Three Bills Addressing Dangers of AI to Elections Pass Assembly Floor

CITED’s sponsored bill package clears a massive legislative hurdle and now heads toward the Senate

Sacramento — Today, legislation addressing the threat that AI-powered disinformation poses to our elections passed a major hurdle in the California state legislature. Despite opposition from the technology industry, the package of bills, sponsored by the California Initiative for Technology and Democracy (CITED), passed the Assembly floor, in some instances with bipartisan support.

“This is a massive, bipartisan step forward in tackling the dangers that unregulated AI poses to our voters and to our democracy, while still respecting the First Amendment and innovation,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause. “Where Congress won’t act, California and CITED will lead the way in ensuring that our elections and our democracy are protected from new digital threats.”

The legislative package, introduced in March, aims to help regulate the dangers of disinformation turbocharged by AI and social media. Central to the package are two bills that stop deepfakes of candidates, elected officials, and elections officials for a reasonable period of time before Election Day and for a short period after covering the vote-counting period. For example, the “Joe Biden” robocall in the New Hampshire primary urging Democrats not to vote would violate state law if the bills below were to pass.

  • Deepfake Labeling on Social Media (AB 2655, Berman): Requires social media platforms to label election-related deepfakes that deceive voters about candidates and elections officials and, in the most egregious cases, ban them for a limited period of time close to Election Day.
  • Deepfake Free Campaigning Close to Elections (AB 2839, Pellerin): Bans offline election-related deepfakes that deceive voters about candidates and elections officials — e.g. in political mailers, robocalls, and TV ads — for a limited period of time close to Election Day.

Since 2020, voters have seen disinformation pollute our politics more than ever and have seen that disinformation increase in sophistication and deceptiveness as a result of new generative AI technology. Unsurprisingly, this has inspired broad public support for bold action by the state. November 2023 polling by Berkeley IGS showed 84% of California voters are concerned about digital threats to elections and 73% think the state government has a “responsibility” to take action. That support runs across voters of all races, ages, genders, regions, and political parties.

“There have always been bad actors who try to wreak havoc on elections. I remember an election where people distributed door hangers which gave people the wrong polling location in order to disrupt the election outcome,” said Assemblymember Gail Pellerin.  “But now the widespread access to generative AI is making that type of damage so much more sophisticated and easier to disseminate.”

“AB 2655 will ensure that online platforms restrict the spread of election-related deceptive deepfakes meant to prevent voters from voting or to deceive them based on fraudulent content,” said Assemblymember Marc Berman

“Deepfakes are a powerful and dangerous tool in the arsenal of those that want to wage disinformation campaigns, and they have the potential to wreak havoc on our democracy by attributing speech and conduct to a person that is false or that never happened,” continued Berman. “Advances in AI make it easy for practically anyone to generate this deceptive content, making it that much more important that we identify and restrict its spread before it has the chance to deceive voters and undermine our democracy.”

CITED’s work has been informed by research and thought leadership from titans in tech, law, public policy, civil rights, civic engagement, and academia, and influenced by successes and emerging ideas from the European Union, the White House, Congress, and states around the country. The groundbreaking group was launched in 2023 by California Common Cause to provide Sacramento with independent, nonpartisan policy leadership on emerging digital threats to democracy.

If turned to law, CITED’s bill package can help lead the way for reforms in other states, and nationally in Congress.