Once you had to sit in an empty auditorium for weeks counting millions of paper ballots to take part in a sham “audit” of the 2020 election. Now, all you need is a laptop and an internet connection. That’s all thanks to a new digital platform recruiting volunteers to act as judge and jury over the validity of votes cast in the 2020 election. The platform is called Polaris Recount, and anyone can now simply sign up to become a “citizen adjudicator” and look at digital images of votes cast in the election and decide if minor smudges, errant fold lines, or slightly askew ballots are evidence of some enormous sinister plot to steal the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Digital ballot images are routinely reviewed as part of the official election audit process, typically done by automated software looking to corroborate the results of a specific race. But in the case of Polaris, the process is being conducted on a nationwide scale, with hundreds of amateur sleuths trying to prove a conspiracy theory about widespread election fraud. Launched in late November, the platform has seen signups “gaining exponentially” in recent weeks, according to the man behind the system, who told VICE News that around 1,000 volunteers—who come from all corners of the U.S. and some even from overseas—are now spending their days looking at digital images of ballots cast in Lea County, New Mexico, which is the race currently being assessed on the platform.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is discussing a scaled-back law focused on safeguarding election results and protecting election officials from harassment following Democrats’ twin defeats on a voting-rights bill. Lawmakers led by Republican Senator Susan Collins and including conservative Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are due to meet virtually on Friday to discuss reform of the 1887 Electoral Count Act, sometimes called the ECA, which allows members of Congress to dispute presidential election results. The ECA provided the basis for an effort by former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies to overturn the presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021, when thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and interrupted the certification of election results. Collins, who said her group includes six Democrats, told reporters that the aim is “an election reform bill that is truly bipartisan, that would address many of the problems that arose on Jan. 6 and that would help restore confidence in our elections.”
With the 2022 midterm elections 10 months away, members of a House homeland security subcommittee on Thursday questioned the security of the 2020 presidential election and the upcoming midterms. During the hearing of the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation Subcommittee, Chairwoman Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y, cited two statistics that she said point to a precarious election landscape for 2022: One in three voters questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election according to a recent University of Massachusetts-Amherst survey, and one in three election officials feel unsafe in their job from a June survey by the Brennan Center for Justice. Clarke said she defines election security as “making sure that every eligible voter who wants to cast a vote is able to cast it and making sure that vote is counted as it was cast.” She said she plans to introduce legislation that would authorize the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to further monitor and respond to misinformation and disinformation threats through efforts like the agency’s Rumor Control website.
A growing constellation of right-wing social media apps and sites are seeing their user bases grow, creating an echo chamber that experts fear will promote disinformation and outright lies about the midterm elections. A major concern: increased calls for violence. What began in the past few years as fringe and sparsely populated alternatives to established social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has become a torrent. While apps like Parler and Gab have been around for about four years, positioning themselves as conservative alternatives to Twitter, more sites and apps have launched in the last year — since President Donald Trump left office while fanning the political flames with his false claims of a “stolen” election. Rumble, which went public through a special purpose acquisition company, positions itself as an alternative to YouTube. Gettr, launched by Trump’s post-presidency aide Jason Miller, who was an informal adviser to the 45th president, is a Twitter-like platform. And Trump himself has announced plans to launch a new social media platform called Truth Social.
Arizona Senate asks Cyber Ninjas if audit files stored in data center | Robert Anglen/Arizona Republic
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann is asking contractors who led the largely discredited audit of Maricopa County’s election results if public records are being stored at a data center. In a two-sentence letter Thursday, sent to lead contractor Cyber Ninjas and three other companies that worked on the audit, Fann said Senate lawyers learned the company might have leased a data center. “We recently learned that a data center, possibly leased to Cyber Ninjas, Inc, or StratTech Solutions, may be housing records concerning the Arizona State Senate’s audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County,” Fann wrote. “Please confirm as soon as possible whether this information is correct and, if so, when and on what terms the Senate may access the facility or its resources.” Fann said Thursday she has little information about the data center. She said it’s unknown where it is located, why it might have been leased or what records could be stored there. “There’s not a lot I can say,” she said. “I received info that possible records were stored in a data center.” Fann’s inquiry comes as the Senate defends itself from two lawsuits, now combined, over access to records in the partisan election review. The Arizona Republic and a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group called American Oversight both sued the Senate to make the records public. The Republic also sued Cyber Ninjas.
Colorado secretary of state files lawsuit to block Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from overseeing the 2022 election | Jesse Paul/Colorado Sun
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Tuesday filed a lawsuit seeking to block Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from having any oversight role in the 2022 election. The lawsuit comes after Peters, a Republican, refused last week to comply with a list of election security terms from Griswold, a Democrat, ahead of the November contest. The terms included that Peters be accompanied when near any of her county’s voting equipment and that she retract statements in which she “indicated a willingness to compromise Mesa County’s voting system equipment.” “Every eligible Coloradan – Republican, Democrat, and Independent alike – has the right to make their voice heard in safe and secure elections,” Griswold said in a written statement Tuesday. “As Clerk Peters is unwilling to commit to following election security protocols, I am taking action to ensure that Mesa County voters have the elections they deserve.”
Georgia buys new voter registration system after long lines in 2020 | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia is replacing a laggy statewide voter registration system that caused colossal lines during early voting in the 2020 election. The new technology could prevent similar waits in this year’s races for governor and the U.S. Senate. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Wednesday that the state will partner with Salesforce, a San Francisco-based software company, to build a system that will store registration records for Georgia’s 7.7 million voters, check in early voters and process absentee ballot information. The new system, nicknamed GaRVIS for the Georgia Registered Voter Information System, will take the place of the state’s ElectioNet technology that buckled under the weight of high turnout and unprecedented absentee ballot adoption in October 2020. Wait times exceeded eight hours at the start of early voting before election officials and the state’s prior vendor, Louisiana-based Civix, added capacity to the system so it could handle the load. Election Day went more smoothly, with wait times averaging less than three minutes.
Idaho could see more election audits to ‘enhance transparency and confidence’ in results | Kristen McPeek/KBOI
Governor Little’s recommended budget allocates half a million dollars to go to integrity audits in the state. The purpose is to enhance transparency and confidence in election results. Election integrity is a growing conversation across the country, and state and local officials here in Idaho say it’s important to invest in our elections as more questions are raised. “Various people thought there were inaccuracies in the election results for president,” said Deputy Secretary of State, Jason Hancock. And while questions are being raised, Hancock says that there haven’t been any inaccuracies reported in the state of Idaho. “I have a lot of confidence in our voting systems here,” Hancock said. As concerns and conversations around election integrity develop across the country, Hancock says Idaho needs to invest in elections for accuracy and confidence to voters.
Louisiana’s Voting System Commission met Wednesday to learn about new certification standards for voting machines, part of its assigned task to upgrade the state’s outdated equipment. A group of residents that has closely followed the commission — while peddling false information about the 2020 presidential election — continued to pressure the commission to reject voting machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots. The commission, which first convened in November, is a 13-member panel of state officials, legislators and citizens tasked with recommending a new voting system. Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) introduced the legislation that formed the commission last year after a group of angry residents descended on a committee meeting and, citing claims detailed in a YouTube video, repeated Donald Trump’s lie that the election was stolen. Hewitt said the legislation was simply an effort to insert transparency into the procurement process for any new machines. The new law requires, among other things, that Louisiana use a voting system that creates some kind of paper trail. That could include either a traditional hand-marked paper ballot system in which voters use a pencil to fill in a bubble next to a candidate’s name or a system of electronic machines that produce a paper receipt that voters can verify before casting their ballots. The commission heard Wednesday from two members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission who explained the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0, a new set of certification standards that ensures voting machines meet updated cybersecurity and usability requirements. During the public comment portion of the meeting, several speakers urged the commissioners to ignore the federal guidelines. The law that created the commission requires that “any voting system or system component procured or used in the state” be certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Lenar Whitney, a former one-term state representative from Houma, urged commissioners to remove machines from Louisiana’s elections entirely and instead adopt a hand-marked paper ballot system.
New Hampshire: Spurred by election misinformation and skepticism, crowd urges lawmakers to outlaw ballot-counting machines | Casey McDermott/New Hampshire Public Radio
An effort to outlaw ballot-counting machines in New Hampshire elections drew dozens of supporters to the State House for a public hearing on Thursday, but the same proposal drew hesitation from election officials who said it was neither necessary nor practical. Those urging lawmakers to get rid of the state’s voting machines expressed deep skepticism about New Hampshire’s election systems and state institutions at large. Many said their doubts were reinforced by errors in the town of Windham’s 2020 machine count that were quickly corrected and later thoroughly investigated. At the same time, many also cited distorted statistics and other falsehoods to justify their claims that voting machines can’t be trusted to produce accurate results. For decades, only one model of vote-counting machine has been approved for use in New Hampshire elections. That device, the AccuVote OS, doesn’t connect to the internet and “predates modern network technologies,” according to an overview compiled by an outside expert. And right now, the state doesn’t mandate that cities or towns use any machines — it’s up to individual communities to decide. “The machines we use are the most basic of devices,” said Milford Town Clerk Joan Dargie, testifying on behalf of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association. “They are only reading the marks on the ballot.” Dargie said forcing communities to go back to hand-counting would add too much extra labor for local poll workers who are already putting in 16 to 17 hours of work on Election Day. With machines in use, Dargie said her town, Milford, usually has about 200 volunteers working at the polls, and recruiting those volunteers is a persistent challenge for many communities; if they had to hand count, she estimates they’d need to find an additional 150 people.
New Hampshire: Rochester latest community to see effort to remove vote-counting machines | Karen Dandurant/Fosters Daily Democrat
City officials received a petition to place a warrant article intended to eliminate the use of vote-counting machines in elections and to return to hand counts. However, City Manager Blaine Cox said the petition has no basis in law for the city. Cox said this is because Rochester does not use the town meeting form of government. It appears the proposal submitted in Rochester is similar to those submitted in some towns around the state, including Greenland, where the town’s voters overwhelmingly rejected the bid to eliminate voting machines. “The request to insert by petition a warrant article does not pertain to Rochester’s city form of government,” Cox said. However, state Sen. Jim Gray, R-Rochester, who is also a city councilor, said there is a way the question could be brought forward. He said Mayor Paul Callaghan could place the question on a city council agenda for a vote.
New Mexico: Otero County Commission Approves 50K For Election Audit Contract | Tierna Unruh-Enos/The Paper.
At the Jan. 13 Otero County Commission meeting, all three commissioners–Gerald Matherly, Vickie Marquardt and Cowboys for Trump leader Couy Griffin–voted unanimously to approve an election audit contract of $49,750 with EchoMail Inc. Former New Mexico State University law professor David Clements will lead the audit. Clements was fired from the university in 2021 for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine and for ignoring the mask mandate instituted by the New Mexico Department of Health. The EchoMail software has been used in other election audits such as the ones in Maricopa County, AZ, led by the Cyber Ninjas. Election officials in Maricopa disputed nearly every claim found in the audit. During Clement’s presentation to the commissioners Griffin said, “I don’t think there’s a more appropriate way to spend taxpayer dollars than to ensure our elections aren’t compromised.” According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, while on leave from NMSU pending his termination, Clements traveled to several states alleging election fraud over the 2020 presidential contest as well as opposing public health mandates related to COVID-19. An online fundraiser set up by a political ally had raised more than $280,000 in donations for Clements. He has also has been a guest on numerous podcasts and cable news programs including “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News.
Pennsylvania: Court puts hold on GOP inspection of county voting machines | Marc Levy and Mark Scolforo/Associated Press
An inspection of voting machines in a heavily Republican county in Pennsylvania as part of a GOP “investigation” into the 2020 presidential election was moments away from starting Friday until the state Supreme Court put it on hold. The high court decision came hours after a state judge rejected attempts by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to block the inspection — inspired by former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about fraud in the 2020 election he lost — without an agreements over procedure in place. The undertaking comes after Republicans carried out a partisan and widely discredited “audit” in Arizona’s most heavily populated county and Trump and his allies have pressured allies in battleground states he lost to seek out fraud to validate their conspiracy theories. The justices overruled the lower court by granting an emergency request by the governor’s lawyers to stop it for now. The equipment in question — computers, electronic pollbooks, ballot scanners and possibly more — was about to be wheeled in to a special meeting of the Fulton County commissioners just after it started Friday when a lawyer for the county, Tom Breth, said it had to be postponed because the state Supreme Court’s filing office had just notified him the temporary stay was granted.
Wisconsin Senate candidate files lawsuits in Wisconsin over ballots and voting machines | Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A Democrat running for U.S. Senate filed a pair of lawsuits Tuesday alleging Wisconsin election officials aren’t keeping ballots secret in some cases and are not properly vetting voting machines. In one case, Peter Peckarsky asked a Milwaukee County judge to order the state Elections Commission to bar Milwaukee and other cities from marking absentee ballots with numbers that could reveal how individual voters cast their ballots. In the other case, Peckarsky is seeking to force the commission to more thoroughly scrutinize voting machine software. Most communities in Wisconsin count their absentee ballots at polling places, but Milwaukee and about three dozen other municipalities count theirs in one location. State law requires those that count them in one spot to write the poll list numbers of absentee voters on the back of their ballots. Both the ballots and poll list numbers are available under the state’s open records law. That could lead to members of the public figuring out how individual voters cast their ballots, violating the state’s guarantee of secret ballots, Peckarsky argues in one of his lawsuits. Whether that could actually happen is not clear.
Nineteen tables are spread across a ballroom the size of an Olympic swimming pool, each with its own set of voting machines. Hackers crowd around them, tinkering, unscrewing, and more or less destroying anything with a power button. This is the Voting Village at DEFCON, the annual “ethical hacker” conference in Las Vegas and one of the few places where pretty much anyone has permission to do whatever they please to equipment that would otherwise be locked away. At the last in-person DEFCON, in 2019, well before “Stop the Steal,” the “audit” in Maricopa County, and the conspiracy theory that Nancy Pelosi’s husband owns one of the country’s largest voting machine manufacturers, attendees packed the village. Now, two years later, the issue has become even more of a national obsession. DEFCON is a meeting place for the different stakeholders in the world of cybersecurity: grungy hackers, nerdy academics, security researchers, election officials, voting machine manufacturers, and representatives from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency whose security guidelines nearly every state relies on to some extent. For a few days, DEFCON enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists gather together and race to see who can prove voting machines are insecure. With its made-to-be-shared antics, the village regularly produces viral tweets and national headlines. It also has quick impact: Following demonstrations at the convention in 2017, Virginia’s Department of Elections recommended decertifying some of its machines effective immediately. “Multiple types of DREs, some of which are currently in use in Virginia, were hacked, according to public reports from DefCon,” the agency wrote.
Pennsylvania county’s voting machine review has its roots in 2020 election fraud lies | Sam Dunklau/WITF
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court temporarily blocked a data security company hired by state Senate Republicans from examining Fulton County’s voting machines last week. But a legal team representing the county is fighting to get the probe back on track. The standoff has put the focus on those leading that effort, and on questions about the process that remain unanswered. Those who have instigated and supported looking at Fulton County’s machines have ties to organizations and lawmakers who have backed false claims about the last presidential election. The probe is part of a push by a Republican-led state Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Cris Dush (R-Cameron), to investigate Pennsylvania’s last several elections, despite audits confirming results and a previous Senate election review that yielded suggestions about how to make Election Day run more smoothly in Pennsylvania. Dush and others haven’t been clear about why they want to probe Fulton County’s voting machines. But lawyer Thomas Breth of western Pennsylvania firm Dillon McCandless King Coulter & Graham, who is representing the county, said it doesn’t matter. “We’re not going to second-guess a request coming from the chairman of a committee within the Pennsylvania Senate. As a governmental entity ourselves, we have a constitutional obligation to cooperate with other governmental entities,” Breth said before the Supreme Court court decision Friday.