Assembly approves bill to protect elections cybersecurity


STATE HOUSE – With votes in both chambers today, the General Assembly has approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero and Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne to authorize the secretary of state and the Board of Elections to conduct a cybersecurity assessment of Rhode Island’s elections system and create systems to protect future elections from cyberattack.

The legislation (2022-H 7732, 2022-S 2809), which now goes to the governor for consideration, is meant to analyze the systems currently in place and establish the structures necessary to proactively ensure that proper cybersecurity measures are taken for future elections.

“We saw firsthand in the 2016 elections how the democratic process and governance came under attack through social media and technology and how it perpetuated divisiveness amongst people,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist.74, Jamestown, Middletown), who is chairwoman of the House Innovation, Internet and Technology Committee. “In the 21st century, we need to protect all our infrastructures that we rely on every day — from financial systems, our water supply and the electrical grid to our election systems. I’m proud to work with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and the Board of Elections on this important legislation. I commend them for taking a proactive approach and making cybersecurity an intentional strategy, not an afterthought.”

Said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), who is chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The integrity of our elections system is a critical necessity. The threat of foreign or domestic hackers trying to meddle with public systems in our country and others is very real. We must take it seriously and vigorously guard against it. The technology we use in elections must be absolutely secure, so voters feel confident about their own votes and the results of our elections.”

The legislation establishes an election systems cybersecurity review board, which would include the League of Cities and Towns, the State Police and Rhode Island National Guard.

It requires the secretary of state to conduct a cybersecurity assessment of the state’s elections and facilities.

It requires annual cybersecurity training and best practices for local elections officials, a critical step to protecting future elections.

Finally, the bill creates a Cybersecurity Incident Response Group that includes the State Police, the Rhode Island National Guard, Division of Information Technology, and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency to establish communication protocols in the event of a cybersecurity breach on the state or local level.

A recent Gallop poll shows that Americans rank cybersecurity as a top threat facing our country, with 98% saying it’s a critical issue. 

“There is no finish line with cybersecurity. State and municipal governments must remain vigilant, adaptable and prepared to mitigate risk at every level. This bill helps make sure Rhode Island is ready to face the cybersecurity threats of today and the future. I thank Chairwoman Ruggiero, Chairwoman Coyne and the General Assembly for their support of this important legislation,” said Secretary of State Gorbea.