If there is a weak spot in the voting process, it could be the practice followed in more than half the states of allowing overseas voters, including members of the U.S. military, to return their ballots online, experts say. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia permit some registered voters living outside of the U.S. to cast their pick for president by email, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 30 states permit the return of some ballots by fax, while five states allow ballots to be uploaded through a web portal. The changes were implemented to make voting easier, but, with polls showing increasing concerns about rigging and hacking of the system, the one area with the most vulnerability may be this relatively small cache of ballots, the experts said. Most U.S. voting electronic machines aren’t internet-enabled, meaning that they would have to be physically accessed to tamper with the results. The few that do have wireless or other network capabilities generally are paper-ballot scanners that leave a physical trail that can be checked in a recount or audit.
In late April, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) suspected that something was wrong with their network and called in the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike to investigate. A few weeks later, after routine testing, the suspicions were confirmed: The committee had been hacked by the Russians. … As DNC documents were leaked throughout the summer and into the fall, the episode put the United States on notice that Vladimir Putin’s government is intent on influencing the 2016 election, Alperovitch said during a panel discussion at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). That could mean a couple of things, he said. Russia might try to hack voting machines or it could mount a disinformation campaign to discredit the eventual results. “The fundamental objective here by the Russians is not necessarily to get one person or another elected as president,” said Alperovitch. “The fundamental objective is actually much more nefarious, which is to undermine the very idea of a free and fair election — the cornerstone of our democracy.” The decentralized nature of the U.S. vote should protect against a widespread intrusion, said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan advocacy group. Each of the 9,000 election jurisdictions across the country has its own systems and procedures, meaning no single point of failure could disrupt the tally nationwide.
The test began at 8 a.m. last Tuesday. Secretary of State Michele Reagan, four staffers and a freelance Spanish-language interpreter cast 138 votes on 40 ballots using seven touch-screen machines. The mood was jovial—until a printout showed the numbers on one machine didn’t line up with the master list of votes. Janine Petty, Arizona’s deputy state election director, scanned the printout and quickly discovered another of Ms. Reagan’s staffers had voted for two of the wrong candidates. The machine had worked perfectly, after all. Ms. Reagan jokingly admonished the sheepish staffer, telling him he should go on their fictional “Wall of Shame.” Across the country, state election officials are carrying out final tests on tens of thousands of voting machines that are part of a multistep process that delivers results in local, state and federal contests. Next week, the last of more than 120 million ballots are expected to be cast in a watershed election to determine who controls the White House, Congress and the direction of the Supreme Court.
State election officials around the country are woefully unprepared for a cyber disruption around Election Day. While states have spent years thinking about and planning for other types of crisis that can mess with voting — from hurricanes to power blackouts and terrorist attacks — they’ve been slow and ill staffed to develop contingency plans responsive to a hack attack that would adequately protect their systems in time for the 2016 presidential election. “They’re waking up to it, but they largely don’t know what questions to ask,” said Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at the nonprofit research center SRI International and an expert on voting mechanics. A dozen battleground state officials surveyed by POLITICO insist the voting systems themselves are safe, as nearly all parts of the balloting process take place in a secure, offline environment. But they also repeatedly acknowledged there are limits to what they can control, and they recognize they face legitimate challenges from cyber intrusions to the myriad adjacent parts that go into an election, including online registration records and publicizing vote tallies. While any manipulation of a state’s official election results is seen as unlikely, there’s little denying that an Internet disruption or hack could cause significant confusion and chaos on Election Day, a dark conclusion to an ugly election plagued by accusations of Russian cyber espionage and evidence-less allegations of vote tampering and rigging. Just last week, hackers temporarily froze a sizable chunk of the internet, a worst-case scenario that would cause serious problems around the country if duplicated on Nov. 8 — the day more than 100 million Americans are going to the polls.
National and local voting rights activists, worried about threats to casting ballots nationwide, are setting up command centers, staffing hotlines and deploying thousands of monitors to polling sites across the country to ensure voters can get to the polls. “Folks are pretty much on high alert,’’ said Scott Simpson, director of media and campaigns for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of 200 groups. “There is no election like this in modern history and we are taking every precaution that we can, within our means, to prevent intimidation and to make sure that folks know that they will be able to cast their ballots free from intimidation.’’ With talk about “rigged’’ elections in the presidential campaign and the Supreme Court’s rejection of a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, civil rights and voting rights activists say they’re concerned about possible shenanigans and roadblocks at the polls. Voting rights advocates are particularly worried about potential problems in states, mostly in the South, that used to be required to get approval or “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department before making any changes in election procedures because they had a history of discrimination at the polls. A 2013 Supreme Court decision — Shelby County v. Holder — threw out that provision. This will be the first presidential election since pre-clearance was eliminated in those states.
On Oct. 17, at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Donald Trump made one of his many provocative claims about the integrity of U.S. elections, especially in battleground states crucial to his election chances. “It’s possible that non-citizen voters were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina,” Trump told the crowd in the packed convention center. “It could have provided his margin of victory.” The charge was, in some ways, quintessential Trump, melding two central themes of his candidacy: the supposed danger posed by undocumented immigrants, and alleged “large scale voter fraud” that could tip the election against him. Trump’s claim was quickly dismissed as a “pants on fire” distortion by Will Doran of PolitiFact North Carolina. But while it may have been easy for some to dismiss the allegation as Trump’s latest truth-challenged exaggeration, the reality is that, at the state and federal level, such rhetoric has resulted in discriminatory policy that threatens immigrant citizens’ voting rights. The study Trump was alluding to came from a guest editorial published in the Washington Post shortly before the November 2014 elections by two researchers from Old Dominion University. Drawing on self-reported data, the authors claimed that up to 6 percent of non-citizens in the U.S. voted in 2008, nearly 18,000 in North Carolina alone.
Donald J. Trump has found a new reason to question the legitimacy of the 2016 election — ballots — and he wasted little time here on Saturday before taking issue with the voting system in this largely vote-by-mail state. “I have real problems with ballots being sent,” Mr. Trump said, pantomiming a ballot collector sifting envelopes and tossing some over his shoulder while counting others. “If you don’t have a ballot, they give you another one and they void your one at home,” he told the crowd at an afternoon rally, explaining how voters could go fill out their ballot at the back of the venue here. “And then, of course, the other side would send that one in too, but, you know, we don’t do that stuff. We don’t do that stuff.” Mr. Trump’s repetitive accusations of a “rigged” election and a slanted electoral system are grounded in the belief that fraudulent behavior would only help his opponent. Yet it was a Trump supporter in Des Moines who was charged on Thursday with a Class D felony in Iowa, having sent in two absentee ballots, both supporting Mr. Trump. “The polls are rigged,” she added, repeating a line often said by Mr. Trump.
A voter mobilization facing an investigation into possible voter registration fraud asked a court Thursday to unseal documents from an Indiana State Police search of its offices, saying it “has been publicly demonized by the highest state officials in Indiana.” Patriot Majority USA’s attorneys asked a judge to either unseal a search warrant affidavit in the Oct. 4 search of its Indianapolis offices or hold an immediate hearing on its request. State Police announced Sept. 15 that it had begun investigating in August whether some voter registration applications submitted by Patriot Majority contained elements of fraud, including possible forged signatures. Patriot Majority has said some applications it submitted to county clerk’s offices were missing information, but none were fraudulent, and the group had flagged applications it knew were incomplete. In its motion filed in Marion County Superior Court, Patriot Majority cites comments by Gov. Mike Pence, who’s Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate; Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson; Pence-appointed State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, among others. “It would be highly unjust to not release the Affidavit when public officials have refused to provide the facts supporting their reckless conclusory proclamations,” the motion states.
Ballot selfies are currently not allowed in Michigan following a 2-1 decision by a federal appeals court. The decision reverses an earlier one this week from a lower court that said ballot selfies would be allowed, when a judge granted a preliminary injunction of Michigan’s law that banned photographs of voter ballots. “Timing is everything,” the Friday, Oct. 28, order authored by Jeffrey S. Sutton and joined by Ralph B. Guy Jr. states. “Crookston’s motion and complaint raise interesting First Amendment issues, and he will have an opportunity to litigate them in full—after this election.” “With just ten days before the November 2016 election, however, we will not accept his invitation to suddenly alter Michigan’s venerable voting protocols, especially when he could have filed this lawsuit long ago,” the order states.
In the first week of early voting in North Carolina this month, the number of people who showed up to cast in-person ballots in Guilford County fell off a cliff. Voters cast 52,562 fewer ballots, a decrease of 87 percent from the same weeklong period four years earlier, according to an analysis by Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. The difference? In 2012, the county — where more than a third of the 517,000 residents are African-American and which gave President Obama 58 percent of the vote in 2012 — had 16 locations open for the first stretch of in-person early voting. This year, the Republican-controlled election board opened only one polling site for the first week of early voting — and the site was open two fewer days that first week. Civil rights advocates say what happened in Guilford County, the home of Greensboro, is part of a nationwide proliferation of largely Republican-led efforts, large and small, that discriminate against African-Americans, Latinos, and others at the ballot box. Measures that make voting more difficult — new voter ID laws; rules that make it harder to register; and cuts in the number and hours of polling places — have popped up throughout the country, including in some areas with a history of disenfranchisement.