States collaborate to best defend the nation against cyber threats in 2020

Amna Nawaz, Senior National Correspondent for PBS NewsHour, Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith, Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnen, and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill listen closely to New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way at an Insights@Meridian program on January 30, 2020. Photo by Jess Latos.

Rising concerns of cyberthreats from state and non-state actors spurred by Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election demonstrate the urgency of action needed in ensuring election security. With the 2020 primaries and elections right around the corner, Meridian gathered four secretaries of state – The Honorable Robert Evnen of Nebraska, The Honorable John Merrill of Alabama, and The Honorable Tahesha Way of New Jersey, The Honorable John Wobensmith of Maryland - at an Insights@Meridian briefing moderated by PBS NewsHour Senior National Correspondent, Amna Nawaz, on January 30th to discuss the critical role of the states in overseeing election security. The secretaries of state were in Washington, DC for the annual Winter Conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State, which partnered with Meridian to convene the discussion.

Fifty foreign ambassadors and heads of political sections gained a deeper understanding of the steps that different states are taking to ensure citizens’ access to voting in free and fair elections. Despite the secretaries having unique portfolios in combating election interference, on questions regarding how each secretary guarantees their respective states’ general election security, there was a resounding consensus of the importance of tabletop exercises with key actors like the National Guard in the electoral process as well as the presence of devices that help detect an intrusion in the system.

There was also general agreement on the importance of states taking the lead on election security. According to the secretaries, greater security can be achieved if there are 50 possible points of entry compared to one. A compromise in one state’s voting system can help other state governments prepare for and prevent an intrusion from occurring in the rest of the country. Furthermore, the speakers asserted that the states could use more consistent funding from the federal government towards appropriate levels of election security. However, it was noted that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and Department of Homeland Security have been very helpful in their efforts.

Diplomats also learned more about opportunities for trade and investment that the secretaries of states oversee. Way and Merrill serve as Co-Chairs for the International Relations Committee of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). Merrill emphasized the importance of fostering exchanges with other countries whether that be cultural, educational, political or economic as well as future investments to help foster a greater understanding of global challenges and how to solve them together since “we all live on the same planet and breathe the same air.” Ambassadors from various embassies across the globe also had the chance to ask questions from the panelists. Topics included gerrymandering, poll workers’ working conditions across different states, and top industries shared between the states and the countries of the embassy.

Insights@Meridian and other Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagement programs serve to provide the international diplomatic corps with a better understanding of U.S. domestic policies from multiple perspectives. For more information, please visit meridian.org/diplomacy.

Project summary

States collaborate to best defend the nation against cyber threats in 2020 | January 2020
Number of Attendees: 63
Regions: 1, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2
Countries: 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 1, 1, 1
Impact Areas: 2, 2, 9, 1
Program Areas: 1
Partners: 3