National: Coronavirus has upended election security training with just months before November | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
Russian hackers could target election officials working from home. Adversaries could spread rumors about coronavirus outbreaks at polling sites to deter people from showing up on Election Day. Or they could launch disinformation campaigns claiming elections have been delayed or canceled entirely because of the virus. Those are just some of the new scenarios the University of Southern California’s Election Security Initiative is tackling as it races to conduct virtual training programs for campaign and election officials across all 50 states before November. The big takeaway: Every aspect of securing elections is now far harder than they ever imagined. The array of challenges officials are facing now make the pre-pandemic concerns about Russian hacking seem simple by comparison. “Security concerns now are more urgent in almost all cases because the virus has really exacerbated security issues,” the initiative’s executive director Adam Clayton Powell III told me. “It’s not an abstraction. It’s very real for people that they’ll have to do this work in a more urgent climate than they anticipated.” USC launched its initiative early this year with a laser focus on helping to combat interference from Russia and other U.S. adversaries. The group, which received most of its funding from Google, planned to hold in-person trainings across the country and to help officials who attended link up with experts at local universities who could help them prepare for cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns and related threats. But, like everything else about the election landscape, that plan was upended by the pandemic.