In role-playing elections officials for a day, journalists grapple with AI trickery

Secretary of State Adrian Fontes hosted a tabletop exercise on May 9, 2024, to help journalists understand how election officials must adapt on the fly as they manage Arizona elections. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror/via X

Jerod Macdonald-Evoy 

Arizona Mirror

In Citrus County, we are faced with a decision. Spend a few thousand dollars of our rapidly disappearing budget on some additional cybersecurity measures or invest in more training for our staff. 

Other members of Citrus County make their pitches quickly, as the days are flying by and Election Day is rapidly approaching. As we continue discussions, an email arrives. 

A local get-out-the-vote campaign is using an AI chatbot to help voters, but it is giving them wrong information. We have to act quickly and figure out what to do. Meanwhile, nearby Cattle County is holding a press conference trying to allay voter concerns.

The noise in the room continues to escalate as the days until the election tick by. 

But it is all just a game. 

Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, along with election advocacy organizations, put together what is called a Tabletop Exercise, or TTX for short, for members of the media to participate in so they could better understand the challenges that elections officials face. 

These styles of exercises have been commonly used by law enforcement and the military to simulate real world scenarios in order to help better prepare and to train. Fontes’ office held a similar exercise for county election officials last year, but this TTX is the first time, to anyone’s knowledge, that members of the press would get to participate. 

The exercise included members of the press from across the state and nation who, for a few hours, roleplayed as election officials in a high-stakes game where every decision would have consequences. 


Before the exercise even began, we sat and listened to a series of presentations to help us better prepare and understand what was about to happen. 

Everyone participating was assigned to their own fictional county in the state, based on Arizona’s Five C’s: Cotton, Climate, Copper, Citrus and Cattle. The Arizona Mirror was assigned to Citrus County. 


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May 2024