Sandra Abdoulaye wants to cast a vote in this year’s presidential election but wasn’t sure she was eligible to register, because she is homeless. On Friday, volunteers at the resource center run by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless asked the 60-year-old a few questions, and soon, Abdoulaye was filling out the one-page form to register to vote, listing a shelter for both her home and her mailing address so the state can send her a ballot. “It was fast and easy,” Abdoulaye said. “I don’t know why anyone would refuse.” This year, some organizations and the Secretary of State’s office are targeting voter registration efforts at people who are homeless. In Colorado, voters have long been able to use any location — a shelter or a park — as a home address, as long as they also list a mailing address where they can receive ballots. Having an identification card isn’t a requirement to register.
The Voting News
It’s 2016: What possible reason is there to vote on paper? When we use touchscreens to communicate, work, and shop, why can’t we use similar technology to vote? A handful of states, and many precincts in other states, have already made the switch to voting systems that are fully digital, leaving no paper trail at all. But this is despite the fact that computer-security experts think electronic voting is a very, very bad idea. For years, security researchers and academics have urged election officials to hold off on adopting electronic voting systems, worrying that they’re not nearly secure enough to reliably carry out their vital role in American democracy. Their claims have been backed up by repeated demonstrations of the systems’ fragility: When the District of Columbia tested an electronic voting system in 2010, a professor from the University of Michigan and his graduate students took it over from more than 500 miles away to show its weaknesses; with actual physical access to a voting machine, the same professor—Alex Halderman—swapped out its internals, turning it into a Pac Man console. Halderman showed that a hacker who has access to a machine before election day could modify its programming—and he did so without even leaving a mark on the machine’s tamper-evident seals. But it wouldn’t even take a full-fledged cyberattack on an electronic voting system to throw a wrench in a national election. Even the specter of the possibility that the American electoral system is anything but trustworthy provides ammunition to skeptics to call foul if an election doesn’t go their way.
In any other year, hackers breaking into a couple of state government websites through common web vulnerabilities would hardly raise a blip on the cybersecurity community’s radar. But in this strange and digitally fraught election season, the breach of two state board of election websites not only merits an FBI warning—it might just rise to the level of an international incident. On Monday, an FBI alert surfaced warning state boards of election to take precautions against hackers after two election board websites were breached in recent months. According to Yahoo News, those breaches likely targeted Arizona and Illinois board of election sites, both of which admitted earlier this summer that they’d been hacked. Cybersecurity researchers are already speculating that the attacks link to Russia, pointing to the string of recent, likely Russian attacks that have hit the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. “Someone is trying to hack these databases, and they succeeded in exfiltrating data, which is significant in itself,” says Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity-focused professor in the War Studies department at King’s College of London and author of Rise of the Machines. “In the context of all the other attempts to interfere with this election, it’s a big deal.”
Early voting schedules for the fall elections remain unresolved in at least one-quarter of North Carolina’s counties after a federal court ruling that struck down key portions of the state’s 2013 voter identification and ballot access law. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined Republican legislators acted with discriminatory intent toward black voters when they approved several provisions, including one that reduced the number of early voting days from a maximum of 17 days to 10. Early in-person voting is popular in North Carolina, used by more than half of the people casting ballots in the 2012 presidential election, when it covered 17 days. Its use could make a difference Nov. 8. County boards of elections had approved 10-day plans for early voting sites and hours of operation. They had until late last week to give the State Board of Elections revised plans based on a schedule beginning Oct. 20 instead of Oct. 27.
The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials. The FBI warning, contained in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, comes amid heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about the possibility of cyberintrusions, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers, aimed at disrupting the November elections. Those concerns prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials on Aug. 15, in which he offered his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure, including providing federal cyber security experts to scan for vulnerabilities, according to a “readout” of the call released by the department.
Two swing states, Pennsylvania and Georgia, are declining an offer from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to scan their voting systems ahead of the 2016 elections. In August, DHS offered to help states thwart potential hacking amid cybersecurity concerns about just how easily a U.S. election could be manipulated. Georgia and Pennsylvania, however, have opted out. Instead, the two states will rely on their own systems to monitor potential election hacking, reports NextGov. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp cited state sovereignty concerns. “The question remains whether the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security,” he told Nextgov in an email. “Designating voting systems or any other election system as critical infrastructure would be a vast federal overreach, the cost of which would not equally improve the security of elections in the United States.”
The federal government wants to help states keep hackers from manipulating the November election, amid growing fears that the U.S. political system is vulnerable. But Georgia’s top election official is balking at the offers of assistance — and accusing the Obama administration of using exaggerated warnings of cyberthreats to intrude on states’ authority. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s objections add to a bumpy start for the Department of Homeland Security’s attempt to shore up safeguards for the election, during a summer when cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee have called attention to weaknesses across the electoral system. Cybersecurity experts call tougher protections long overdue for parties, political advocacy groups and voting machinery, but DHS’ efforts risk becoming caught in the same partisan arguments about state sovereignty that have hung up programs such as President Barack Obama’s Medicaid expansion. “It seems like now it’s just the D.C. media and the bureaucrats, because of the DNC getting hacked — they now think our whole system is on the verge of disaster because some Russian’s going to tap into the voting system,” Kemp, a Republican, told POLITICO in an interview. “And that’s just not — I mean, anything is possible, but it is not probable at all, the way our systems are set up.”
Students at Rollins College in Florida are designing custom “I voted” stickers for absentee voters. Across the country, the University of Southern California has partnered with county officials to host voter registration events with prizes, games and free food. And at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the student government plans campuswide voter registration drives as well. Across the country, groups and organizations promoting civic engagement among college students have spent hundreds — if not thousands — of hours trying to galvanize this large, yet often elusive group of potential voters. The Campus Vote Project, one of the most prominent college voter outreach groups, has launched an initiative to establish “voter-friendly” campuses. So far, more than 90 institutions, including Rollins College, have agreed to commit to things such as hosting voter registration drives, inviting candidates to speak or offering rides to the polls to increase voter education, registration and mobilization. Why go to the trouble of recruiting college voters? College students have the potential to influence elections. There were 17.3 million undergraduate students enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Experts predict that population will increase to 19.8 million by 2025.
“Dude, check out who I voted for!” We soon could be seeing a lot more selfies with that caption. That’s because legislation legalizing ballot selfies in voting booths landed on California Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk on Friday. Assembly Bill 1494 amends California law that, for now, says “a voter shall not show” a ballot “to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” The new law awaiting the governor’s signature says “a voter may voluntarily disclose how he or she voted if that voluntary act does not violate any other law.” The measure passed the state Senate earlier this year and the state Assembly last week on a 63-15 vote. “I see this as a First Amendment issue,” Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican representing Yuba City and one of the bill’s sponsors, told colleagues during a floor vote. “All this does is to say that those who want to share how they voted have the right to do so.” Across the US, the law in the 50 states on voting booth selfies is mixed. No federal law addresses the issue, and there’s a smattering of court challenges across the country. Consult these guides from the Huffington Post and the Digital Media Law Project on whether it’s OK to snap a picture of yourself showing your votes on the November 8 presidential ballot.
As we near another historic presidential election, the fog of anxiety about the election is returning on a scale we haven’t seen in decades. Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that the general election may be “rigged” nationwide. He has called on his supporters to monitor the polls on Election Day, and said that voting locations should “have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching.” Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, doubled down on Trump’s suggestions, telling a New Hampshire audience that “the integrity of ‘one person, one vote’ is at the core of democracy, and that happens one precinct at a time.” Trump and Pence are partly correct: There is great value in having elections monitored. Poll watching helps to preserve an open, transparent democratic process by ensuring that elections are administered in a manner that protects access while inviting scrutiny. Poll observers can ensure the law is followed, provide support for voters and poll workers in navigating often confusing and ever-evolving election regulations. But in nearly a decade of organizing vote-monitoring efforts around the country, I have seen firsthand how volunteer monitors—often positioned as “challengers” at the polls—can intimidate and harass even the most seasoned poll workers and voters, interfere with the process, delay voting, and potentially alter the election’s outcome.