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Cybersecurity and Engagement Best Practices for Election Day

Written by CivicPlus

Election Day Preparedness, Voter Registration Data Security Checklist, and Millennial Engagement Guide.

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Part I: Election Day Preparedness

On Election Day, your entire community will wait with bated breath to find out who has earned the right to be the community’s newest leaders. You and your IT team will also be holding your breath on Election Day, and while you are just as intrigued with your community’s voting results, your number one priority will be the security of your citizen and civic data. Election Day makes your community—and every community—a high profile, vulnerable target for hackers and cyber extortionists looking to benefit from weaknesses in your security and infrastructure. United States elections are some of the most complex and decentralized operations in either the public or private sector. Don’t let Election Day become a vulnerability in your year-round data security efforts. Put a proactive plan in place to prepare to safeguard your data and protect your community from what could be a devastating data breach.

Creating a Cyber Incident Response Plan

Every community needs a plan in place to respond to a cyberattack. It’s a plan you will hope to never use but can’t afford not to build. Given the data exposure risks it offers, Election Day requires its own response plan. Local government IT and election managers should take the following critical steps, as identified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) into consideration when developing their own custom plan for their city, county, township, or village.

  • Identify Vulnerable Systems. Spend time identifying potential weaknesses in your system architecture and infrastructure. Don’t forget to consider third-party systems your administration relies upon. In the months before Election Day, reach out to your third-party solution providers and ask them to confirm that they too are prepared to protect their software from an Election Day hack, and discuss how you will collaborate in response to a threat.
  • Define what Constitutes a Cyber Incident. You can’t protect your community from a cyberattack unless you understand what such a threat entails.
  • Assign Roles and Responsibilities to Critical IT Staff. The support of all your internal IT resources will be critical on election day—no matter the size of your administration. Meet with your IT team at least two months before election day and assign teach staff member a role in your incident response plan. Then ensure over the next two months, all team members receive adequate training on how to monitor your website data and how they should respond if a threat is detected or a complete breach occurs.
  • Work with Your Communications Team to Develop a Crisis Communications Plan. If hackers successfully conduct a data breach or ransomware attack, depending on the time it takes to respond and secure your systems, you may need to communicate directly with local law enforcement, your community’s legal team, elected officials, impacted citizens, and the media. Work with your communications team to identify target audiences, communication channels, key messages, and approved community representatives who are permitted to comment publicly. Refer to this crisis communication guide for more detailed planning steps.

A detailed cyber incident response plan will allow you to respond quickly and efficiently in a worst-case scenario on Election Day.

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Part II: Voter Registration Data Security Checklist

Election Day is critical to the advancement of your community. As discussed, it is also a day when your civic and citizen data is particularly vulnerable to cyber-extortionists looking to hold your data or your systems ransom. At particular risk, is your voter data. As GovTech reported, half a million voter records were hacked in the State of Illinois before the 2016 election, believed at first to only be 76,000. With the integrity of your administration and the protection of personally identifiable information associated with your voter data on the line, make sure you and your IT team review and complete the following voter registration security checklist as you prepare for this Election Day.

Voter Registration Data Security Checklist

Don’t feel like an Election Day cyberattack is unavoidable. Election officials, election board members, election directors, local election administrators, and IT staff represent a collaborative front that are critical to the sanctity of the democratic process, and together your interdisciplinary team can mitigate the possibility of a cyberthreat. Work with your local election officials to review the following before Election Day:

  • Restrict Database Access – Ensure only authorized personnel have access to your voter registration data. For greatest ease of administration, you’ll want to rely on a single, cloud-based platform for all your civic and citizen data that provides configurable tiered access and the highest possible security levels for your civic and citizen data. Choose to leverage identity management solutions including ADFS or our SSO solutions with optional two-factor authentication for additional security.
    • Cloud-Based Security – The safest place for your data, is in the cloud. Ensure your database is stored in the cloud and that your hosting solution provider backs up data via geographically diverse data centers.
    • Encrypt Your Voter Registration Data – Encrypt your data at all levels, including your database, server, backup files, and all data transmissions and communications related to your voter database.
    • Database Version Tracking – Make sure your voter registration database solution allows administrators to document and review login history and audit which authored users have made updates to the data.
    • Rely on Third-Party Hosting – Ensure your third party host offers on-line status and pre-emptive monitoring, live 24/7/365 emergency support, and defined guaranteed recovery TIME objective (RTO) and recovery POINT objective (RPO) of four hours or less. A valuable third-party solution partner should also offer defined distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack mitigation processes.
    • Test Your Firewalls – Ensure your hosting partner offers redundant firewall solutions and associated monitoring so that any attempts at unauthorized access can be identified and prevented as soon as possible.
    • Enable Only Secure System Integrations – If you need to share your voter registration data between systems, such as your resident communication system for email marketing or voter reminder purposes, ensure any integrations or API connections are secure and do not pose an opportunity for a system breach. If any of the interconnected systems are managed by a third-party, meet with them before Election Day to ensure they are utilizing the highest level of security to protect their system and your shared data feed.

Don’t let Election Day be anything other than an opportunity for your residents to express their constitutional right to elect their leaders.

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Part III: Six Ways to Encourage Young Voters to Go to the Polls on Election Day

Your youngest residents aren’t just the future of your community, they are the future decision-makers that will frame critical initiatives and vote to approve key civic advancements. To foster a culture where Millennials, Gen Z remain engaged, informed, and civic-minded, you need to enable their engagement by getting them to the polls on election day­­—and not just on Presidential election years. If your municipality has been suffering from below average or desired turn out at the polls among young voters, consider these six strategies for increasing young voter turnout.

Why Young Voters are Vital to Community Success

Young voters make up half of your voting population, which means they have the potential for critical impact, if they choose to use it. Unfortunately, despite the influence they could have on your local elections, voter turnout among young voters has significant room for improvement. Young voter participation declined in 2016 to only 50%. More specifically, only 19 percent of citizens ages 18 and 29 voted in the 2016 presidential election Today, it is the baby boomer generation that offers the greatest turnout at the polls, with 49 percent of 45 to 64-year-olds representing the largest electorate last year. Yet, as boomers age, Millennials will need to step up as they become the defacto dominant voting population. Millennials are also well positioned to make an impact in local and national politics as they represent the most politically diverse generation, with 35 percent identifying as an independent, rather than a republican or democrat.

Why Don’t Young People Vote?

The reason younger generations stay home on election day is not drastically different from the reasons cited by any group of apathetic voters. Reasons for non-participation often include a belief that their vote will not make a difference. In the case of the last presidential election, many reported feeling disillusioned by the candidates and chose to opt out of voting altogether.

How to Encourage Young Voters on Election Day

Millennials and Generation Z need to realize the impact they can make at a national and local level by simply leveraging their right to vote. The key, according to social and political experts, is to engage youth and adolescents in the political process as early as possible so that they grow unto adulthood understanding the value and responsibility they hold to cast their vote on election day. Create a culture of youth political engagement by following these tips:

    • Enable young voter registration. Use all available communication channels to encourage youth to register to vote in the months preceding Election day. Use email, direct mail, social media, and public relations efforts to provide young residents with instructions for accessing your state’s voter registration system.
    • Encourage parents to bring their kids into the voting booth. Hold a PR campaign in your community that encourages parents to bring their children with them to vote. Work with local schools to spread the word, and reward children who “help vote” by sending them home with stickers obtained from local polling places.
    • Share candidate resumes via social media. In the era of digital proliferation, no one, of any generation, can argue they don’t know about the candidates running for election of their platforms. Share links to all candidate’s platforms via social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat if your administration uses such platforms to help educate young voters who spend countless hours on social media.
    • Enable candidates to engage with young voters. Host public forums and debates in your community that are specifically open to youth voters. Your moderator should focus the discussion on topics that matter to young voters, like college tuition debt and the environment.
    • Help young voters appreciate the impact of their local leaders. Some young voters may be motivated only to come out and vote in a presidential election year. Work with your local media, businesses, and colleges to disseminate educational information that helps young voters understand the impact that their local leaders have on their day-to-day lives, and why their local election vote counts just as much as votes in presidential races.
    • Encourage absentee votes. Encourage homes with college age students to obtain an absentee ballot for their child who may be studying out of the county, state, or country. Remind young voters that every vote counts, even if they aren’t living at home today. Four years is a long time and they very likely will be back home before an elected official’s term ends.

Looking for more tips to engage young voters—and all members of your community? There are 8 critical channels that local leaders should be using to reach residents. Click below to download our free fact sheet and find out what they are.

The 8 Most Effective Citizen Engagement Communication Channels