Reports this week of Russian intrusions into U.S. election systems have startled many voters, but computer experts are not surprised. They have long warned that Americans vote in a way that’s so insecure that hackers could change the outcome of races at the local, state and even national level. Multibillion-dollar investments in better election technology after the troubled 2000 presidential election count prompted widespread abandonment of flawed paper-based systems, such as punch ballots. But the rush to embrace electronic voting technology – and leave old-fashioned paper tallies behind – created new sets of vulnerabilities that have taken years to fix. “There are computers used in all points of the election process, and they can all be hacked,” said Princeton computer scientist Andrew Appel, an expert in voting technologies. “So we should work at all points in that system to see how we make them trustworthy even if they do get hacked.”
Top House Democrats are asking the FBI to investigate whether connections between Donald Trump’s campaign aides and Russian interests led to the cyberattacks at the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We are writing to request that the FBI assess whether connections between Trump campaign officials and Russian interests may have contributed to these attacks in order to interfere with the U.S. presidential election,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday. The letter was signed by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee; Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee.
Last week, one of the Russia-backed hacker groups that attacked Democratic computer networks also attacked several Russia-focused think tanks in Washington, D.C., Defense One has learned. The perpetrator is the group called COZY BEAR, or APT29, one of the two groups that cybersecurity company CrowdStrike blamed for the DNC hack, according to founder Dmitri Alperovitch. CrowdStrike discovered the attack on the DNC and provides security for the think tanks. Alperovitch said fewer than five organizations and 10 staffers researching Russia were hit by the “highly targeted operation.” He declined to detail which think tanks and researchers were hit, out of concern for his clients’ interests and to avoid revealing tools and techniques or other data to hackers. CrowdStrike alerted the organizations immediately after the company detected the breaches and intruders were unable to exfiltrate any information, Alperovitch said.
One day after reports the FBI had warned states of potential hacks on their election systems, Director James Comey declined to address the bureau’s investigation, simply insisting he takes the matter “very seriously.” The FBI alert — sent Aug. 18 and revealed publicly on Monday — sparked fears that recent cyberattacks on voter databases in Illinois and Arizona were harbingers of a nationwide hacking assault on state voting systems, possibly linked to Russia. “It won’t surprise you that I’m not going to give an answer that touches on any particular matter we’re looking at,” Comey said Tuesday at a conference hosted by digital security firm Symantec.
State election officials are looking at an additional level of security after fears earlier this year that the voter database had been hacked. Matt Roberts, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said Monday the agency wants to implement “two-factor authentication” before anyone can get access to the list of registered voters. That would involve users providing more than just the sign-in name and password now required. The move follows what Roberts said was the FBI telling state officials nearly two months ago there was a “credible threat” that the database had been compromised. He said the state took the database offline and then examined it to see if any malware had been uploaded into it. “We were unable to find any of that,” Roberts said.
California: Measure phasing out neighborhood polling places goes to Jerry Brown | The Sacramento Bee
California is on the verge of sweeping changes to its election system intended to boost plummeting voter turnout. The state Senate on Monday sent a measure to Gov. Jerry Brown that would begin shifting California away from its network of neighborhood polling places to primarily mail ballots. Based on a model used in Colorado, Senate Bill 450 would authorize counties beginning in 2018 to conduct elections where every voter is mailed a ballot and drop-off locations are available up to four weeks ahead of time in lieu of polling places. Temporary “vote centers” would also be open starting 10 days before the election to register voters and accept ballots.
A CBS4 inquiry of a law professor, the Secretary of State, a Second Amendment attorney and Marion County election officials about the legality of guns in Indiana polling places led to blank stares, confusion, misdirection and legal head scratching. Over the course of four days earlier this month, Donald Trump challenged gun owners to do something about what he termed Hillary Clinton’s plans to, “essentially abolish the Second Amendment,” and also called on poll watchers to prevent what he’s predicting to be a “rigged” election. “I would really be hopeful that anyone trying to make a point about exercising their Second Amendment rights would do that in a respectful way that wouldn’t in any way interfere with anyone’s right to vote,” said Carmel attorney Guy Relford who won a landmark voting-while-armed lawsuit following the 2012 primary election.
A former legislative candidate is asking the Kansas Supreme Court to force a grand jury investigation of Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Steven X. Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said Tuesday that he has asked the state’s highest court to require that the Douglas County District Court summon a grand jury. Davis said in a statement that the jury needs to investigate Kobach because of rumors that his office intentionally suppressed voter registration. Davis does say that his evidence is slim. By law, people in Kansas can call for a grand jury investigation by gathering a specific number of signatures. Six states, including Kansas, let citizens petition for a grand jury. Davis said he successfully gathered the signatures and submitted them in late July.
… Something else she never thought she’d be doing in 2016 was fighting to preserve the right to vote. Yet that’s exactly what she and dozens of other black activists have undertaken across the country, some for the second time in their lives, after a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted a major provision of the Voting Rights Act. The elimination of that provision, which required nine states and many other localities with a history of racial discrimination to secure federal approval before changing election laws and procedures, sparked a series of measures across the country effectively restricting access to the polls with a disproportionate impact, once again, on black voters.
When a federal appeals court overturned much of North Carolina’s sweeping 2013 election law last month, saying it had been deliberately intended to discourage African-Americans from voting, something else was tossed out as well: the ground rules for this year’s elections in a critical swing state. In each of the state’s 100 counties, local elections boards scheduled new hearings and last week filed the last of their new election rules with the state. Now, critics are accusing some of the boards, all of which are controlled by Republicans, of staging an end run around a court ruling they are supposed to carry out. Like the law that was struck down, say voting rights advocacy groups and some Democrats who are contesting the rewritten election plans, many election plans have been intentionally written to suppress the black vote. “It is equal to voter suppression in its worst way,” said Courtney Patterson, the sole Democrat on the Lenoir County elections board.