Protecting Democracy

Foreign Interference, Voter Confidence & Defensive Strategies in the 2020 Elections and Beyond

September 17 -
 17, 2020

Co-sponsored By:


The Conference

This workshop is the culmination of a collaboration between the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL), and the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). This short term, high impact project convenes national security and legal policy professionals and academics at the forefront of research and engagement in foreign interference in democratic elections issues, foreign intelligence activities, and election administration and security. The project aims to assess the level of foreign malign activities on the forthcoming 2020 elections, identify efforts to prevent such influence, and develop strategies that will help to ensure voter confidence in the integrity of the election process and its outcome. 

Concerns over foreign interference in U.S. institutions go back to the Founding Fathers. In Federalist No. 68, Alexander Hamilton wrote that foreign interference is one of the most “deadly adversaries of republican government.” The Founders included provisions in the Constitution designed to protect against foreign interference, and reports and writings from the period indicate their extensive understanding of the dangers foreign interference could pose. Russia’s influence campaign on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, reports of continuing Russian interference in the 2018 mid-terms, and reports of other countries like China, North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia attempting to influence U.S. institutions through covert operations support Hamilton’s well-founded concerns.

While foreign interference is not new, methods have changed and amplified its impact. These include the advent of social media, the conversion to electronic records and communication as the primary mode of interaction, a sophisticated global financial system, and the ability to transfer large amounts of money in fractions of a second. These and a host of other developments have enabled foreign interference in U.S. institutions.

Participants in this high-level workshop will assess threats to the integrity of U.S. elections from foreign powers in the run up to the 2020 elections. Has the nature of the threats the United States faces changed in any way since 2016? What preventive measures have been implemented at the federal, state, and local levels to deal with foreign interference in U.S. elections? Has the response to this security crisis been adequate and effective? Will we be able to trust that the outcome of the 2020 election is not the product of foreign interference? And if the United States can limit foreign influence in elections, will that be enough to restore voter confidence? Are there legislative solutions that can bridge the partisan conflation of the terms “election security” and “election reform”?

This workshop will take stock of the current threat of foreign influence in the 2020 election cycle, identify what efforts have been made to prevent such influence, and develop strategies to restore voter confidence in the integrity of the election process. Academics, lawyers, policymakers, and government officials will gather to discuss these critically important issues and propose concrete solutions that policymakers can implement.


Morning Program (Public)

9:30 am – 10:45 am Session 1: Patterns of Foreign Election Interference Since 2016

In April 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies became aware that Russia was working to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. This conclusion was not only borne out by further investigations on the part of the intelligence community but also by the Mueller reportthe Senate Intelligence Committee and by numerous news and media outlets that were able to substantiate the intelligence community’s initial assessment. Weaponized social media campaigns, the hacking of voter registration databases, theft of private campaign communications, and the injection of dark money into political campaigns threatened the legitimacy of our electoral process. Given the “success” of Russia’s efforts in 2016, documented patterns of Russian interference in elections in Western Europe, the continuing pattern of Russian interference in the mid-term elections, and intelligence community reports since the 2016 elections, it is safe to assume that Russia is continuing to interfere with U.S. elections in the run up to the 2020 presidential election.

Since then we have learned that other countries are attempting to influence the 2020 election by using the 2016 Russian playbook. A 2019 Princeton University study documented dozens of foreign influence efforts by Russia, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The Alliance for Securing Democracy reports that the Chinese are using Russian social media tactics to undermine confidence in democratic governance as well as to highlight its own governance model. In October 2019, Microsoft released a statement indicating that a group of hackers it believed to be linked to the Iranian government attempted to gain information on 2,700 consumer e-mail accounts and hacked into 241 of them. Microsoft has also obtained a court order to seize control of 50 websites used by North Korean operatives to launch spear phishing attacks on government officials.

This panel will examine the current state of foreign interference in the 2020 election and in other democracies worldwide. How have the steps taken by governments and the private sector worked to thwart foreign interference in the current election cycle? How have the states used the federal funding allocated in 2018 and 2020 to secure their election processes? Have the efforts of the private sector been adequate to prevent the spread of disinformation? How confident is the intelligence community that the 2020 election will be free from foreign interference?


Claire Finkelstein, Algernon Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School


James Clapper, Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence; CERL Executive Board Member

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication; Walter and Leonore Director of the university’s Annenberg Public Policy Center; Program Director of the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands

11:30 am – 12:30 pm Session 2: Voter Attitudes and Foreign Influence: Protecting the Vote

Sixty-three percent of people recently surveyed by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago said they were concerned about at least one form of foreign influence in our elections. Seventy-one percent of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2018 said that foreign influence is a major problem. But the general public’s concern alone does not prevent or combat influence. Foreign influence directed at democratic processes continues, as described in an August 2020 intelligence community public statement. In addition, foreign governments have openly spent over $1 billion to influence American policy since 2017. As required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), countries like South Korea, Japan, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have registered their efforts and have admitted to spending millions of dollars on attempting to influence policy and politicians.

Meanwhile, as the world is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, our adversaries are spreading disinformation and propaganda about the United States. A recent unpublished report by the State Department Global Engagement Center highlighted the efforts of Iran, China, and Russia to shift blame for the outbreak of the disease to the United States as well as position China as a global leader in the fight against the pandemic. These efforts serve the dual purpose of insulating domestic governments from blame for their failed response to the pandemic and uniting the messaging of the U.S. adversaries. Both foreign influence and the pandemic itself present new threats to ensuring the integrity in the conduct and result of the fall election.

As state and local election officials scramble to deal with the multitude of issues that the pandemic poses for the 2020 elections, have the federal government and the private sector taken steps to combat the spread of disinformation about the pandemic? Has the messaging of foreign actors related to the pandemic changed to influence the election? Is there anything different about the messaging surrounding the pandemic from earlier disinformation campaigns meant to influence elections? How should states, the private sector and civil society address protecting the integrity of our election processes?


Carrie Cordero, Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow, CNAS


Scott Bates, Deputy Secretary of State, Connecticut

Vanita Gupta, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Bill Kristol, Director, Defending Democracy Together and Editor-at-Large, The Bulwark

Laura Rosenberger, Director, Alliance for Securing Democracy, German Marshall Fund

Afternoon Program (Private – Invitation Only)

1:30 pm – 2:45 pm Session 3: Prevention Strategies and Their Effectiveness

A February 2018 report from the Center for American Progress graded the election security measures of all 50 states and found vast differences among them. No state earned an “A” grade, and 16 states earned a “D” or “F.” How can we ensure more uniformity in election security protections across jurisdictions? Should election security be the responsibility of the federal government, the states, or some combination of both? In Federalist No. 59, Alexander Hamilton wrote that the federal government “reserved to the national authority the right to interpose, whenever extraordinary circumstances might render that interposition necessary to [election] safety.” Are the current threats the extraordinary circumstances Hamilton envisioned? What can the federal government do to coerce the states to enact necessary election security measures? Can the federal government mandate paper ballots or change the dates of elections?

After the 2016 elections, Congress passed legislation aimed at protecting federal elections. In 2018 and 2020, Congress allocated a total of $805 million dollars to the states under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 for improvements to the administration of federal elections. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission report to Congress, every state and U.S. territory applied for funding and used the federal financial support to improve cybersecurity, voting equipment, voting registration, election auditing, and communication to voters. In 2017, the Department of Human Services designated the system used to administer elections as “critical infrastructure” and tasked the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to offer support to state and local officials in charge of administering elections. There are other proposals, however, that have not been enacted. The “Honest Ads Act,” “Election Security Act,” and “Securing America’s Federal Elections Act” have all been introduced in Congress, but none has garnered enough support to become law.

The private sector, in particular social media companies, have taken steps to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 election. Facebook has undertaken a series of initiatives to fight foreign interference, increase transparency, and prevent the spread of misinformation on its platform. Twitter and Google have banned all political advertising from their sites and have taken steps to increase transparency and limit the prevalence of malicious bots from their platforms. Despite these attempts, the tactics of foreign actors are evolving and gaps in security remain.

Democracies around the world have also enacted measures to protect their elections. A 2018 report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace outlined the efforts that a variety of European countries made in the wake of interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election and made a series of recommendations to U.S. policymakers based on the actions of European nations. What lessons have U.S. leaders learned from our European counterparts? Is the United States in a position to reproduce some of the initiatives that have been successful in other countries?

Since the 2016 election, legislation has been drafted by many members of Congress to combat foreign interference in our elections. Thus far none has become law. Should any of these efforts of any additional pieces of legislation be passed to help secure our elections? What else can and should be done between September and November, and then beyond November, looking ahead?


Alexandra (Xander) A.K. Meise, Senior Fellow, Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, University of Pennsylvania; Political Partner, Truman National Security Project

2:45 pm – 3:00 pm Break

3:00 pm – 4:15 pm Session 4 Strategies for Restoring Confidence in Elections: Private Workshop & Symposium Conclusion

This session will focus on a fundamental question: How can governments restore the confidence of their citizens in the integrity of our elections? Recent well-documented acts of foreign interference have shaken the confidence of voters in our system of government. If measures are enacted to prevent the spread of disinformation and the influence of dark money on American elections, government and civic leaders will still need to develop strategies to address the loss of confidence in the integrity of our government system.

To echo the chorus, we live in a highly polarized time in our domestic politics. In this climate, is there a way to de-politicize election security? Can politicians find bipartisan ways to bridge the gap between concepts of “election reform” and “election security”? At a time where objective facts are characterized as “fake news” for political reasons in the United States and abroad, what can restore public confidence in government officials conducting elections and ensure their integrity?

Foreign interference in elections is only one issue currently undermining voter confidence in democracy. In a recent CNAS report, Combatting Populism: A Toolkit for Liberal Democratic Actors, Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Carisa Nietsche note that there are other “deeper sources of discontent with democracy… income inequality, immigration, voter suppression, and the role of money in politics.” Can leaders restore confidence in government by actions limiting foreign influence alone? If not, are there strategies that address multiple threats to elections simultaneously? What methods of communication and community mobilization can prevent foreign influence, decrease polarization, and renew faith in democratic norms?


Shawn Turner, Professor of Strategic Communication, Michigan State University; National Security Communication Analyst, CNN, CERL Board Member


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Keynote 5
3:00 – 4:00 pm

The Rule of Law? Maximizing Hard and Soft Law Arctic Governance

This session will consider the current and future state of hard and soft Arctic governance mechanisms – including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), treaties, and the Arctic Council – and their ability to advance strategic physical and economic security objectives in the region.


Amb. David Balton, Senior Fellow, Polar Institute, Wilson Center; fmr. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and Fisheries


Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, Chair, Inuit Circumpolar Council; Senior Scholar and Special Adviser on Arctic Indigenous Peoples, University of Alaska Anchorage

Dr. Lassi Heininen, Professor of Arctic Politics, University of Lapland; Editor of Arctic Yearbook

Hon. Inuuteq Holm Olsen, Head of Representation for Greenland


Scott D. Bates 

Deputy Secretary of State, State of Connecticut

Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat 

Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University

Josh Berthume 

President & CEO, Swash Labs 

Spencer Boyer

Director, Washington D.C. Office NYU Law Brennan Center for Justice 

Erik Brattberg 

Director, Europe Program and Fellow Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

James Clapper

Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence; Executive Board Member, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law

Carrie Cordero 

Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow and General Counsel at the Center for a New American Security

Arlene Fickler 

Partner, Scnader Harrison; Executive Board Member, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law

Professor Claire Finkelstein 

Faculty Director, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law; Algernon Biddle Professor of Law 

Katie Galgano

Executive Research Assistant, Center for a New American Security 

Stuart Gerson 

Former Acting U.S. Attorney General; Member of the Firm Epstein, Becker & Green 

Kevin Govern

Professor of Law, Ave Maria School of Law; Executive Board Member, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law

Vanita Gupta

President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Professor Duncan Hollis 

Laura H. Carnell Professor of Law, Temple Law School

Nina Jankowicz

Disinformation Fellow, Science and Technology Innovation Program, Wilson Center 

Nate Jones

Co-Founder, Culper Partners LLC

Professor Chimène Keitner

Alfred and Hanna Fromm Professor of International Law, UC Hastings Law 

Bill Kristol

Director, Defending Democracy Together

Alexander (Xander) A.K. Meise

(Moderator) Senior Fellow, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law 

Richard Meyer

Interim Executive Director, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law 

Jan Neutze 

Senior Director, Digital Diplomacy and Head, Defending Democracy Program Microsoft 

Carisa Nietsche

Research Associate, Center for a New American Security 

Professor Richard Painter

  S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law, University of Minnesota Law School; Advisory Council Member, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law  

Trevor Potter 

Founder & President, Campaign Legal Center 

Elizabeth Prelogar

  Partner, Cooley LLP 

Laura Rosenberger 

Director, Alliance for Securing Democracy and Senior Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States 

Barbara Simons

Chair, Verified Voting Board of Directors 

Suzanne Spaulding

Senior Advisor, Homeland Security, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Megan Stifel 

Executive Director, Americas, Global Cyber Alliance  

Shawn Turner

(Moderator) Professor of Strategic Communication, Michigan State University; Executive Board Member, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law 

Dan Vallone 

Director, More in Common USA 

Paul Welsh

  Vice President, Analytical Graphics; Executive Board Member, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law 

Stephen Xenakis

  Brigadier General (Ret.) U.S. Army; Executive Board Member, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law 

Jules Zacher 

Executive Board Member, Penn Law Center for Ethics and Rule of Law; Board Member, Council For a Livable World  

Background Readings

News Articles, Magazines, Blogs

Edward-Isaac Dovere, Why Americans Might Not Trust the Election Results, The Atlantic (May 28, 2020).

Kaleigh Rogers, How Bad Is The COVID-19 Misinformation Epidemic?, FiveThirtyEight (May 21, 2020).

Ruth Reader, As COVID-19 misinformation and politics collide, social networks face a choice, Fast Company, (May 2020).

Jessica Brandt, Depoliticizing Foreign Interference, LawFare (Nov. 3, 2019).

[Paywall] Nathaniel Persily, It’s Not Too Late to Save the 2020 Election, The Wall Street Journal (June 12, 2020).

Talib Visram, These behavioral science tweaks could boost voter turnout during a pandemic election (even if it’s voting by mail), Fast Company, (Apr. 20, 2020).

Andrew Westrope, Cybersecurity and Democracy Collide: Locking Down Elections,, (Nov. 2019).

Matt Vasilogambros, Election Experts Warn of November Disaster, Pew Charitable Trusts (July 8, 2020).

Katie Scofield, The U.S. Needs to Protect Free and Fair Elections, Public Seminar (June 23, 2020).

Clint Watts, Banning Bots, Punishing Troll Farmers, and Hardening Voting Machines: Here’s How to Stop Russia From Wrecking Election 2018, Daily Beast (Feb. 20, 2018).

[Paywall] Julian E. Barnes, U.S. Begins First Cyberoperation Against Russia Aimed at Protecting Elections, The New York Times (Oct. 23, 2018).

[Paywall] Twitter raises the curtain on disinformation. Other companies should take a tip., The Washington Post. (Oct. 19, 2018).

[Paywall] There’s another expert player warming up to online election interference. We should worry, The Washington Post (Sept. 22, 2019).

David Graham, The Damage of Trump’s Voter-Fraud Allegations Can’t Be Undone, The Atlantic (June 19, 2020).

[Paywall] Kim Zetter, The Crisis of Election Security, The New York Times (Sept. 26, 2018).

[Paywall] Callum Borchers, What we know about the 21 states targeted by Russian hackers, The Washington Post (Sept. 23, 2017).

[Paywall] Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel & Nicole Perlroth, Tech Giants Prepared for 2016-Style Meddling. But the Threat Has Changed., The New York Times (Mar. 29, 2020).

[Paywall] Richard Fausset & Reid J. Epstein, Georgia’s Election Mess: Many Problems, Plenty of Blame, Few Solutions for November, The New York Times (June 10, 2020).

[Paywall] Mattha Busby, Russia Report: UK MPs Condemn ‘Utterly Reprehensible’ Delay, The Guardian (June 20, 2020).

Michael Morley, Election Modifications to Avoid During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Lawfare (Apr. 17, 2020).

Elaine Kamarck, States and localities are on the front lines of fighting cyber-crimes in elections, Brookings (Aug. 15, 2019).

Guy Rosen, Katie Harbath & Nathaniel Gleicher, Helping to Protect the 2020 US Elections, Facebook (Oct. 21, 2019).

Alexis C. Madrigal, How Russian Operatives Targeted Black Americans, The Atlantic (Dec. 18, 2018).

Josh Berthume, 7 Hours in November, The Experiment (June 26, 2020).

Timothy E. Wirth & Tom Rogers, How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President, Newsweek (July 3, 2020).

Pam Fessler & Elena Moore, Signed, Sealed, Undelivered: Thousands Of Mail-In Ballots Rejected For Tardiness, NPR (July 13, 2020).

Eileen Donahoe, The Rights and Responsibilities of Internet Platforms, The American Interest (July 10, 2020).

Margaret L. Taylor, Combating disinformation and foreign interference in democracies: Lessons from Europe, Brookings (July 31, 2019).

Hans Kundnani, Foreign Interference Starts at Home, Foreign Policy (Feb. 24, 2020).

Alejandro De La Garza, How American Elections Got So Vulnerable—and What We All Can Do Now, TIME (Mar. 27, 2020).

Recommendations to Defend America’s Election Infrastructure, Brennan Center for Justice (Oct. 23, 2019).

[Paywall] Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Adam Entous & Karoun Demirjian, Russian ads, now publicly released, show sophistication of influence campaign, The Washington Post (Nov. 1, 2017).

Phil Muncaster, Google Bans Ads Linking to Hacked Political Content, Infosecurity Magazine (Aug, 4, 2020).

Scholarship & Other Research

Laura Rosenberger & Thomas Morley, Russia’s Promotion of Illiberal Populism: Tools, Tactics, Networks, Alliance for Securing Democracy (2019).

Christopher Dornan, Science Disinformation in a Time of Pandemic, Public Policy Forum, (2020).

Michael N. Schmitt, ‘Virtual’ Disenfranchisement: Cyber Election Meddling in the Grey Zones of International Law, 19, Chicago Journal of International Law, 30 (2018).

Hunt Allcott & Matthew Gentzkow, Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election, 31, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 211 (2017).

Deen Freelon & Tetyana Lokot, Russian Twitter disinformation campaigns reach across the American political spectrum, 1 The Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, 1 (2020).

Ashley C. Nicolas, Taming the Trolls: The Need for an International Legal Framework to Regulate State Use of Disinformation on Social Media, Geo. LJ Online (2018).

Manuel Rodriguez, Disinformation Operations Aimed at (Democratic) Elections in the Context of Public International Law: The Conduct of the Internet Research Agency During the 2016 US Presidential Election, Cambridge University Press (2020).

Michael A. Specter & J. Alex Halderman, Security Analysis of the Democracy Live Online Voting System, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Michigan (2020).

Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, Successfully Countering Russian Electoral Interference: 15 Lessons Learned from the Macron Leaks, Center for Strategic and International Studies (June 2018).

Eric Manpearl, Securing U.S. Election Systems: Designating U.S. Election Systems as Critical Infrastructure and Instituting Election Security Reforms, 24, B.U. J. Sci & Tech. L. 168 (2018).

Drew Marvel, Protecting the States from Electoral Invasions, 28, William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, 197 (2019).

Defending America’s Election Infrastructure, Brennan Center for Justice (Oct. 23, 2019).

Christina Nemr & William Gangware, Weapons of Mass Distraction: Foreign State-Sponsored Disinformation in the Digital Age, Park Advisors. (Mar. 2019).

[Paywall] Franziska B. Keller , David Schoch , Sebastian Stier & JungHwan Yang, Political Astroturfing on Twitter: How to Coordinate a Disinformation Campaign, Political Communication, 37:2, 256-280 (2020).

[Paywall] Michael Alvarez & Thad E. Hall, Point, Click, and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting, 1-15 (2003).

Danielle Root, Liz Kennedy, Michael Sozan & Jerry Parshall, Election Security in All 50 States, Center for American Progress (Feb. 12, 2018).

Scott Shackelford, Bruce Schneier, Michael Sulmeyer, Anne Boustead, Ben Buchanan, Amanda N. Craig Deckard, Trey Herr & Jessica Malekos Smith, Making Democracy Harder to Hack, 50 U. Mich. J. L. Reform 629 (2017).

Kristofer Goldsmith, An Investigation Into Foreign Entities Who Are Targeting Servicemembers and Veterans Online, Vietnam Veterans of America (Sept. 17, 2019).

Daniel Funke & Daniela Flamini, A guide to anti-misinformation actions around the world, Poynter (2018/19).

Ukrainian Election Task Force Rep., Atlantic Council (May 2019).

Daniel Busch & Maciej Kurzynski, Poland: Presidential Election 2020 Scene-Setter, Stanford Internet Observatory (Jan. 2020)

Kathleen Hall Jamieson & Dolores Albarracin, The Relation between Media Consumption and Misinformation at the Outset of the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic in the US, 1 HKS Misinfo. R. ++ (Apr. 2020)

Erik Brattberg & Tim Maurer, Russian Election Interference: Europe’s Counter to Fake News and Cyber Attacks, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (May 23, 2018).

Contact us

For any questions regarding the conference or registration, please contact: Jennifer Cohen at

Share Protecting Democracy on:

Protecting Democracy