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USC expands effort to protect elections from digital attacks

Monday, November 18, 2019

With support from Google, USC Annenberg is working with USC Gould and four other USC schools to train election and campaign officials nationwide to protect elections from digital attacks.

By Emily Cavalcanti and Emily Gersema


 (Illustration by: Suz Boretz)

The USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy (CCLP) – together with partners from across the University of Southern California, including the USC Gould School of Law – is launching an innovative training program that empowers election and campaign officials nationwide to reinforce their defenses against digital attacks that may affect the integrity and outcome of elections.

With generous support from Google, the bipartisan initiative will provide in-state training sessions in all 50 states.


Adam Clayton Powell III, director of CCLP’s Washington programs, and USC University Professor and CCLP Director Geoffrey Cowan. (Photo by: Olivia Mowry)

Election 2020 is just 12 months away, and experts anticipate that the United States will be the target of foreign and domestic cyberattacks that could compromise the country’s infrastructure, local and state governments, and news and information.

Starting in January 2020, the Election Security and Information Project will launch in-state programming consisting of a day-long series of briefings and exercises. While the curricula will be designed for state and local election officials, campaign officials of all parties, academics, nongovernmental organizations, journalists and students, programming will be open to the public and media to ensure maximum transparency. 

“Our goal is to help state and local officials be better prepared for foreseeable threats—regardless of source, origin, party or candidate targeted,” said USC University Professor Geoffrey Cowan, the project’s principal investigator, who also holds a faculty appointment at the Gould School.

Strengthening elections systems

With support from the Democracy Fund, CCLP is currently working with the National Governors Association (NGA) to conduct workshops in six states. Now, with grant support from Google, CCLP will build upon this effort by leveraging faculty expertise from six of USC’s schools to create and deploy leading-edge, bipartisan election security curricula.

“In advance of the 2020 election, we are committed to enhancing election security for voters, campaigns and journalists alike,” said Kristie Canegallo, vice president of Google's Trust and Safety team. “We’re proud to support USC’s Election Security and Information Project to provide comprehensive training to candidates, campaigns, academics, elected officials, and NGOs to help them prepare for security challenges before the 2020 election.”

In the coming weeks, Adam Clayton Powell III, the project’s managing director and director of CCLP’s Washington programs, will spearhead the curricula development by convening a series of working sessions in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, drawing on faculty expertise from USC Gould; the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; the USC Marshall School of Business; the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy; the USC Viterbi School of Engineering; as well as the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The effort will be supported by USC political experts, including some who have run presidential campaigns for candidates from both parties.

“We are grateful for Google’s generous support to develop this multi-disciplinary project,” Powell said. “We look forward to creating an initiative that will demonstrate the important role that academic institutions may play in helping to protect the integrity of our elections.”

USC has a rich history and significant experience partnering with other leading private and public academic and research institutions; where possible, this project will work to present the in-state programs with a state university or college partner.

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