The FBI has responded to recent concerns about U.S. voting systems being targeted for cyberattacks as Election Day approaches, saying the agency takes the threat “very, very seriously” and is working to “equip the rest of our government with options.” FBI Director James Comey addressed the issue while speaking to government and private-industry experts attending the Symantec Government Symposium in Washington, D.C. “We take very seriously any effort by any actor,” he said, “to influence the conduct of affairs in our country, whether that’s an election or something else.” His comments come one day after news surfaced about FBI warnings to the states that hackers had infiltrated one state board of election and targeted another.
When an FBI alert to state election authorities warning them of hacking leaked to the media this week, the result was one of studied panic. Two voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois had been penetrated, and some experts saw it as confirmation that Russia had escalated its campaign of hacking U.S. political organizations. Russian President Vladimir Putin just “unleashed the hounds” on the U.S. election system, one industry executive declared. So far, there is scant evidence that hackers working on behalf of Russian intelligence penetrated two fairly inconsequential voter databases in Arizona and Illinois. The FBI told election authorities in Arizona that Russian hackers were responsible for stealing a set of user credentials but provided no details about whether it was a criminal or state-sponsored group. In a letter to the FBI on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid asked the bureau to investigate whether Russia is attempting to manipulate results of November’s elections. Russian efforts to do so are “more extensive than is widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results,” he wrote.
The committee traditionally has advised the DNI on foreign attempts to thwart U.S. intelligence through trickery. But in the cyber era, the committee has increasingly looked at how nation states use computer attacks to conduct espionage and spread propaganda. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran are primary subjects, the officials said. The consensus among U.S. intelligence analysts is that Russia is seeking to undermine confidence in the U.S. system, using the hacks into the Democratic National Committee, state election systems and other targets that have yet to be made public, as part of a larger campaign. Whether Russia can directly manipulate voting machines or “hack” into election systems, they say, is not clear and is mainly outside the jurisdiction of U.S. intelligence. Intelligence analysts are uncertain about the Russian government’s intentions relating to U.S. politics, but they don’t believe Russia is actively trying to favor Republican Donald Trump, as some have suggested. Instead, Russia may be trying to foment chaos. “Let’s just throw some spaghetti on the wall, and whatever sticks, sticks,” said one senior Congressional aide briefed on intelligence, describing a likely scenario.
Editorials: Ballot Measures: American Direct Democracy at Work | Josh Altic & Geoff Palay/The New York Times
Throughout our nation’s history, citizens and legislators alike have used ballot measures to shape public policy and public opinion in the states. This process of direct democracy has often proved more effective than the customary actions of a party, politician, interest group or deep-pocketed donor at addressing some of the most divisive topics in our history: including suffrage, prohibition, gay rights, the death penalty and marijuana. Despite their significant and lasting impact, ballot measures and the varied laws governing how they work can be daunting and complex. Which states allow the ballot initiative process? Not all do. Why are initiatives so popular in California, yet unavailable in New York? How do voters get measures placed on the ballot? None of this is simple or straightforward; in fact, many people now find the language used in these measures so confusing that they abstain from voting on them entirely. The origins of direct democracy in the United States date from the 1600s, when New England colonists debated and voted on ordinances and other issues during town hall meetings. This set the stage for legislative referrals, which, as their name implies, are measures referred to the ballot by a state legislature.
Someone has been hacking into voter registration databases and the FBI is on it. After James Comey’s blowing off the evidence collected by his agents of Hillary Clinton’s email crimes, however, there’s considerable cause to be afraid, very afraid, for the legitimacy of the November elections. With the push to make elections more convenient at the price of security, penetration by outside actors has become nearly inevitable. That means one key part of the election process, the actual casting of votes, should be kept offline. If marked electronic ballots can be hacked, Americans can’t help wondering whether an election can be stolen. It wouldn’t be the first time.
The Arizona secretary of state’s website repeatedly froze and crashed during the Tuesday primary, renewing criticism of the office over its struggles in running state elections. The website crash prevented the public from easily accessing primary election results and led to a host of comments blasting the office on Twitter. The new site was touted by Secretary of State Michele Reagan as a replacement for a glitch-prone website that also led to reporting delays in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles. Reagan spokesman Matt Roberts said early Tuesday evening that the office was prepared and had backup plans in place for the new system. A chagrined Roberts said late Tuesday that “we’re not completely sure as to what’s causing some of the slowness in the reporting.”
California: After recent national attacks, is California’s election system hacker-proof? | Press Enterprise
California elections officials are confident that the state’s voter data and election technology is secure enough to withstand cyber attacks such as those Russian hackers recently carried out against Arizona and Illinois. “We are agile and always evaluating and adapting our security posture to protect the confidentiality of voter data and to protect the integrity of our elections,” said Sam Mahood, a spokesman for California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Mahood declined to provide specifics, but said there is no evidence of a successful hack of the state’s systems. “In California, voting systems – the equipment that you’ll see at polling places – cannot be connected to the Internet at any time,” Mahood said in an emailed statement. “All electronic voting systems must have a paper trail that can be audited.”
Florida: Broward state attorney reviewing how elections office posted results before polls closed | Miami Herald
When Broward County posted election results online before the polls closed Tuesday night, it was the election night screw-up seen around Florida. It is a felony to release results while voters are still casting ballots. Within a couple of hours, a vendor took full responsibility, but a chain of events was already in motion: On Tuesday night, the state elections chief, Ken Detzner, criticized the slip-up as “unacceptable” and called for an investigation — prompting the Broward state attorney to launch a review Wednesday. As the drama was unfolding in a warehouse at the Lauderhill Mall where Broward tabulates results, Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes coasted to a landslide victory over her Democratic primary opponent and deferred to the vendor to explain what went down. Despite the election website problems, experts say it’s unlikely that anyone will get charged with a crime.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn thinks he knows how to get a redistricting ballot question past the Illinois Supreme Court. The Democrat, who lost his 2014 re-election bid to Republican Bruce Rauner, has been on a bit of a petition drive since becoming a private citizen. Until Tuesday, his focus had been local — he spent the summer soliciting Chicagoans for signatures to get mayoral term limits on a future ballot. Last week’s state Supreme Court decision to keep the Independent Maps group’s redistricting question off the Nov. 8 ballot created an opening for Quinn to again remind people that he led the only successful citizen-driven petition to change the state constitution — in 1980.
“New Jersey’s definitely vulnerable,” said former FBI agent Manny Gomez. He means the statewide system of 11,000 computerized voting machines, where New Jerseyans will close the curtains and pick a president this November. It’s a network that hackers could break into, without even breaking a sweat, because these systems were designed for efficiency, not security, according to Gomez. “Jersey’s very vulnerable from foreign attacks or just some goofball sitting in his basement that has the skill set. It’s not that complicated to hack into a government entity these days,” he said. … “Election results can be altered through a hack and they can also be altered through human error. The problem with New Jersey’s voting machines is, there’s no way to check,” said RutgersProfessor Penny Venetis. Venetis says the AVCs contain no paper backup to verify votes cast, although that’s required by New Jersey law. She sued the state — which refused to replace the machines — but agreed not to connect them to the internet.
North Carolina: Supreme Court denies North Carolina appeal to enforce its voter ID rules | Los Angeles Times
The Supreme Court on Wednesday turned away an emergency appeal from North Carolina’s Republican leaders who were hoping to reinstate new voting rules that were struck down in July as racially biased. The justices said they were deadlocked 4-4 and would not intervene, leaving in place the state’s rules for casting ballots and early voting that were used before 2013. The vote split on ideological lines. The court’s decision is a victory for civil rights advocates and Obama administration lawyers who had challenged North Carolina’s rules as violating the Voting Rights Act. The outcome also may give a slight boost to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, who will need strong support from minority voters to prevail in November.
North Carolina: Supreme Court Blocks North Carolina From Restoring Strict Voting Law | The New York Times
A deadlocked Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to revive parts of a restrictive North Carolina voting law that a federal appeals court had struck down as an unconstitutional effort to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The court was divided 4 to 4, with the court’s more conservative members voting to revive parts of the law. The court’s brief order included no reasoning. North Carolina’s law, which imposed an array of voting restrictions, including new voter identification requirements, was enacted by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2013. It was part of a wave of voting restrictions enacted after a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision that effectively struck down a central part of the federal Voting Rights Act, weakening federal oversight of voting rights. Challenges to the laws have met with considerable success in recent months, and Wednesday’s development suggested that the current eight-member Supreme Court is not likely to undo those victories.
Texas on Wednesday kicked off a voter education campaign ahead of the November elections amid heightened scrutiny of the state’s voter ID law. Under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and minority rights groups, the state is required to spend $2.5 million to educate voters about its voter ID requirements. Registered voters will be able to cast a ballot Nov. 8 without a photo ID under the agreement, which came weeks after a federal appeals court ruled that Texas’ 2011 voter identification law was discriminatory. The inaugural Vote Texas event on Wednesday, at which Secretary of State Carlos Cascos told students at the University of Texas at Austin to get into the habit of voting at a young age, was planned before the agreement, Cascos said.
Demonstrators in Gabon clashed with police and set part of the parliament building on fire on Wednesday amid anger among opposition supporters over President Ali Bongo’s re-election in polls that his main rival, Jean Ping, claimed to have won. Opposition members of the Central African oil producer’s electoral commission rejected Saturday’s first-past-the-post election result, which would see the Bongo family’s nearly half-century in power extended another seven years. France, the United States, and the European Union all urged calm on Wednesday and called upon Gabonese authorities to release the results of individual polling stations for greater transparency. Bongo won 49.80 percent of votes, compared to 48.23 percent for Ping, with a turnout of 59.46 percent, according to results announced region by region by Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya.
Seven candidates had already been announced for the Moldovan presidential elections by August 31, the first day of the registration period. They include candidates from most of the main political groupings, and include four pro-EU candidates. There were no surprises, except maybe for the pro-EU parties’ failure to agree on a joint candidate for the October 30 election, giving an advantage to rivals like Socialist leader Igor Dodon and Dumitru Ciubasenco of Partidul Nostru. Six of the seven are already registered, and more may step forward by the end of the period, but none that will significantly change the overall picture.
Spain’s Socialists will vote against the government of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a confidence vote on Wednesday, party leader Pedro Sanchez told parliament, potentially triggering the countdown to a third national election in a year. Spain has been without a functioning government since inconclusive elections in June and December and parties are under pressure to end a political deadlock which has stalled investment and cast a pall over an economic recovery. But, on Wednesday, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the opposition Socialists, which trailed Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) in both elections, has steadfastly refused to back Rajoy who needs his party’s support to form a coalition. “I will be very clear, the Socialist party will vote against your candidacy to the government for coherence and for the good of Spain,” Sanchez told the parliament on Wednesday.