election vector (VectorMine/Shutterstock.com)

Free tech tools for election officials

To limit the social spread of election misinformation, MITRE -- the not-for-profit that manages federally funded research and development centers -- developed Squint, a free mobile or desktop app that lets election officials document incorrect information that appears on social media.

With a single click, Squint helps users capture a screenshot of erroneous or misleading information, along with its URL and metadata, and sends that information to a MITRE-hosted server where it’s aggregated, scored and analyzed.

Users get a secure message verifying they’ve sent the screenshot that includes a report that can be shared with other election officials or forwarded to the social media company with a request for its removal. The reports can also highlight concerning patterns so election officials can alert voters and social media channel officials.

In one case, SQUINT users flagged tweets that referenced a newspaper article that had erroneously stated a new Illinois law only required counties to keep one polling place open. MITRE’s analysis found that bots were used to amplify the sharing of the article. The newspaper later corrected the story.

“It’s exciting that we're able to leverage MITRE's abilities to fight misinformation,” said Scott Bates, Connecticut’s deputy secretary of state. “Having SQUINT as a free resource has helped significantly expand our ability to monitor inaccurate and misleading information about the election process."

SQUINT launched in February 2020 and is currently used by 11 states.  It is also available to nonprofits focused on election issues and vendors that are part of the election ecosystem. More information is available here.

Obviously, it’s not just misinformation threatening elections.

On average, state and local government election sites experience 122,475 cyber threats per day, with an average of 199 SQL injection attempts per day, web security provider Cloudflare said in an August blog post.

Launched in December 2017, the company’s Athenian Project is designed to protect state and local government election websites and voter data – for free. It offers DDoS mitigation, web application firewall, an IP reputation database, the ability to block traffic by country or IP address, API rate limiting, a special mode for sites under attack and 24/7 support.

Cloudflare currently provides security protection to 229 state and local government election websites in 28 states. More information is available at the Athenian Project.

Additional tools and resources are available from ElectionTools.org, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s News Challenge on Elections. It includes road maps, worksheets, templates, graphics and apps elections officials can use to improve communications and outreach and fight misinformation.  

About the Author

Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.


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