The U.S. Vote Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to assist U.S. citizens domestically and overseas exercise their right to vote. Founded in 2005, the volunteer-based organization was looking to increase voter participation by providing a public access Internet-based platform that focuses on voter education.
“Our vision and mission for the U.S. Vote Foundation is that every citizen is a voter. We have pioneered many of the processes that go into online ballots, absentee voting and vote by mail, which fueled the 2020 U.S. elections,” explained Josh Greenbaum, who has worked on a variety of positions at the U.S. Vote Foundation including CTO, Social Media Director and one of the volunteer experts on the voting and electoral processes in the United States.
The platform offers a range of online tools to help citizens navigate the complicated landscape of U.S. voting regulations, including information on how to register to vote, polling place locations, absentee voting, and voting rights. The U.S. Vote Foundation had their work cut out for them in 2020, with the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent influx of vote by mail initiatives across the United States. “This was the year for voting education, as the system is complex and decentralized across the United States. We wanted to make sure that voters in every state knew how to vote and due to the pandemic, states were changing their voting processes daily,” noted Greenbaum. Along with their COVID-19 voting resources, the organization also launched a platform to allow voters and policymakers to easily navigate and understand the complex patchwork of laws regarding ex-offender disenfranchisement and re-enfranchisement.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way voters cast their ballots, the organization was well-suited to adapt and provide up to date information to help voters understand the rapidly changing electoral process. “This is our expertise as we originally started the organization for overseas voters; meaning all of our voting resources such as help desk, registration for absentee ballots, and state-specific voting options are on our website.”
To complete this mission, the U.S. Vote Foundation has comprehensive databases with information including state voting requirements, voting options, and election deadlines. In 2018, the organization’s website was taken down a number of times due to ongoing DDoS attacks as well as unexpected spikes in traffic which pushed them to do a reengineering of their web infrastructure. “As we approached the 2020 U.S. election, ensuring our site was active, secure and people had access to critical voting information was a top priority for us.”
The U.S. Vote Foundation was accepted into Project Galileo in July 2020 and in a matter of days they saw a significant difference in the performance and security of the site. “There is a difference between real security and a sense of security,” explains Greenbaum. “My main concern was that we maintain a help desk for voters with common questions around first time voting, citizenship, identification, early voting, and more. The idea of the site being taken down due to a cyberattack worried me.”
Once they were onboarded to Cloudflare, U.S. Vote noted the DNS analytics gave them the ability to view large influxes of traffic during pivotal voting deadlines and during statewide emergencies. In September 2020, the organization saw an increase in traffic to the U.S. Vote Foundation due to the wildfires that ravaged the West Coast. “What was interesting is that we saw a direct impact on our website due to the fires on the West Coast as people were looking for authoritative information on how to vote if your home was burned down or location of a post office to send mail ballots. Many people were scrambling on how to get involved across the board, so we saw an increase of people flocking to our website for information”.
Between October 23 to November 2, the organization saw traffic to their website double, with users primarily looking for information on how to contact their local election office. Greenbaum concludes that many people were looking for information like polling place locations, posting times, ballot drop boxes and whether ballots were acceptable if it was postmarked on election day.
During the six months before the 2020 U.S elections, traffic on the U.S. Vote was all over the map, with frequent traffic spikes closer to voter registration deadlines. The organization found that Cloudflare’s WAF analytics and log simulate features allowed them to see the increase in threats that were mitigated. During the 2 weeks before elections, they noted a 100% increase in attacks mitigated by the web application firewall.
“It is difficult to know how to secure your website for the unexpected, and Project Galileo gave us the ability to focus on our work in providing authoritative information to voters to participate in their democracy,” says Greenbaum. “This was the safest and most secure election we have been part of, and we take our hats off to the Cloudflare team for protecting our website.”