Voting in the 2016 elections may be under threat from hacking, with the FBI worried about interference by a foreign power. Every day, I and tens of thousands of other Americans get robot phone calls from the “IRS” saying we’re under immediate threat of being sued due to failure to pay back taxes. As we move to a paperless society, paper might be the only thing to protect us – and isn’t that ironic? Let’s deal with the basics of robo-calls and live demands for money. The Internal Revenue Service, as well as most state and local governments, seem to be sticking with the time-honored tradition of sending you one or more pieces of paper through the U.S. Postal Service should you owe them anything, be it taxes, money for unpaid parking tickets and/or summons to appear in court. It bears repeating to your relatives, friends, and neighbors: If the IRS or any other government agency says you owe them money, they always send paper multiple times. They will send more paper if they want to bring you into court, giving you plenty of notice beforehand. And tax payment won’t be requested via iTunes gift cards, prepaid credit cards, and other types of gift cards, or via wire transfers or bank deposits.
The security of U.S. election systems was a major water-cooler topic this summer. There was plenty of media buzz about the potential of Russians hackers infiltrating our voter databases and trying to manipulate the upcoming presidential election. Most recently, the Arizona Secretary of State’s office closed down the state’s voter registration system after a hacker compromised valid credentials and used them to access the system. Shortly after that incident, someone exploited the IVRS (Illinois Voter Registration System). A message posted to Facebook, purportedly written by Kyle Thomas, director of the election board’s voting and registration systems division, stated that the IVRS compromise was a direct result of a SQL injection attack and that the records for up to 200,000 voters were accessed. “The offenders were able to inject SQL database queries into the IVRS database in order to access information. This was a highly sophisticated attack most likely from a foreign (international) entity,” the message posted to Facebook explained. And now we have a leaked FBI memo that, although it doesn’t name Illinois and Arizona, announces that “foreign actors” used common scanning tools to find and exploit vulnerabilities in election systems. The memo also listed internet protocol addresses associated with the hacks. The leaked FBI memo recommends that states “contact their Board of Elections and determine if any similar activity to their logs, both inbound and outbound, has been detected.”
A study released Wednesday, described as the first of its kind, has found what political scientists have long suspected: Most American expatriates don’t vote in U.S. elections. The study by the Federal Voting Assistance Program found that voting rates for all estimated 2.6 million eligible overseas voters, excluding servicemembers and their spouses, was 4 percent in 2014. That compares to 36 percent of eligible voters in the U.S. and, according to a previous study by the FVAP, 21 percent of eligible active-duty military voters who mailed in ballots in 2014. “While we can expect to see an increase in the overall voting rates for the 2016 presidential election, we need to understand whether the overall rate for 2014 is due to low awareness of how to vote absentee or if it is related to other factors,” FVAP Director Matt Boehmer said in a news release.
It’s no secret that voter registration lists are filled with inaccuracies. People move. Or change their names. Or die. But it can take months if not years for the rolls to get updated. Now, conservative groups are taking a number of election officials to court, saying they’re not doing their jobs. Liberal groups think the real purpose is to make it more difficult for some people to vote. The lawsuits have targeted about a dozen counties so far in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Mississippi. And even some cities, such as Philadelphia and Alexandria, Va. “This is an effort to make the voter rolls cleaner and to follow federal law before the elections in November,” says J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. His group is behind the suits, along with the American Civil Rights Union. Adams is a former Justice Department official who has been at the forefront of efforts to restore what he calls “election integrity.”
Not everyone has the financial means to replace a lost or stolen identification card. People experiencing homelessness may additionally struggle with accessing other proofs of identification and residency required to obtain a new identification card. Not having any identification can mean denied access to benefits or services and, in some states, the loss of the ability to vote. While some states and the District only require identification during voter registration, others require a photo ID at the ballot box. North Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia all require photo IDs on Election Day. Other states accept non-photographic proof of identification, such as a bank statement with a voter’s name and address. So what happens if a voter goes to the polls without an acceptable form of identification in their state?
A U.S. lawmaker has introduced two bills to protect voting systems from hacking, amid fears that Russian cyber spies may be interfering with this year’s presidential election. Representative Hank Johnson, a Democrat serving Georgia, is proposing a moratorium on state purchases of electronic voting machines that don’t produce a paper trail. His Election Integrity Act, introduced Wednesday, would also prohibit voting systems from being connected to the internet as a way to prevent online tampering. The high-profile hack of the Democratic National Committee publicized in June has citizens worried that U.S. election systems may be vulnerable, Johnson said.
With the 2016 elections just seven weeks away, state and local governments continue to work with the Department of Homeland Security to scan for vulnerabilities in voting and voter registration systems. DHS’s Andy Ozment, however, contends that the real emphasis should be elsewhere. “That’s a conversation that we’re having with state and local governments,” said Ozment, DHS’s assistant secretary of cybersecurity and communications, at a Sept. 20 event. “It’s an important conversation, but it’s not the conversation that should be the focus of our time right now.” …Ozment, who took part in a Washington, D.C., panel discussion hosted by the nonprofit organization Center Forward, said there was no timeline for a final decision on the critical infrastructure designation. He also voiced confidence in the system’s overall resiliency as Election Day approaches and urged a longer term view.
Editorials: Russian hacker threat to hit US election must be taken seriously | Tim Stevens/New Scientist
It’s been a busy summer for Russian hackers. After a series of high-profile data breaches and threats, questions are being raised about the vulnerability of November’s US presidential election to cyber-interference and subversion. July saw the leak of Democratic National Convention emails, which embarrassed the Clinton campaign by revealing accusations of the party’s dirty tricks against Democrat rival Bernie Sanders. There was the infiltration of electoral registries in Arizona and Illinois, highlighting the insecurity of electronic voting systems. Both, arguably, boosted Donald Trump, the Republican nominee. Investigations into these breaches implicate Russia’s domestic and military intelligence agencies, the FSB and GRU, a charge Russia denies. But these claims have been unusually specific and backed with corroborating evidence. If true, they suggest Russia is unleashing new tools and tactics to pursue its objectives. Could it affect the outcome of the US election? And how should we understand the apparent escalation in Russian state-sponsored hacking?
Native Americans won the right to vote in Arizona in 1948. But open access to the polls didn’t come until 1976, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision forced state officials to drop a literacy requirement. While access here has improved since then, Native voters in Arizona and around the country still face many unique barriers when trying to cast their ballots. Laura Riddle doesn’t have a standard address, so GPS doesn’t do much to help find her. A freeway exit number and basic directions to a convenience store are more reliable. Riddle lives on the Gila River Indian Community, which sits just south of the Phoenix metro area. Despite the community’s general proximity to the city, the reservation spans almost 600 square miles, much of it rural. And just like Riddle, many residents here don’t have an address. “We’re used to giving directions out here by landmarks,” she said. “There’s a tree. There’s two trees, there’s a big bush with purple flowers on it.”
California: Secretary of state says counties don’t need to change their election audits | The San Diego Union-Tribune
As a court date for a lawsuit that could change how San Diego County audits its elections approaches, the California secretary of state has told officials across the state that they do not need to change their procedures for double checking the accuracy of their automated vote-counting equipment. The top lawyer for the secretary of state says counties do not need to include provisional and mail-in ballots when manually auditing votes. The “Secretary of State’s position is that neither provisional ballots nor all vote-by-mail ballots are required to be included in the one percent manual tally,” Chief Counsel Steven Reyes wrote in a September 15 letter. The memo was written in response to an effort by a San Diego-based organization that’s trying to get counties to use a different interpretation of the state’s laws on election audits.
A millennial member of the state Legislature wants to make sure it’s legal for New Jerseyans to snap a photo of their ballot in the voting booth — possibly with their face in the frame — and then post it on social media. State Assemblyman Raj Mukherji has introduced a bill (A4188) that would legalize so-called “ballot selfies.” “It’s not perfectly clear that the current statute would be interpreted to prohibit this,” the 32-year-old Mukherji (D-Hudson) told Politico New Jersey.
Navajo Nation member Davis Filfred prefers casting a ballot the old fashioned way at a polling place. But he’s worried he may have to make a three-hour round-trip drive this November to make that happen. San Juan County in southeastern Utah switched to an all-mail ballot election system in 2014, leaving only one polling place in the northern county seat of Monticello for that election. That meant tribal members who live in far-flung corners of the county had to drive twice as far as white residents, according to a Navajo group that filed a federal lawsuit in February over the new system. The group urged U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish Wednesday to approve their request for a court order requiring the county to open nine polling places for the November election, three satellite locations for early voting and staff them with bilingual workers who can help Navajo speakers. “There’s no way for us to have a redo of the upcoming election,” said attorney Arusha Gordon, represented the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
Long before Moscow became the prime suspect in the Democratic National Committee data breach, hackers tied to the Russian government have sought to sew political discord via the internet. Most notably, many experts believe that in 2007 Russian operatives unleashed a series of devastating cyberattacks on neighboring Estonia following a dispute with Moscow over a Soviet-era war memorial. At the time, Estonia had the world’s most connected society, giving attackers plenty of targets. They succeeded in taking down government computers, banks, and newspaper sites, trying to paralyze the “e-way of life” Estonians painstakingly crafted after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. And now, as a growing number of digital attacks hit countries’ most critical systems, from hospitals to electric utilities to voting infrastructure, Estonia has become a critical voice and an important model when it comes to preparing for escalating conflict in cyberspace.
Gabonese officials announced this week that the country’s Constitutional Court will recount votes from last month’s controversial presidential election, when incumbent Ali Bongo Ondimba defeated opposition leader Jean Ping by just 5,594 votes. Now they’re threatening to arrest Ping if he disagrees with the court’s results and protests in the capital of Libreville turn violent again. In an exclusive interview Wednesday with Foreign Policy, Gabonese Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Moussa-Adamo said that Ping’s goal has been “to create chaos so that the international community will step in and rule the country.” Were that to happen, he predicted, Ping would eventually try to organize new elections and take over the presidency. Moussa-Adamo’s comments, in New York, followed a Libreville press conference Wednesday where government spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie told reporters that “if [Ping] crosses the line, he will be arrested.” Gabon has garnered international attention in the past month as protesters have taken to the streets, claiming the August elections were rigged in favor of Bongo, whose family has ruled the oil-rich nation for decades. Bongo’s camp insists there was no rigging on its side, and has accused Ping of agitating his supporters in order to destabilize the country. It’s unclear how many people have been killed in the post-election violence, as the opposition claims upwards of 100 are dead and the government says the real count is a fraction of that. Around 1,000 people have been arrested.
Widespread rioting broke out in Jordan on Tuesday night after preliminary results of the country’s parliamentary election were reported, amid complaints of vote-rigging. Residents of the restive southern city of Maan blocked roads, burned tyres and threw bricks until disturbances were eventually quelled by Jordanian security forces, according to the local news website Roya. Residents told Roya that they heard intense gunfire after nightfall and that electricity was cut off in various areas of the city. There was another reported incident of rioting just north-west of the capital, Amman, after supporters of a parliamentary candidate, who has not been named, read news reports which suggested that he had not won a seat.
When liberal-rights activist Ella Pamfilova was named the head of Russia’s election commission in March, she promised to clean house and oversee transparent, democratic elections. “We will change a lot, and radically, in the way the Central Election Commission operates. A lot and radically—this is something I can promise you,” she said at the time. However, a statistical analysis of the official preliminary results of the country’s September 18 State Duma elections points to a familiar story: massive fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia party comparable to what independent analysts found in 2007 and 2011. “The results of the current Duma elections were falsified on the same level as the Duma and presidential elections of 2011, 2008, and 2007, the most falsified elections in post-Soviet history, as far as we can tell,” physicist and data analyst Sergei Shpilkin said to The Atlantic. “By my estimate, the scope of the falsification in favor of United Russia in these elections amounted to approximately 12 million votes.” According to the CEC’s preliminary results, official turnout for the election was 48 percent, and United Russia polled 54.2 percent of the party-list vote—about 28,272,000 votes. That total gave United Russia 140 of the 225 party-list seats available in the Duma. In addition, United Russia candidates won 203 of the 225 contests in single-mandate districts, giving the party an expected total of 343 deputies in the 450-seat house.
In Russia’s parliamentary election on Sunday, Vladimir Putin’s party won three-quarters of the seats outright in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, and the rest indirectly, through parties loyal to him. It apparently did so without many voting irregularities, and despite a sluggish economy, sanctions imposed by the West and unrest in some quarters over the government’s crackdown on civil liberties. What gives? What gives is the sorry degree to which Mr. Putin and his Kremlin cronies have consolidated full control over Russian politics. Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia appears to have returned full circle to a pseudo-parliament whose only function is to give a semblance of legitimacy to an authoritarian ruler. The post-Soviet Russian Constitution already granted more powers to the president and cabinet than to the legislature, but at least the Duma was a platform for the opposition to question and criticize Kremlin policies. Now even this function is effectively gone.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy may have a chance to end Spain’s nine-month political impasse and avoid an unprecedented third election after regional ballots in the north of the country next week clarify the state of play. Since Rajoy lost a second confidence vote on Sept. 2, Spanish politicians have been back in campaign mode, fighting their own corners ahead of ballots in the Basque region and Galicia on Sunday. Once those votes are counted, they might be ready to cut a deal. The Basque Nationalist Party is likely to be in the hot seat. They have five lawmakers in the national legislature and are on track to win the most votes in their regional ballot but polls suggest they may need help from Rajoy’s People’s Party to govern. That would open up the possibility of deal to help keep Rajoy in power in exchange for support in the Basque assembly. The Basques could, in theory, take Rajoy to exactly half the votes in the 350-seat legislature, leaving him just one abstention short of victory.