The U.S. election system will likely face a significant trial this year, thanks to a summer of startling revelations including nation-state-linked attacks targeting the Democratic National Committee and state voter databases, along with a statement of no-confidence by the Republican nominee. The result has been a slew of media stories positing how the election could be hacked. The ongoing cyber-attacks and raised doubts will put states’ choice of voting technology under the microscope, with a focus on the security of voting systems and the ability to audit the results produced by those balloting systems, according to election security experts. Unfortunately, while all but five states now have at least some systems with a verifiable paper trail, more than half do not have meaningful post-election audits, according to Verified Voting, a group focused on improving election-system integrity and accuracy. “We would like to see post-election audits everywhere,” Pamela Smith, director of the group, told eWEEK. “There is actual research showing that being able to conduct a robust audit in a public way brings confidence in the election. A voter-verifiable paper ballot is a tool to instill confidence that the election has come to true result.”
A suspected Russian hacker probed a voter registration database in Arizona and another unidentified attacker gained entry to one in Illinois this summer, election officials said, prompting the FBI to warn states their election boards should conduct vulnerability scans. The systems that count votes in elections were not compromised, officials said, and the hacks don’t appear to be politically motivated. Still, the breaches add to concerns such attacks could exploit the personal data of millions of voters for monetary or political gain. Those worries have been running high after July reports that the Democratic National Committee’s email system had been hacked, a breach U.S. intelligence officials believe was perpetrated by the Russian government. “We’re all very aware that it’s less than 80 days before an important election,” said Pamela Smith with Verified Voting, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for election transparency.
North Carolina: Inside the Republican creation of the North Carolina voting bill dubbed the ‘monster’ law | Washington Post
The emails to the North Carolina election board seemed routine at the time. “Is there any way to get a breakdown of the 2008 voter turnout, by race (white and black) and type of vote (early and Election Day)?” a staffer for the state’s Republican-controlled legislature asked in January 2012. “Is there no category for ‘Hispanic’ voter?” a GOP lawmaker asked in March 2013 after requesting a range of data, including how many voters cast ballots outside their precinct. And in April 2013, a top aide to the Republican House speaker asked for “a breakdown, by race, of those registered voters in your database that do not have a driver’s license number.” Months later, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID – restrictions that election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities.
Ohio: Democrats to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate Golden Week in voting suit | Cleveland Plain Dealer
The Ohio Democratic Party will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate Golden Week voting for the November presidential election. The request will be part of an appeal to the Supreme Court in a lawsuit challenging the state’s attempt to shorten the early voting period to eliminate the week. Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, in a phone interview Wednesday, said the appeal will be filed quickly, perhaps in a matter of days. “There’s just no reason not to allow the same process that’s been place for the last two cycles,” Pepper said. “The least harmful path is to give a stay and leave in place what was involved (for presidential elections) in ’08 and ’12.” The Ohio Democratic Party and Montgomery and Cuyahoga County Democratic parties are challenging changes in state law that reduced the early voting period from 35 days to 28 days. The reduction eliminated Golden Week, the only time people could register to vote at their elections board and then vote early in-person the same day.
Texas is spending $2.5 million to spread the word about changes to its voter ID law before the November election but will not release details about how the money is being used. More than half of that taxpayer money will go toward an advertising campaign, according to court filings. Yet state officials will not say which markets they intend to target with television and radio spots. As part of its outreach effort, the state will send “digital tool kits” to an estimated 1,800 organizations across Texas to engage local communities on voter education. State officials will not identify those groups. And documents related to both have recently been sealed by a federal judge at the request of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office.
Virginia: Republicans go back to court to fight governor on felon voting rights | The Washington Post
Republican legislative leaders on Thursday said they will take Gov. Terry McAuliffe to court once again over his efforts to restore voting rights to felons. The GOP leaders filed a contempt-of-court motion against McAuliffe (D), who last week announced that he had individually restored rights to 13,000 felons and was working to do the same for a total of more than 200,000. McAuliffe’s action last week came in response to a July ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court, which threw out a blanket clemency order that he had issued in April. The governor has described his latest move as a way to comply with the court’s order while addressing “an issue of basic justice.” But Republicans argue in the court filing that the practical effect of McAuliffe’s workaround is the same as the original, sweeping clemency order that the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.
Wisconsin election officials raised concerns Tuesday that some voters won’t be able to get IDs in time to vote in the Nov. 8 presidential election — potentially violating a court order. In response, a Division of Motor Vehicles official said the state would use overnight mail to get people voting credentials in some cases to make sure they can more easily vote. Courts have kept Wisconsin’s voter ID law in place, but have ruled state officials must promptly provide free voting credentials to people who don’t have IDs, even if they lack birth certificates or other identity documents. Three members of the state Elections Commission said they were worried people who wait to obtain IDs until close to the election won’t be able to get them in time to have their votes counted.
Since thousands of Hong Kong students blocked city streets two years ago to protest a restrictive plan for promised elections, the government’s response to democratic demands hasn’t wavered: Put aside the political fights, enjoy being part of China, prosper together. That take-or-leave-it approach to managing Hong Kong will be put to the test Sunday, with almost 4 million voters eligible to choose 70 members of the former British colony’s Legislative Council. The once-in-four-year election has drawn almost 300 candidates as a new crop of more radical activists seek a platform to challenge Beijing and others urge a more accommodating approach to bridge widening political divides.
Postelection violence in Gabon left one person dead on Thursday after officials declared the incumbent president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, the winner in a race that the opposition said had been marked by fraud. A civilian, who was not identified, died as security forces encircled the party headquarters of the opposition candidate, Jean Ping, early Thursday after hundreds of people had taken to the streets of the capital, Libreville. The protesters had set fires and insisted that Mr. Bongo had stolen the vote to claim a second term in office. Violence surged almost immediately after the release of election results Wednesday night that said Mr. Bongo, whose family has held the presidency since the late 1960s, had narrowly edged out Mr. Ping in voting on Saturday. The military was sent in to quell the demonstrations, aiming tear gas at protesters who were demanding a recount.
Venezuela: Huge crowds march in Venezuela to force recall of President Nicolás Maduro | The Washington Post
Tens of thousands of chanting protesters marched Thursday in a major demonstration in the Venezuelan capital aimed at forcing a vote on recalling socialist President Nicolás Maduro. Opposition parties hailed the protest, dubbed the “Taking of Caracas,” as the beginning of a new stage in their struggle to end the “revolution” started in 1999 by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Maduro’s popularity has plunged as the economy of this oil-rich country has sharply contracted and hunger has grown widespread. The government, clearly nervous, arrested several prominent opposition activists in the days leading up to the protest and barred at least six foreign journalists from entering the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Fearing violence, downtown shops closed, and police in yellow vests took up positions around the city. But the demonstration had an upbeat note, with participants dancing and joking, even as their chants reflected growing frustration with the government. “There’s no eggs, there’s no chicken, there’s nothing here,” one group yelled. Others shouted: “It’s going to fall, it’s going to fall, the government is going to fall.”
As Democrats in the U.S. Congress call for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate concerns that Russia may be trying to manipulate the November general election with cyberattacks, government officials are wrestling with new challenges to ensure accurate results. In a letter dated Saturday to FBI Director James Comey, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the threat of Russia tampering with the elections “is more extensive than widely known.” “The prospect of a hostile government actively seeking to undermine our free and fair elections represents one of the gravest threats to our democracy since the Cold War,” Reid added. Reid’s letter was followed by one from four Democrats who asked the FBI to investigate whether officials of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign may have conspired with Russia to carry out recent hacks against the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to “interfere with the U.S. presidential election.”
Reports this week of Russian intrusions into US 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.”
Soon after the 2000 presidential elections went to a recount, Americans got acquainted with an exotic new vocabulary – hanging chads and butterfly ballots – and what lawmakers saw as a modern solution to the nightmare of punchcard voting systems: electronic voting machines. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, pouring nearly $3 billion into an effort to get states to adopt those machines. More than a decade and a half later, those same electronic machines are still around in many states. And the system arising from the 2002 congressional fix is now at the heart of growing concerns over the integrity of this year’s elections, with cybersecurity experts suggesting that it is an easy target for hackers. Federal authorities are beginning to get involved. But the best insurance for election integrity – a system that uses paper to back up electronic results – may require new federal funding. Not all of the country is on equally precarious footing. Partly because of bad experiences with glitches in electronic voting machines, some localities have been shifting in recent years toward paper-backed systems.
Wednesday’s Supreme Court deadlock ensured that North Carolina’s restrictive voting law won’t be in force for the November election. But it also underlined that the court’s four conservatives appear wedded to a strikingly limited approach to protecting access to the ballot. And it made clearer than ever that the future of voting rights in America will likely be determined by the court’s ninth justice—and therefore by the winner of the presidential election. In a 4-4 ruling that included no explanation, the high court rejected North Carolina’s bid to reinstate its photo ID requirement, its cuts to early voting, and its elimination of a popular pre-registration program for high-school students. All those provisions of the state’s voting law, and others, were blocked by a federal appeals court panel in July. The decision wasn’t a surprise. More notable was that three of the court’s conservatives—Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito—would have granted North Carolina’s request to put the ID requirement and the early voting cuts back into effect. The fourth conservative, Justice Clarence Thomas, would have done so for all three provisions at issue.
The Federal Election Commission has a few questions for God, Satan, and the Ghost of Ronald Reagan, all of whom have filed paperwork to run for office this election cycle. This implausible scenario is part of a policy aimed at dealing with an influx of suspicious-sounding presidential candidate names. It’s relatively easy to register as a presidential candidate, and during the 2016 election plenty of people seem to be taking advantage of that. As a result, the federal agency is now asking whoever filed paperwork to run for president under the names “God,” “Satan,” and “Ronald Reagan’s Ghost” to prove they actually exist. “It has come to the attention of the Federal Election Commission that you may have failed to include an accurate candidate name,” a letter sent by the commission to “H. Majesty Satan Lord of Underworld Prince of Darkness!” in College Station, Texas dated August 31, 2016 reads. “The Commission requires the filing to be true, correct and complete,” the letter warns, adding that “knowingly and willfully making any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation to a federal government agency, including the Federal Election Commission, is punishable.”
Online volunteers seeking to help Donald Trump by making phone calls might be signing up for more than they bargained for. To sign up on Trump’s website, potential volunteers must agree to a 2,271-word non-disclosure agreement in which they also promise they won’t compete against or say anything bad about Trump, his company, his family members or products – now and forever. The agreement is a required part of the sign-up process for Trump Red Dialer, an online call system that connects volunteers for the Republican presidential candidate with potential voters. Earlier this year, volunteers for Trump in New York had to sign non-disclosure agreements in person before making phone calls at Trump Tower. But the website requirement is the first indication that online volunteers must also sign the form, even if they’ll never meet a Trump family member, attend a Trump rally, meet a campaign staffer in person or step inside a Trump campaign office.
National: Controversial anti-voter fraud program risks disenfranchising voters through racial bias, report finds | Facing South
Back in 2005, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — who as chair of his state’s Republican Party championed an illegal voter suppression technique called “caging” — launched a program called Interstate Crosscheck to compare voter registration data across states and ferret out evidence of double voting. The program has since expanded to 30 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), but it’s been controversial from the start. For one thing, it’s resulted in very few actual cases of fraud being referred for prosecution, as alleged cases of double voting in multiple states turned out to be clerical and other errors. One tally found that while the program has flagged 7.2 million possible double registrants, no more than four have actually been charged with deliberate double registration or double voting. Meanwhile, some states including Florida dropped out of the program due to doubts about the reliability of its data — though others, including the swing state of North Carolina, joined despite those issues.
For years, Kris Kobach has fought against illegal immigration. He helped write two of the nation’s most strict immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama and helped develop a now-defunct national immigration security system. Now Kobach, the Republican secretary of state for Kansas, is embroiled in court fights over his repeated attempts to require Kansans to provide proof of citizenship to register to vote. Although he has repeatedly lost in court, one case that remains open will determine whether thousands of Kansans will be able to vote in November’s local and state elections. The saga began in 2011 when Kansas passed the Secure and Fair Elections Act. The law, written by Kobach, requires those registering to vote after Jan. 1, 2013, to provide documentary proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate or a passport. … In September 2013, the ACLU sued Kobach, contending that the proof of citizenship requirement split Kansas voters into two “separate and unequal classes.” In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not require proof of citizenship for people who register using the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s national mail voter registration form. Kobach was allowing those who registered in Kansas with proof of citizenship to vote in all elections, but prohibited those who registered with the EAC form – without proof of citizenship – from voting in state and local elections in Kansas.
Michigan voters would continue to have the option to cast a straight-ticket ballot this fall under a Thursday ruling from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal appeals court denied Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s request for an “en banc” hearing over a suspended state law that would eliminate straight-ticket voting, saying a majority of judges had not voted to reconsider a recent panel decision. The decision was bemoaned by Republican legislators, who approved the law on the grounds it would encourage a more informed electorate, but celebrated as a voting rights victory by Democrats who predicted the straight-ticket ban would have led to longer lines on Election Day. Detroit U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain first struck down the straight-ticket ban in July, ruling it would reduce African-Americans’ opportunity to participate in the political process and put a disproportionate burden on African-Americans’ right to vote.
Rhode Island: Board of Elections fires embattled executive director Robert Kando | Providence Journal
With the primary election less than two weeks away, the state Board of Elections on Wednesday voted 4-to-2 to fire its controversy-prone — and twice suspended — executive director Robert Kando. After the vote, the chairman, Richard R. Dubois, told reporters: “There’s a history, but we’re moving because we want someone who is a little more innovative.” Effective immediately, he said, Bob Rapoza, the director of elections who took then-suspended Kando’s place during the presidential primary in April, would take charge as the acting executive director. “We just have to move on,” said Dubois, whose elevation to the chairmanship in June, along with the appointment by Governor Raimondo of two new members to the board broke the long-running stalemate over Kando’s future as the $145,994 a year head of the state board that presides over campaign-finance reporting, ballot counts and many other election-related activities.
A USC Computer Science professor says South Carolina’s voter registration system and voting machines are vulnerable to hackers. Dr. Duncan Buell says South Carolina’s registration system is a possible target since it’s online. The FBI recently announced that Russian hackers had targeted the voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, with a hacker actually stealing the personal information of up to 200,000 voters in Illinois. The South Carolina State Election Commission says the voter registration system could be hacked, since it is online and anything online is vulnerable, but it has its own in-house computer security experts and works with vendors and the state’s computer security agency to protect the system. The Election Commission says the actual voting machines are much less vulnerable because they’re never connected to the internet or to each other. That doesn’t make them 100 percent safe, but it does lessen the chances of being hacked.
Virginia: Republican leader of Virginia Senate advances felon voting plan of his own | The Washington Post
A Republican state senator who sued Gov. Terry McAuliffe over the governor’s efforts to restore voting rights to felons filed legislation Thursday to automatically grant political rights to certain nonviolent criminals. Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) filed the proposed constitutional amendment one day after he and other Republicans announced that they were taking McAuliffe (D) back to court over his latest attempt at rights restoration. Norment’s move seemed intended to push back against McAuliffe’s claim that Republicans had racist motives for opposing his voting-rights actions. But his plan triggered a fierce backlash from McAuliffe and other Democrats, who said it would close off any avenue for violent felons to vote ever again short of a gubernatorial pardon. GOP legislative leaders have said they objected to McAuliffe’s methods, which they and the state’s Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional.
China: Hong Kong election ballot papers at risk of tampering in the homes of officers | South China Morning Post
Critics have urged the government to improve the handling of ballot papers after it emerged that the documents were being stored in the homes of polling station officers prior to the election. News agency FactWire reported on Thursday that, according to a handbook issued by the Registration and Electoral Office, officers were allowed to take ballot papers back to their homes a week before the Legislative Council election on Sunday. The news report said the ballot papers were sealed in plastic bags after being counted and would only be opened on the day of the election.
Romania’s government said on Wednesday it decided to move forward to December 11 the date for regular parliamentary elections, fearing low turnout. The elections were initially to be held either on November 27 or December 4, a few days before or after the country’s national day, December 1, prompting concerns that many Romanians would be away on vacation. The government has allocated a total of 227.7 million lei ($57 million/51 million euro) to the organisation of the elections, it said in a statement. The pre-election campaign will run from November 11 to December 10.