February 28, 2022

How Cybersecurity Saved U.S. Democracy

By Carrie Cordero

According to a 12 November 2020 joint statement of U.S. election officials, the 2020 U.S. presidential election “was the most secure in American history.” That success was a result not of accident, but instead of deliberate, sustained, and comprehensive efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure that it was secure from foreign interference. Those efforts to secure the election were borne out of the attempts by the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In the end, however, the efforts to enhance the cybersecurity of the U.S. electoral infrastructure in 2020 ended up protecting the integrity of the election not only from malign foreign activities, but also from domestic anti-democratic and illiberal efforts to undermine confidence in the 2020 presidential election.

In 2020, the threats compounded as compared to 2016.

A range of activities designed to protect the American election infrastructure from foreign malign activity ended up providing a bulwark against threatening domestic efforts to undermine and overturn the lawful election result. The U.S. experience in 2020 suggests that cybersecurity itself can play a critical role in protecting not only election infrastructure as a technical matter, but also providing a technical basis to counter illiberal forces as a mechanism to protect the democratic process of conducting a fair election. Cybersecurity itself just may have saved U.S. democracy from careening of the rails, continued sustained efforts to continue to harden election infrastructure cybersecurity and create a cadre of trusted officials, will likely be needed again.

Despite the success of U.S. cybersecurity and intelligence activities in protecting against malign foreign influence, the voting mechanisms and outcome of the 2020 American election has been subject to persistent allegations of fraud and inauthenticity by malicious domestic partisans. These domestic political actors seek to lower voter confidence in the outcome, thereby politically damaging their opponents and undermining confidence in future elections that they lose. As of this writing former President of the United States Donald Trump has not publicly accepted the validity of the 2020 election outcome, and a significant percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans still did not believe that President Joe Biden had lawfully won the 2020 election.

Read the full article from The Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD).

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