- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Officials from 38 States Learn to Fortify Elections Against Attacks

Summer 2018

More than 120 state and local election officials from 38 states gathered in Cambridge in March to participate in role-playing exercises that provided them with tips, tools, and training to fortify their election systems against cyber attacks and information operations. 

Convened by the Belfer Center’s Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P), the two-day event featured a tabletop exercise (TTX) scenario for officials that simulated attacks on election systems ranging from hacks and social media misinformation to manipulation of voter information and trust. 

D3P Executive Director Caitlin Conley, a Major in the U.S. Army and HKS student, worked with more than 30 Harvard and MIT graduate students to organize the conference. Attending election officials learned how to better prepare, defend, and respond to a range of attacks on the integrity of American elections and how to empower their colleagues back home with this knowledge as they prepare for the 2018 and 2020 elections.   

The Cambridge TTX event was the largest of several simulation exercises D3P has run for election and campaign officials since the fall. The Defending Digital Democracy project was launched in summer 2017 by Belfer Center Co-Director and former Pentagon chief of staff and “cyber czar” Eric Rosenbach, along with Robby Mook and Matt Rhoades, former campaign directors for Hilary Clinton and Mitt Romney, respectively. 

Participants were divided among four fictitious states and, over a period of months hyper-condensed into a few hours, were confronted with and learned how to respond to a worst-case scenario of voting list hacks, fake social media claims, misleading information about candidates, and communications campaigns aimed at sowing voter distrust.

Mac Warner, Sec. of State for West Virginia, agreed with many officials that the conference was invaluable. “This has been a tremendously helpful exercise and resource that you have provided to those of us out in the states,” he said.

Harvard Kennedy School student and Marine Corps Major Daniel Bartlett, who has been deployed four times to Afghanistan and Iraq, said working with the D3P team to secure elections is “the most important thing I have had a chance to be part of in my professional career.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

"Officials from 38 States Learn to Fortify Elections Against Attacks." Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2018).