TU election security expert will present to NATO

By Cody Boteler on October 11, 2021

Natalie Scala will use research done at TU as case study

Natalie Scala standing next to a ballot drop box on campus
Natalie Scala will present her research findings in a keynote address during a NATO conference. (Photo: Alex Wright)

Research at Towson University makes an impact, even at the international level. Associate professor Natalie Scala, who is also director of the graduate program in supply chain management in the College of Business & Economics, will present findings from her election security research in a keynote address during NATO’s upcoming Operations Research and Analysis Conference.

"We remain proud of Natalie Scala and all the work she, her colleagues, and their students have done regarding election security. We are especially proud that the research she is sharing with NATO will have a greater societal impact because of its global platform," says Shohreh Kaynama, dean of the College of Business & Economics. "She’s just one example of the thought leadership happening in the CBE."

Read more: Anne Arundel County, a TU partner, recognized by federal government for election work.

The conference is virtual this year, so Scala won’t have to travel to deliver her keynote on Monday, Oct. 18.

"I'm going to be speaking about systemic threats, which are the interplay between cyber, physical and insider risks, with U.S. election security as a case study," Scala says. "This is my first keynore address in my career, so I am humbled by the invite."

She and Josh Dehlinger, a professor in the Department of Computer & Information Sciences, have conducted research on protecting elections from physical threats and insider risks for more than four years.

Scala says they have had more than a dozen students help them with research and make real-world contributions, and that some are authors on papers the group has published.

Dehlinger, the co-principal investigator, is in a different field of study and college than Scala. The interdisciplinary nature of the research only makes it stronger, she says.

“ I'm honored to be able to share what we’ve done with the international audience. ”

Natalie Scala

Their findings indicate a few ways to protect elections. Broadly speaking, Scala says, external adversaries are not incentivized to target in-person or mail-in ballots. The risk of voter fraud, she says, is also "very, very low."

The bigger risks, she says, come from insiders, like a postal employee who doesn’t know how to handle an absentee ballot properly or a voter not knowing how to fill out their absentee ballot correctly, making it invalid.

So, she says, educating those involved in elections is key.

"We mitigate risk by preventing these mistakes or having [workers] understand the severity of these issues. I'm honored to be able to share what we’ve done with the international audience,” Scala says. “Election security, and issues of securing democracy in general are, I think, are of interest to NATO countries beyond the U.S."