Election workers are drowning in records requests. AI chatbots could make it even worse


Many US election deniers have spent the past three years filing thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests to file paperwork with local election officials and uncover alleged cases of fraud. “I told election officials that in an office that had one or two employees, they were literally filling public records requests from 9 to 5 every day, and then it would be 5 o'clock and they would transition to their normal election duties. ,” says Tammy Patrick, CEO of the National Association of Election Officials. “And that's untenable.”

In Washington state, elections officials were receiving so many FOIA requests about the state's voter registration database after the 2020 presidential elections that the legislature directed these requests to the Secretary of State's office to relieve the burden on local election workers. The law had to be changed by sending it again.

“Our county auditors came in and testified about how long it was taking to respond to public records requests,” says Patty Kederer, the Democratic state senator who sponsored the legislation. “Processing those requests can cost a lot of money. And some of these smaller counties don't have the manpower to handle them. “You can easily take over some of our smaller counties.”

Now, experts and analysts worry that with generative AI, pollsters could mass-produce FOIA requests at an even higher rate, forcing election workers to respond to the paperwork they are legally required to do. Can be forced and the electoral process can be influenced. In a crucial election year, when election workers face increasing threats and systems are more stressed than ever, experts who spoke to WIRED shared concerns that governments are unprepared to protect against those who refuse to vote. are, and generative AI companies lack the guardrails necessary to prevent their systems from being exploited. People being abused to slow down election workers.

Chatbots like OpenAI's ChatGPT and Microsoft's Copilot can easily generate FOIA requests, even going as far as referencing state-level laws. Zev Sanderson, director of New York University's Center for Social Media and Politics, says this will flood local election officials with requests from people and make it harder for them to ensure that elections are run well and smoothly.

“We know that FOIA requests have been used with malicious intent before in many different contexts, not just elections. [large language models] “They're really good at doing things like writing FOIAs,” says Sanderson. “Sometimes, the issue of records requests themselves seems like they require work to respond to. If someone is working to respond to a records request, they are not working to do other things, like manage elections.

WIRED was able to easily generate FOIA requests for several battlegrounds, specifically requesting information on voter fraud using Meta's LLAMA 2, OpenAI's ChatGPT, and Microsoft's Copilot. In the FOIA created by Copilot, the text generated asks about voter fraud during the 2020 elections, even though WIRED only provided a general prompt, and did not ask about anything related to 2020. The text also includes specific email and mailing addresses to which FOIA requests can be sent.