Russian hackers would not be able to change the outcome of the United States presidential election, the nation’s most senior intelligence and law enforcement officials have assured Congress and the White House in recent weeks. But disrupting it, they acknowledge, would be far easier — causing doubts in battleground states, prompting challenges to results and creating enough chaos to make Florida’s hanging chads seem like a quaint problem from the analog age. By some measures, in fact, the disruption has already begun. And meddling around the edges of an election could sow doubts about the legitimacy of the results — especially in a year in which the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, has told his supporters that the only way he will lose is if the election is “rigged,” and while campaign officials for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, have held a series of meetings about preparing for the possibility that the vote will be hacked. The White House has declined to name Russia publicly as the chief suspect in a series of recent hacks, and has worded its public warnings carefully. The greatest danger, Lisa O. Monaco, President Obama’s domestic security adviser, said on Wednesday, is from attempts to cause “concern or confusion” about the voting system.
The House Science Committee met Tuesday to discuss efforts to safeguard the November elections from hacking threats, with lawmakers pressing officials on the potential danger and the federal response. Concerns over an election hack have grown after recent breaches to Illinois and Arizona’s online voter registration databases and the Democratic National Committee email hack. “Rightly, we should be concerned about the integrity of our election system,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), who pressed witnesses on whether elections should be treated as critical infrastructure requiring federal support. “Typically, whatever we get involved with doesn’t run as well as if the state is doing it themselves,” he cautioned.
In early August, Donald Trump began expressing fear that the U.S. presidential election would be “rigged” against him. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” Trump told an audience in Columbus, Ohio. While much has been written about his remarks—as well as several others he made in the weeks following the Democratic National Convention—it remains an open question whether electronic databases storing votes can be hacked and manipulated. Voting has entered the digital era on two fronts. Electronic voting machines and, in some locations, Internet voting have introduced numerous opportunities for hackers to alter voting records. It is the security of massive spreadsheets recording the will of the people that concerns Richard Forno, a computer security expert who recently thrust himself into the national debate over the hackability of U.S. elections by publishing a column on the subject. “Everyone’s focusing on the edges of the network, the voting machines, but no one’s looking at the databases,” Forno, a career computer security expert and currently the director of the Graduate Cybersecurity Program at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, tells The Parallax.
Georgia: Suit alleges Georgia blocked thousands of minority voters from rolls | Atlanta Journal Constitution
Less than a week before early voting starts in Georgia’s presidential election, a coalition of voting advocates filed suit Wednesday accusing Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp of disenfranchising thousands of residents by blocking their access to vote. Further, the lawsuit alleges that Georgia’s use of a strict matching process for voter registration has disproportionately affected minority voters across the state, meaning the voter registration applications of black, Latino and Asian Americans in Georgia are more likely than those of white applicants to be rejected. It is an accusation denied strongly by Kemp, who has traveled the state to tout the accessibility of Georgia’s elections.
Missouri: Voters will now get a say in voter ID, but law could still be challenged in court | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Missouri Republicans may have muscled through a voter ID law on Wednesday, but their veto session victory could be relatively short-lived, if court rulings in other states are any indication. Before any court challenges can be filed, however, voters will have their say. The vetoed law overridden by lawmakers this week is tied to a referendum on Nov. 8, when Missouri voters will be asked whether to amend the state constitution to require voter identification. If they approve, the law would go into effect in 2017. At issue is whether requiring Missouri residents to present a photo identification before voting disenfranchises certain groups, including people of color, the elderly, the poor and students. Missouri Republicans, like their GOP counterparts in other states, argue that showing a photo ID is a common-sense way to prevent voter fraud. Democrats say voter fraud isn’t a pervasive problem, and that voter ID legislation is merely a way to suppress minority voters who tend to support more liberal candidates. Recently, courts throughout the country have agreed.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to restore a period of early voting in Ohio during which people could register and vote on the same day. The court’s brief order came in response to an emergency application from Democratic groups. There were no noted dissents. The case, Ohio Democratic Party v. Husted, No. 16A223, has its roots in the 2004 general election, when Ohio voters faced exceptionally long lines, leaving them, in the words of one court, “effectively disenfranchised.” In response, the state adopted a measure allowing in-person early voting in the 35 days before Election Day. As registration in the state closes 30 days before Election Day, the measure introduced a brief period, known as the Golden Week, in which voters could register and vote at the same time.
Some of what is reported by the Guardian U.S. in its story on leaked John Doe documents had been previously disclosed, but there was also a good bit of new stuff. Most notably, the story broke the news that Harold Simmons, owner of NL Industries, a producer of the lead formerly used in paint, made three donations totaling $750,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012. Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers then pushed through a measure intended to retroactively shield lead paint makers from liability. But that wasn’t all. Here are six other things that we found in the 1,352 pages of leaked records:
* Republican insiders discussed ginning up concerns over voter fraud in the days after then-Supreme Court Justice David Prosser narrowly defeated challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in April 2011.
Austria’s rerun presidential election, scheduled for 2 October, may be postponed on technical grounds because of problems with glue on postal votes coming unstuck, the country’s interior ministry has said. The election was originally held in May but the constitutional court ordered a repeat poll after the far-right Freedom party (FPO) successfully challenged the result due to procedural irregularities. The FPO candidate, Norbert Hofer, narrowly lost that vote to the former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen, who was running as an independent. Hofer has led in recent opinion polls. “If an apparent failure in production makes it impossible to properly conduct the election, then it is my duty as the highest-ranking executive of the electoral authority to immediately consider a postponement,” the interior minister, Wolfgang Sobotka, said in an emailed statement. An interior ministry spokeswoman said a decision was expected early next week.
Most observers, myself included, expected Gabon’s incumbent president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, to win his country’s election late last month. Few, however—again including me—anticipated the degree of violence and apparent fraud that would accompany the process. Bongo is now reconsolidating power in the aftermath of an intensely contested election. If his victory stands, it will demonstrate that Gabon’s opposition has few tools with which to challenge the results, and that the international community has little will to sanction Bongo and his inner circle. When elections were held on Aug. 27, Bongo barely won. Gabon’s electoral framework stipulated that the winner needed a plurality, rather than a majority, of the vote. With the opposition surprisingly unified around one candidate, Jean Ping, a former African Union Commission chairman and Gabonese Cabinet minister, the election became a two-man race. The official results gave Bongo 49.8 percent and Ping 48.23 percent, with eight other candidates dividing the remaining roughly 2 percent of the vote.
Five years have passed since the street protests that erupted following what were widely perceived as rigged parliamentary elections in Russia. But recent events have already made clear that anyone hoping that the next election to the Duma, Russia’s lower house, on Sunday will be significantly freer and more open is set for disappointment. Just two weeks before the ballot, Russian authorities blacklisted the Levada Centre, the country’s last independent pollster, as a “foreign agent”, leaving it barely able to function. This was ostensibly for receiving foreign funding. More likely it was because Levada’s polls showed falling support for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Memories of the 2011 demonstrations are still fresh in President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. So Moscow has taken steps to make this poll appear a little more transparent and competitive. It is reverting to a mixed system for the first time since 2003. Half the seats will come from party lists, half from single-member districts, to restore local representation.
National: House homeland security chairman urges Obama administration to secure election system | InsideCyberSecurity
House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) is urging the Obama administration to act quickly to secure the nation’s election system amid allegations of Russian hacker interference, rejecting concerns that the move would be a federal takeover over a system managed at the state and local level. “We can’t afford to let a foreign government attack our country – our election system,” McCaul said today at the Internet Security Alliance conference on Capitol Hill. “We can’t afford to let a foreign government attack our country – our election system,” McCaul said today at the Internet Security Alliance conference on Capitol Hill. McCaul referred to a “debate going on within the administration” over designating the national election system as critical infrastructure, which would allow the Department of Homeland Security to provide assistance under a national program for a coordinated response to risks to critical industry sectors.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is intensifying efforts to find enough evidence to enable the Justice Department to indict some of the Russians that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded are hacking into American political parties and figures, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials said on Thursday. Building legal cases is difficult, largely because the best evidence against foreign hackers is often highly classified, they said. Still, some White House and State Department officials think legal action is the best way to respond to what they said are growing Russian attempts to disrupt and discredit the November elections, without sparking an open confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Doing nothing is not an option, because that would telegraph weakness and just encourage the Russians to do more meddling, but retaliating in kind carries substantial risks,” said one U.S. official involved in the administration’s deliberations. Russia has denied it sponsors or encourages any hacking activity.
Editorials: Voting technology should go back to the future | John Phillips/The Orange County Register
The internet and smartphones have revolutionized the way we live our lives in fundamental, and, in my opinion, fantastic ways. It’s now possible to do your banking, buy airline tickets and pick your seats at the movies all while you wait in the lobby at the dentist’s office. There’s virtually nothing you can’t do on your favorite electronic device – except vote. And it should stay that way. Give me Scantrons and hanging chads any day of the week over online, or even electronic, voting, where domestic hackers and foreign agents potentially have the ability to alter the result of a U.S. election. Think about the chaos that swept through the state of Florida after the 2000 presidential election in response to an extremely close election – and then think about what would be in store for us if the losing candidate pins their loss on foreign espionage. We’d be at each other’s throats faster than you could say “banana republic.”
Georgia’s voter registration process violates the Voting Rights Act and has prevented tens of thousands of residents, mostly minorities, from registering to vote, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday. Under a policy implemented in 2010, people aren’t added to the voter rolls if identifying information on their applications doesn’t exactly match information in databases maintained by the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration, the lawsuit says. “What Georgia is doing is denying people the ability to make it onto the registration rolls at the outset, which is what’s so problematic about this matching program,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The organization said it filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Gainesville, in north Georgia, along with other legal organizations on behalf of a coalition of civil rights groups.
Kansas county election offices are sorting through thousands of records to identify voters affected by a recent federal court order, according to Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit blocked Kansas and two other states from requiring proof of citizenship from people who register to vote using the federal form. Kobach said the state’s voter database does not differentiate between people who register with the federal form and the state form, so local election officers will have to physically go through paper records of people who tried to register since January to determine which voters were affected by the ruling. He estimated the number of people affected would be between 200 and 400 statewide. The state began requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, when they register to vote in 2013. Before this year, federal form registrants were allowed to cast ballots in federal elections regardless of whether they provided proof of citizenship.
New Jersey: Democrats postpone attempt to override Christie veto on voter registration bill | NJ.com
State Assembly Democrats have postponed a planned attempt Thursday to override Gov. Chris Christie’s recent veto of a bill that would automatically register people to vote when they receive or renew their driver’s license. Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), the main sponsor of the measure, said Democrats called off the vote because of “several absences in our caucus today. Given the general decline in voter participation, this bill is too important to leave to fate,” Coughlin said in a statement shortly before Thursday’s Assembly session was set to begin. “We look forward to announcing a new date soon.” There were 54 “yes” votes in the Assembly when it passed in June – the veto-proof majority necessary in the 80-seat house.
Constitutional amendments dealing with school elections and voting rights that were thought to have failed years ago actually were passed, the state Supreme Court ruled today. The justices concluded that the constitutional changes needed the approval of only a majority of voters — not the 75 percent that was thought to be required — because they expanded rights, not curtailed them. That means that school elections could now be held in conjunction with other nonpartisan elections, such as municipal elections, rather than having to be held separately. The other changes modernized language in the constitution, replacing the references to “idiots” and “insane persons” as being prohibited from voting.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court decided not to reinstate Ohio’s “Golden Week,” a period in which Ohio residents could register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day. It’s just the latest in a string of contentious voting rights issues in the Buckeye State. The Golden Week came into effect after the 2004 presidential election, when excessively long lines on Election Day disenfranchised Ohio voters. As Mother Jones explained in 2005:
It turns out the Franklin County Board of Elections had reduced the number of voting machines in urban precincts — which held more African American voters and were likely to favor John Kerry — and increased the number of machines in white suburban precincts, which tended to favor the president. As a result, as many as 15,000 voters in Franklin County left without casting ballots, the Washington Post estimated.
In response, the state instituted, among other reforms, a 35-day early voting period. Since the last day to register to vote in Ohio came 30 days before the elections, voters had a five-day window where they could simultaneously register and vote before the general registration deadline.<
Virginia: State Supreme Court denies Republican effort to hold McAuliffe in contempt over felon voting rights | Richmond Times-Dispatch
The Supreme Court of Virginia on Thursday rejected a Republican effort to have Gov. Terry McAuliffe held in contempt over his ongoing efforts to restore voting rights for felons. In a unanimous one-page order, the Supreme Court said it would not force McAuliffe to return to court to prove that he is complying with the court’s July 22 ruling that struck down the governor’s first attempt to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 felons via executive order. The court also said it would not allow Republican General Assembly leaders to seek documents from the McAuliffe administration through a new discovery process. The ruling brings to an end the legal fight that cast uncertainty over thousands of ex-offenders just weeks before early voting gets underway for the presidential election.
Editorials: A Lesson for Trump From Scott Walker: If the Election Is Close, Cry Fraud | John Nichols/The Nation
The first great electoral challenge to Governor Scott Walker’s assault on labor rights, public education, and public services in Wisconsin came in an April 2011 state Supreme Court race. Incumbent Justice David Prosser, a former Republican legislator who had mentored Walker when both served in the legislature, faced an unexpectedly robust challenge from state Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who argued that the state’s highest court needed to be independent from the governor. The officially nonpartisan race divided the state. Walker’s Republicans and conservative donors rushed to defend Prosser, while labor activists and many Democrats backed his challenger. However, Kloppenburg endeavored to keep above the partisanship—emphasizing that she had worked well with Republican and Democratic attorneys general, and saying, “I have not wavered in my beliefs and will not start if I am elected as a justice. My focus will be on the court without any political bias.”
China’s top legislature has expelled 45 lawmakers, or nearly half the number elected from Liaoning province, over a bribery and vote-buying scandal. The decision — announced at a highly unusual emergency meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) on Tuesday — comes after a two-year investigation by the Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog into election fraud in the northeastern province. China’s national and provincial lawmakers are chosen through a multitiered voting system, with members within the legislative bodies electing candidates mostly nominated by the party. An estimated 523 lawmakers out of the 619 members of Liaoning’s People’s Congress were implicated in the scandal, which involved paying “enormous amount of money” to their peers to get elected in 2013, said sources close to the investigation, which concluded in June.
Protesters in southern China are up in arms. They feel that Beijing’s promises that they’d be able to vote for their own local leaders have been honored in the breach. They’re outraged at the show of force in the face of peaceful protest, and confronted with superior government might, they are using the power of numbers and the reach of social media to make their voices heard. Readers would be forgiven for thinking the above to be a description of Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests in October 2014 and a subsequent independence movement have captured global attention. But it also depicts Wukan, a small mainland Chinese village about a three and-a-half-hour drive east of the former British colony. In December 2011, it became a global symbol for a new style of Chinese governance when a citizen uprising against illegal land seizures and a brief exercise in self-rule during a police blockade elicited promises of village-level democratization from Beijing. Now citizen unrest is making headlines once again.
Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama, from the ruling National Democratic Congress, main opposition leader Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo from the New Patriotic Party and other presidential candidates have picked up nomination documents from the Electoral Commission ahead of the December 7 general election. Parliamentary candidates also began picking up their nomination forms. The candidates are required to pay $12,505 while parliamentary candidates pay $2,501 as nomination fees in addition to meeting other requirements outlined by the electoral commission. September 29 and 30 are the only dates the electoral commission has set for the official filing of nomination for all candidates who want to participate in the elections, according to spokesman Eric Dzakpasu.