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Legislative Watch: Paper Files, Bots and Deepfakes

State lawmakers are tackling new digital threats to elections and public trust by banning voting bots and criminalizing deepfakes; meanwhile, in New Jersey, a legislator wants to bring an end to paper records.

Paperless government: State Senator James Beech of New Jersey has introduced legislation, S1955, to study of the feasibility of switching to a digital format for all files currently created and stored on paper. Federal government agencies have already been ordered to go paperless by 2022, at least in regard to work from that point forward. 

Banning bots in elections: A pair of northeast states have bills that would regulate the use of bots —software that executes automated tasks over the Internet — in elections. A Maryland bill, HB0465, would require clear disclosure that a bot was in use to disseminate campaign material and give election officials the power to remove bots from the process altogether if needed. New Jersey legislation, S654, would require anyone using a bot in election (or commercial) communications to disclose at the outset “in clear and conspicuous fashion” that the communication is being originated by a bot, not a person.

Tackling deepfakes: The state of Texas prohibited deepfakes in 2019 with the passage of SB 751, making it a criminal offense to fabricate a deceptive video with the intent to influence the outcome of an election. By the time this year’s session gaveled to order, Illinois, New Jersey, and Hawaii introduced their own legislation to make visual misinformation illegal. A pair of bills in Illinois, SB3171 and HB532, went after still photography and AI-assisted deepfake videos that “appear to depict a real person performing an action that did not occur in reality,” making them illegal under the state’s election code. Meanwhile, the Hawaii Legislature is considering a bill, HB2572, which “prohibits creating, disclosing or threatening to disclose deep fake videos of persons in the nude or engaging in sexual activity.”

Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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