State legislators are hoping California voters won’t have to worry about “fake news” or other attempts to troll online ahead of November’s election.
Assembly Bill 1678, authored by Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, aimed at securing California’s voting system, criminalizes any attempt to tamper with voting information ahead of elections. The bill was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, and took effect immediately.
The amendment to the state election code, co-authored by Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, is meant to protect the First Amendment while stopping the purposeful sharing of misinformation to voters through social media and other online sources, Stern said.
“What you can’t do is put out misinformation and trolling information,” Stern said Tuesday.
The bill was introduced after the “fallout” of the alleged efforts of Russia attempting to meddle with the 2016 presidential election, favoring President Donald Trump, Stern said.
Met with bipartisan support, Sacramento acted while Washington, D.C. remains “too stuck to do anything,” he said.
Regulations and security measures capable of tracking and securing voter data are now under the supervision of the Secretary of State’s Office, the new law states. Knowingly distributing incorrect voting information is also now considered a misdemeanor. This includes misinformation via Internet, text message, phone calls, email, TV, mail and radio.
The secretary of state is now expected to create a new office to focus on protecting that vital information through another Assembly Bill authored by Berman, AB 3075, establishing the office of elections cybersecurity. Funding was allocated for the office from the California budget by the state Legislature under the amended category of “Voting System Replacement Contracts,” according to LegInfo.ca.gov, the state’s database for past, pending and approved legislation.
“The office of elections cybersecurity will facilitate information sharing between federal, state, and local agencies on threats to election cybersecurity, risk assessment and threat mitigation in a manner that is both timely and that protects sensitive information,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla, in a release Monday.
In the months to come, the goal now is to work with computer and tech experts to notify and detect any future sources of misinformation ahead of the election, Stern said.
Looking ahead to the 2020 election, this law will coincide with Senate Bill 450, the new vote center law, Stern said.
SB 450, which Brown signed into law in 2016, temporarily establishes centers to vote ahead of elections across the county. The law passed “to afford maximally convenient options for voters and are established at accessible locations as near as possible to established public transportation routes,” according to a section of the law.