Just because online voting is possible, doesn’t mean the U.S. government should try it for national elections any time soon. That’s the message computer security experts and advocates for voting rights are trying to get across to American voters. David Jefferson, a Lawrence Livermore computer scientist, said Thursday that hosting a national election online poses a national security threat. Jefferson was part of a press conference hosted by Common Cause, a transparency advocacy organization. He pointed out three fundamental areas of attack by hackers or viruses, with no immediate solutions for online voting. “Client side” attacks would trigger malicious software in a voter’s computer or smartphone itself. “Server side” attacks could bring down the servers that would collect and count the votes and the “denial of service” attacks could actually prevent people from voting and take the server down. “There is no fundamental solution to any of these categories of problems, and at least for the client or server side, anyone in the world can initiate such an attack. It can be completely undetectable so the outcome would be wrong and no one would know about it,” said Jefferson, who serves on the board of the Verified Voting Foundation and California Voter Foundation. Even if a faulty outcome is discovered, he added, there would be no way to correct it as there would be no audit trail to “recount.”
Barack Obama has ordered the creation of a non-partisan commission on voting rights in the US in an attempt to remove the hurdles to democratic participation that dogged the 2012 presidential election. The announcement of the commission on voting puts flesh on the promise Obama made in his second inaugural speech last month to fix America’s broken voting system. Last November, voters in main urban centres were inconvenienced by long lines at polling stations that in some areas forced citizens to wait for hours before casting their ballot. Florida, in particular, witnessed chaotic scenes with more than 200,000 voters estimated to have given up having waiting because the queues were so long. Obama said that the impediments to voting needed to be corrected, as voting was “our most fundamental right as citizens. When Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.” The president added: “We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.”
National: Obama’s proposed voting commission under partisan fire from both sides | The Washington Post
President Obama’s proposed commission on electoral reform, which seeks to improve voting efficiency and reduce long wait times for voters, is producing heated criticism from advocates on both the right and the left. Some conservatives view the initiative as federal overreaching on an issue that is rightly the province of states, while some voting rights advocates say that the president’s proposed commission is a too-timid response to what they see as a huge problem. “Setting up a commission is not a bold step; it is business as usual,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters. Critics of the commission say it doesn’t match the severity of the problem. “The president could have done much better by pointing to real solutions, like that in legislation already introduced on Capitol Hill to require early voting, set limits on waiting times, provide for portable voter registration and set up secure online voter registration.” Conservatives said the commission infringes on local control of the voting process. “I do not support the president’s proposal to appoint yet another national commission to study solutions to the problem of long lines at polling places that seems to be confined to very few states,” Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.) said in a statement, adding that she is opposed to national mandates.
At a time when more and more transactions occur online, a number of election officials and private organizations are looking to the Internet as one more possible avenue for balloting. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that would be using an online voting system to help its members choose this year’s Oscar nominees and finalists, thereby adding to the “credibility” of online voting, we find ourselves compelled to remind the general public that it is dangerous to deploy voting by email, efax, or through Internet portals in public governmental elections at this time. Public elections run by municipal, local and state governments should not be compared to elections like the one run by the Academy. The following describes our concerns about the use of Internet voting systems in public elections.
• Cyber security experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Homeland Security have warned that current Internet voting technologies should not be deployed in public elections. Internet voting systems, including email, fax and web based voting systems in which marked ballots are cast online, cannot be properly protected and may be subject to undetectable alteration.
• Citizens ask, “If I can bank online, why can’t I vote online?” Online banking and e-commerce are NOT secure, despite massive business investments in state-of-the-art cyber-security tools.
• Banking policies protect and reimburse people whose money or credit card numbers are stolen online. If a hacker deletes or alters a ballot, the action can neither be traced nor corrected.
• Banking policies generally do not protect companies when funds are stolen from their accounts. It has been reported that as many as ten percent of small business have had money stolen from their bank accounts. Even so, businesses understand and accept that money lost through cyber-crime is part of the risk of doing business online, and they seek to reduce losses by obtaining fraud insurance. We cannot take that approach in counting votes in public elections; a cyber-attack that alters or deletes just a few hundred votes, and perhaps even fewer, can change the result of an election. There is no such thing as “fraud insurance” for ballots, and we can scarcely accept online fraud in ten percent of our election jurisdictions.
• The parties in online business transactions maintain and audit account records to detect fraudulent activities. But because we vote by secret ballot in public elections, individual voters have no way to check and verify that their ballots were properly counted. Thus online voting is particularly susceptible to tampering, all but certain to go undetected.
• Internet voting system vendors make claims about the security of their products that have never been substantiated by publicly reviewable testing and research.
Voting Blogs: US Postal Service plans to eliminate Saturday delivery – elections officials not surprised; will ramp-up voter ed | electionlineWeekly
To quote the great American orator Yogi Berra, it’s like déjà vu all over again. Just about this time almost every year in recent memory, electionlineWeekly writes a story about cuts proposed by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the possible impacts those cuts could have on the administration of elections. This year is no different after late last week USPS announced it will eliminate Saturday delivery except for packages. And elections officials aren’t thrilled, but they aren’t exactly surprised either. “I sit on the Mailers Technical Advisory Board (MTAC) to USPS so this has been discussed for quite some time now—it seemed to be more a question of “when”, not so much of “if,” said Tammy Patrick federal compliance officer, Maricopa County, Ariz. Elections. “The August timeline is preferable to waiting until 2014.” While only Oregon and Washington offer exclusive vote-by-mail system, about 20 percent of all voters in the United States cast their ballot through some form of vote-by-mail. This figure has more than tripled since 1980. This is especially true in Western states like Arizona, California, Colorado and Montana where local elections officials are working with legislatures and state election officials to make voting by mail as easy as possible.
The Supreme Court is said to be close to a decision on the future of one provision of the Voting Rights Act that could simplify elections, speed up the unreasonably long process of redistricting, and reduce government expense in nine state’s where the provision is applied – including Mississippi. Adopted by Congress during the height of the American civil rights struggle, Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act identified states and localities with a history of race-based voter discrimination and mandated that those “covered jurisdictions” must obtain federal approval or “preclearance” from the U.S. Justice Department before making changes to any state or local voting laws or districts. Without question, at the time Section 5 was adopted in 1965, Mississippi’s track record on civil rights in general and voting rights in particular was nothing short of abysmal and shameful. But that was almost a half-century ago and times have changed in Mississippi.
The debate over the constitutionality of Voting Rights Act preclearance has focused almost entirely on whether it lies within Congress’s power to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. That’s understandable, especially since the Supreme Court’s cert. grant in Shelby County v. Holder is limited to Congress’s authority under these provisions. There is, however, another provision of the Constitution that authorizes many – though not all – applications of the VRA’s preclearance requirements. Under the Elections Clause of the Constitution, Congress has broad authority to regulate congressional elections. Given that Shelby County has brought a facial challenge to Sections 4(b) and 5 of the VRA, the existence of an alternative basis for upholding some applications of the statute shouldn’t be overlooked. The Elections Clause is sufficient to prevent facial invalidation of the statute, regardless of how the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment issues are resolved.
Editorials: Shelby County v. Holder: Voting discrimination remains concentrated in covered states | Spencer Overton/SCOTUSblog
The Supreme Court is poised to decide the fate of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance process – one of our nation’s most powerful tools in combating discrimination. The Court should not second-guess Congress’s determination that voting discrimination remains concentrated in covered jurisdictions, and should uphold the law. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that covered jurisdictions (nine states plus parts of seven others) “preclear” their proposed election law changes with federal officials. Shelby County, Alabama, argues that preclearance is no longer warranted in covered jurisdictions because increases in minority voters and elected officials show discrimination has waned. Shelby County also contends that the voting discrimination that still does exist is no longer concentrated in covered jurisdictions, and that a coverage formula based on election data from 1964, 1968, and 1972 presidential elections is obsolete.
Yuma County will open more voting centers in future elections as one way to avoid a repeat of the congestion and frustration seen here last November. Instead of 11 voting centers, there will be 15, and all voting centers may have more staffing. In addition, the county hopes to do on-site printer tests, set up in bigger facilities, keep more people on hand to troubleshoot technical difficulties and whittle the wait times from as high as four hours to no more than one. “We all know we had some pretty significant challenges we dealt with,” Yuma County Administrator Robert Pickels said Wednesday as he presented the board of supervisors with an after-action review of Election Day 2012, detailing problems and solutions.
Arkansas: State Senate Panel Approves Voter ID Bill But Democrats Cry Suppression | Arkansas Business News | ArkansasBusiness.com
Arkansas voters would be required to show photo identification before casting a ballot under legislation advanced by a Senate panel Thursday, but Democrats question the cost of the requirement and whether it’s aimed at suppressing votes. The chamber’s State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed the voter ID bill on a voice vote, with the three Democrats on the Republican-controlled panel objecting. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week. Arkansas poll workers already are required to ask voters for identification, but voters can still cast a ballot if they don’t show one. Past efforts to require photo ID have failed in the Arkansas Legislature, but Republicans believe they have votes for it now that they control the House and Senate.
While a proposal to expand the number of early voting days and limit the length of a ballot passed in a House subcommittee on Wednesday, Democrats said it will need change if it is to garner bipartisan support. The measure (PCB EES 13-01) would allow supervisors to increase the number of early-voting days to 14, though they could remain at the current standard of eight. It would also limit some ballot summaries for legislatively-sponsored constitutional amendments to 75 words, a standard that already applies to citizen initiatives. However, if the Legislature approved more than one summary for an amendment as a fallback to deal with court challenges, only the first would be subject to the 75-world limit. And if the attorney general were required to rewrite a flawed ballot summary, that revision would also not fall under the new rules.
Voters who once lived in Idaho but now reside overseas could soon be barred from casting ballots in local elections. The House State Affairs committee introduced legislation Wednesday that keeps former Idahoans who live abroad indefinitely from voting in city council or other municipal elections. Federal absentee laws would allow those citizens to vote in national elections. The bill would not bar military personnel from voting in local races.
Massachusetts: Special election will cost Massachusetts at least $13.5 million, according to state officials | masslive.com
State officials say it is expected to cost Massachusetts at least $13.5 million to hold the special election to fill the U.S. Senate formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry. State Auditor Suzanne Bump has estimated that it will cost cities and towns nearly $8.3 million to run the April 30 primary election and the June 25 final. The special election has been classified by the auditor’s office as an “unfunded local mandate,” meaning the state must reimburse local communities for the costs they incur.
Missouri’s Republican-controlled House has again approved legislation to require voters to show photo identification at the polls. The House on Thursday advanced the photo-based ID effort with its approval of companion legislation — a bill setting up the framework for voter ID and a related constitutional amendment. The amendment would have to be approved by the state Senate and by voters in the November 2014 statewide election before the stricter identification requirements would become law. “This is a pretty common-sense proposal,” said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka. “It protects the integrity of the voting process.” It remains to be seen how the effort — which has become a yearly issue in the House — will fare in the GOP-controlled Senate this year.
Pennsylvania and the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to a compromise on voter identification for May elections before a trial still set for July on the merits of the state’s law. Voters will be able to cast ballots without photo ID in the May 21 primary and any special elections before that date under the temporary accord, the ACLU said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The agreement extends an October ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson that barred enforcement for the presidential election.
Cypriots head to the polls Sunday to elect a new president who will be tasked with unblocking an increasingly thorny, multibillion-euro bailout needed to rescue the island’s teetering banking system and a cash-strapped government reeling from Greece’s economic crash. Public-opinion polls show conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades, head of the center-right Democratic Rally, or Disy, party, is expected to top a three-way race for president with about 40% of Sunday’s vote. If no candidate gets 50%, a runoff would take place a week later. Mr. Anastasiades’s closest rival is Stavros Malas, backed by the Cypriot communist party AKEL, with the support of 23% of respondents. Giorgos Lillikas, supported by socialists EDEK, has about 20% backing. Even with his election likely, Mr. Anastasiades will have little time to celebrate his victory. A 66-year-old lawyer by profession, he is seen as able to get the Cypriot economy, now in its second year of recession, back on its feet. He is also a stalwart of Europe’s conservative party caucus and close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who publicly supported his bid during a visit to Cyprus in January. He will need those skills to help mend relations with Europe, which were sorely tested by his predecessor’s unyielding stance on austerity measures and privatizations that Europe and the IMF have demanded.
Ecuador: On eve of elections in Ecuador, legal fears hold back in-depth coverage | Knight Center for Journalism
A few days before the presidential and parliamentarian elections in Ecuador, which will take place on Feb. 17, fears of lawsuits and other legal liabilities are holding back journalistic coverage. According to a report by non-profit Fundamedios, which analyzed the content of 10 newspapers between Jan. 4 and 20, there have been almost no opinion, context and analysis pieces written during the campaigns season. In contrast, plain informative stories represented more than 90 percent of their content. The main protagonists were not the candidates, but the National Electoral Council, which is mentioned in 43 percent of the stories. Some journalists and freedom of expression experts believe several news outlets are trying to avoid legal problems under Ecuador’s Code of Democracy — the country’s electoral law. In January 2012, using the Code, President and re-election candidate Rafael Correa succeeded in pushing through the National Assembly new restrictions on the news coverage of the elections. The most controversial one was article 203, which called media outlets to “abstain from promoting directly or indirectly” any candidate through special reports or any other way.
Without any shred of doubt, the Afari Djan led Electoral Commission has failed to prove the existence of 241,524 voters abroad and returning peacekeepers whose inclusion according to the EC bloated the provisional 13,917,366 to 14,158,890. The Electoral Commission in response to the plaintiffs, Nana Akufo-Addo and Co’s ongoing Supreme Court case challenging the declaration of John Mahama as winner of the Presidential elections that produced John Dramani Mahama as President. Responding to the plaintiff’s questioning the integrity of the voters who register in paragraph 6 of its response, the Electoral Commission stated “In answer to paragraph 12 of the Petition, the 2nd Respondent says that the initial provisional figure it announced of registered voters was 13,917,366. After the conduct of registration of Foreign Service officials, students abroad on government scholarship, other Ghanaians working abroad in International organizations and the late registration of service personnel returning from international peacekeeping duties, it announced a figure of 14, 158,890 representing the raw entries in the Registration Database”.
Voting Blogs: Thoughts on the New Presidential Commission on Election Administration | Election Academy
The announcement last night of a new Presidential Commission on Election Administration brings to an end the speculation about President Obama’s plans to act on his observation that “we need to fix” problems with the nation’s election system. In one way, the decision to appoint a new Commission is a little puzzling, given the existence of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission; however, given the political limbo facing the EAC, the Administration may have decided that bypassing the appointment process via executive order was a way to get started on the process sooner than later. The choices to co-chair the Commission are very encouraging. Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer, while fierce advocates for their parties’ interests, have a long history of cooperation with one another on projects in this field, including attempts to help the nation’s judges bring some order to the often-messy process of election litigation. Hopefully, this will encourage policymakers on both sides of the aisle to look past what Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen calls “the voting wars” and identify some solutions that can garner bipartisan support.