Using Exercises to Identify Election Security Risks
Preparing for secure elections in 2024 begins with identifying gaps, weaknesses and risks. Exercises, such as workshops, tabletop exercises and operational exercises are all effective tools to identify risks so jurisdictions can take concrete, achievable actions in the coming months to make elections more secure. But for maximum impact, public safety stakeholders need to use the right tool for the right purpose.
Government leaders have emphasized the urgency of preparing for secure elections in 2024. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA are requiring that at least 3% of grant funding from two major programs — the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) — be spent on election security.
What are the top challenges for election security in 2024?
- COVID-related changes to state and local voting processes.
- Growing political and social divides in civil society.
- Increased physical and cyber threats from foreign adversaries and domestic extremists.
- Declining public trust in elections.
- The risk of overlapping incidents — such as major weather events or cyberattacks — affecting election continuity of operations.
What kind of election security exercise do I need?
Discussion-based workshops and tabletop exercises, as well as operational drills, functional exercises and full-scale exercises, each fulfill a unique purpose in preparing for secure elections. Here’s a quick guide to what to use when:
- Workshops provide foundational work for developing plans. This is a great option if you need to develop an election-day plan for a specific operation or site.
- Tabletop exercises (TTXs) test execution of an existing plan through discussion and are an excellent way to get multiple stakeholders to discuss something like an active-shooter response plan or continuity plan. Learn more about how to exercise election security objectives using TTXs.
- Drills test a specific function, like a lockdown or fire response at a polling station.
- Functional exercises run through actual operations at the command-post, but with no boots on the ground.
- Full-scale exercises practice using and coordinating actual resources, like running through an incident response with actual first responders participating.
What objectives can an election security exercise target?
- Test jurisdictional plans to share intelligence and information about election-day threats and incident response.
- Step through emergency response plans for addressing threats and hazards at polling sites and vote-counting centers.
- Exercise operational coordination for responding to an election site incident.
- Conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment for election systems, networks and processes.
- Prioritize and support the security and availability of infrastructure systems that elections depend upon.
- Define the roles of election service providers in planning for and responding to cyber or infrastructure security issues.
- Test specific continuity plans for severe weather, civil unrest or cyberattacks concurrent with an election.
- Identify site security measures election sites should take.
- Formulate how the jurisdiction will deliver public information that is coordinated, prompt and reliable.
- Verify expected roles and regulations for public safety entities.
- Examine the jurisdiction’s ability to ensure data integrity through the election cycle.
How can CNA help?
We start with the question, “What do you want to learn?” rather than, “What do you want to do?” In conjunction with state or local leaders, we design the solution to produce that learning and stay with the process to provide an after-action report within two weeks or less. Using the election security after-action report, the jurisdiction can integrate results into updated operational plans and a specific continuity of operations plan (COOP) for the election cycle.
What experience does CNA have?
Since 1999, CNA has designed, executed and evaluated more than 350 homeland security workshops, TTXs, drills and exercises. Participants have ranged from local first responders to the President of the United States, and scenarios have been as diverse as cybersecurity, hurricanes and disease outbreaks.
If you would like more information about conducting a workshop, TTX or operational exercise that includes election security, please contact the co-director of CNA’s Center for Emergency Management Operations, Dawn Thomas, at firstname.lastname@example.org.