout should provide greatest situational awareness while also enabling ease of communication among Battle Staff members. Develop your Ops Center battle rhythm to include scheduled information sharing events.
9. Establish SOPs. A clear response plan for the “knowns” will leave space to think about and react to the “unknowns.” Identify anticipated incidents based on past election experiences. Develop and implement SOPs for methodical logging, troubleshooting, resolution, and communication of common, recurring incidents.
10. Practice! Rehearse all of the above prior to the voting period. Utilize early voting periods, to iterate on your processes, techniques, and communication strategies in advance of peak voting periods.


In this Playbook:


The Playbook Approach
Top 10 Take-Aways for Building Your Battle Staff
Introduction: The Current Operating Environment
Building an Elections Battle Staff
  1. People and Purpose
  2. Situational Awareness Through Communications
  3. Taking Action: Election Incident Tracking, Analysis, and Response
  4. Bringing it All Together: The Operations Center
Next Steps: Making It All Happen 
  • Appendix A: Get Prepped Checklist
  • Appendix B: Operations Center Physical Layout Models
  • Appendix C: Leadership and Teamwork in Action


Download the full Playbook:

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:The Elections Battle Staff Playbook.” Paper, December 2019.