The Department of Homeland Security on Saturday urged state election officials to seek assistance in boosting cyber security ahead of November’s elections, after hackers tapped into voter registration systems in a small number of states. In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said 21 states have sought the Department’s assistance to improve cyber security. Johnson said hackers have been scanning state computer systems, a possible prelude to actual cyber attacks. “These challenges aren’t just in the future — they are here today,” Johnson said. “We must remain vigilant and continue to address these challenges head on. Before November 8, I urge state and local election officials to seek our cybersecurity assistance.” At least four states have had voter registration systems hacked in recent weeks. Officials in Arizona and Illinois said their systems had been improperly accessed this summer, and ABC News reported Thursday that at least two other voter registration systems were compromised. But those voter registration systems are distinct from vote tabulation systems, which county, local and state election officials maintain independently of internet-based systems. That makes the tabulation system much more difficult to hack, experts say, without physical access to the tightly guarded voting machines themselves.
“There is a risk at large here,” Symantec Senior Vice President Samir Kapuria said. According to Symantec, the simple technological hardware in voting machines makes it relatively easy to take down a whole system of machines at a voting location. Many electronic voting systems have a cartridge in the back that holds ballot information. It’s basically a USB drive. “If somebody was really nefarious and put some tailor-made malware on one of those cartridges, that would walk from an individual system back to the nest,” Kapuria said. The problem becomes even worse when you consider that many locations do not keep a paper trail of voter receipts. There’s no simple solution to this problem, especially given that different counties and states use different types of voting machines.
Donald Trump renewed calls this weekend for supporters to travel to precincts outside their own Nov. 8 to keep a vigilant eye out for voter fraud. “We don’t want to lose an election because you know what I’m talking about,” the Republican presidential candidate told an overwhelmingly white crowd in Manheim, Pa. on Saturday. “Because you know what? That’s a big, big problem, and nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody has the guts to talk about it. So go and watch these polling places.” Saturday was the second night in a row Mr. Trump urged supporters to poll watch, adding on to his repeated warnings in August that the election is “rigged” because of voter fraud. But Trump’s exhortations concern voters’ rights advocates who fear amateur poll watchers could intimidate and even harass minority voters The conflict, then, shows the difficulty with the practice: can Republican poll watchers “safeguard democracy,” as one exponent in Louisville said in 2004, without reverting to voter intimidation, particularly if they raise challenges at polls based on voters’ race, religion, or ethnicity?
Two Democratic senators say nine states are violating federal law with their mail-in voter registration deadlines for the November election, potentially disenfranchising thousands of people by blocking applications as many as three days earlier than other states. U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to intervene and work with election officials in those states to ensure compliance with the National Voting Rights Act. The states cited in their letter Thursday are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. “The right to vote is too precious to have something so simple to fix potentially prevent so many Americans from participating in the upcoming Election,” the senators wrote. The calendar appears to be the culprit. The deadline for registering by mail under federal law — 30 days before the election — falls on a Sunday this year. The next day happens to be Columbus Day, when there will be no postal service, preventing registrations from being postmarked. All other states have adjusted their deadlines to account for the long holiday weekend, accepting registration applications postmarked by Tuesday, Oct. 11.
National: Some voters with disabilities say they are treated like ‘second-class citizens’ at the polls | Business Insider
… A new analysis of voter accessibility data by the disability advocacy group Ruderman Family Foundation reveals that impediments to entering polling locations, difficulty obtaining absentee ballots, inadequate training of poll workers, a lack of privacy while voting, among other problems, plague an estimated more than 3 million eligible voters with disabilities. If unaddressed, advocates say, these issues could impact nearly a quarter of voters this fall. In a white paper released by the foundation on Sept. 26, experts’ analysis of voter data suggests that as many as 10% of people with disabilities report difficulties trying to register to vote or obtain an absentee ballot, which eliminate the need to travel to polling locations. “It is fundamentally unfair for 20% of the American voting population to face barriers to a full and fair participation in their right to cast a vote,” Jay Ruderman, president of the foundation, said in a press release. “America should and can do better to include people with disabilities in our elections.”
Two Democratic senators have a new voting rights nemesis: Columbus Day. US Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Patrick Leahy of Vermont say the federal holiday could disenfranchise “hundreds of thousands” of Americans whose voter-registration applications wouldn’t be postmarked until after nine states’ deadlines to register by mail. In a letter addressed to the US Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) Sept. 30, the senators asked the agency to work with election officials in the nine states to extend their deadlines past the October 10 Columbus Day holiday. The senators’ letter shows how voting rights advocates are “aggressively calling attention to any potential for disenfranchisement,” as the Associated Press’s Christina Cassidy writes, in the first presidential election since the Supreme Court watered down the Voting Rights Act in 2013. While courts have been asked to rule on controversial voter ID laws since then, the senators are also concerned about other ways Americans might not be able to vote. “The right to vote is too precious to have something so simple to fix potentially prevent so many Americans from participating in the upcoming Election,” wrote Mr. Schumer and Mr. Leahy in the letter.
Editorials: To safeguard the vote, we can start by replacing our old machines | Mary Sanchez/Alaska Dispatch News
How vulnerable to tampering or malfunction will our electoral system be Nov. 8 when millions show up to cast their ballots? It’s a topic of considerable interest. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have got to be honest,” Trump told Ohio voters in August, according to CBS News. He was not being honest. He was hedging the possibility that he will be the loser. However, there are serious problems that need attention. For example, America’s voting machines are aging. Many are approaching the end of their intended lifespan. Voting machines are designed to last about 10 to 15 years, and a significant number in the U.S. are beginning to face the end of their cycle. They aren’t exactly held up with baling wire and twine, but cause for concern exists. A full 42 states have voting machines that are at least a decade old, and 14 states have some polling places that lack a paper trail to backtrack and recheck the tallies.
This article appeared originally at Freedom to Tinker on September 30, 2016. I was invited to testify yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Information Technology, at a hearing entitled “Cybersecurity: Ensuring the Integrity of the Ballot Box.” My written testimony is available here. My 5-minute opening statement went as follows:
My name is Andrew Appel. I am Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University. In this testimony I do not represent my employer. I’m here to give my own professional opinions as a scientist, but also as an American citizen who cares deeply about protecting our democracy. My research is in software verification, computer security, technology policy, and election machinery. As I will explain, I strongly recommend that, at a minimum, the Congress seek to ensure the elimination of Direct-Recording Electronic voting machines (sometimes called “touchscreen” machines), immediately after this November’s election; and that it require that all elections be subject to sensible auditing after every election to ensure that systems are functioning properly and to prove to the American people that their votes are counted as cast. There are cybersecurity issues in all parts of our election system: before the election, voter-registration databases; during the election, voting machines; after the election, vote-tabulation / canvassing / precinct-aggregation computers. In my opening statement I’ll focus on voting machines. The other topics are addressed in a recent report I have co-authored entitled “Ten Things Election Officials Can Do to Help Secure and Inspire Confidence in This Fall’s Elections.”
California will overhaul its election system beginning in 2018 so that voters have more options on when and where to cast their ballots in future elections, under a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed Thursday. SB450 by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, allows counties to opt into the new system, and if they do, those counties would be required to mail all voters a ballot that can be cast at voting centers up to 10 days before election day. The ballots can also be returned by mail. “People lead increasingly complicated lives; we should provide them with maximum flexibility when it comes to voting,” Allen said in a statement. “Under this new law, people will be able to choose the time and place to vote that is most convenient for their lifestyle and their schedule.”
Here’s the background of the Newby case. Kansas, Georgia and Alabama have been trying to make voting harder for voters through a series of restrictive voter ID laws. Another approach of these states has deployed is forcing voters to produce documentary evidence that they are American citizens when they register to vote. Asking for documentary proof of citizenship may sound reasonable enough, at first blush, but this runs afoul of the federal “motor voter” law which bars states from asking for additional information when voters register to vote using a standard federal form. The whole point of the motor voter law (whose formal name is National Voter Registration Act of 1993), was to make it easier for eligible Americans to register to vote when they were at the local DMV. While the legislators who pass these restrictive voting laws may think they are barring non-citizens from voting, instead these laws can disenfranchise regular Americans, especially those who were born at home instead of a hospital. These Americans may find it difficult, or well neigh impossible, to produce documentation of their birth proving that they are who they know they are: American citizens.
An emergency motion was filed Saturday asking a federal judge to require the N.C. State Board of Elections to comply with a previous decision addressing early voting in North Carolina. The motion filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of a group called “The Duke Intervenor Plaintiffs” seeks to get the board to modify the early voting plans of Nash, New Hanover, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Forsyth counties. According to the motion, the board recently approved early voting plans that the plaintiffs think run counter to the decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Also, the motion says if the court finds it necessary to issue an order of contempt, the plaintiffs would move for an order to show why the board shouldn’t be held in civil contempt for violating the court’s order.
Attorneys behind the lawsuit that struck down a sweeping North Carolina election reform measure filed an emergency motion on Saturday to extend early voting hours in five key counties. The new motion, filed by Marc Elias, the top lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, seeks to extend early voting hours in Nash, New Hanover, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Forsyth counties. President Obama won four of those five counties in 2012. The motion comes after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that a 2013 state election reform law disproportionately impacted low-income and minority voters. The three-judge panel that struck down the law said it had been enacted by the legislature with intent to discriminate against voters who typically back Democrats.
The news release said, “Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted today announced his office will begin mailing absentee ballot applications to voters statewide this weekend.” What it didn’t say was that more than a million of Ohio’s 7.7 million registered voters wouldn’t get the mailing, because Husted’s office had pared the list beforehand. The 1,035,795 voters left out fall into two categories:
• 650,730 who have changed their address. This includes 568,456 who moved within Ohio; they were sent cards asking them to update their address. The 82,274 who moved out of state were mailed information on how to cancel their Ohio registration.
• 385,065 who did not vote in either the 2012 or 2014 elections and have not responded to queries about their address from their county board of elections.
“We’re working extremely hard to encourage participation this November and to help people make sure they have the information they need to cast a ballot with ease,” said Husted spokesman Joshua Eck.
Imagine using a computer that’s more than a decade old. That’s what Butler and Warren county voters are doing, which is why there’s a statewide push to replace the older machines before the 2020 presidential election. Some of these are simple paper ballot scanners, such as Warren County’s 184 machines. Butler County has 1,600 electronic voting machines that record a voter’s ballot to a unique card inserted into the machine. To help solve this issue of aging voting equipment, the state is looking at providing upwards of $115 million to $150 million in funding to the county boards of elections, which likely would pay for at least half of their costs, said Aaron Ockerman, the executive director for the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “It’s a real opportunity for the state and the local governments to solve a problem,” Ockerman said.
In 2004, hundreds of University of Pittsburgh students waited for hours to vote in the presidential election. The local Democratic Party, alarmed at the bottleneck, handed out pizza and water to encourage the students to stay. Pittsburgh Steelers Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris worked the line, armed with a giant bag of Dunkin Donuts, and Liz Berlin of the Pittsburgh band Rusted Root performed on guitar. The stalled line wasn’t because of the high turnout. It was what was happening at the check-in desk. “The attorneys for the Republican Party were challenging the credentials of pretty much every young voter who showed up,” recalls Pat Clark, a Pittsburgh activist and registered Democrat who was working for an election-protection group that day. The GOP attorneys were acting as poll watchers. A common practice in many states, partisan poll watching helps parties get out the vote and keep an eye out for irregularities. But in Pennsylvania, laws governing how observers can challenge voters are unusually broad, and that makes them susceptible to abuse.
Wisconsin: Federal judge orders investigation into Wisconsin’s voter ID system | The Washington Post
A federal judge on Friday ordered Wisconsin officials to investigate whether DMV workers are giving prospective voters correct information about a system meant to provide IDs to those who might have trouble getting them. If they aren’t, it could jeopardize the state’s voter ID law. U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson wrote in a two-page order that state officials must investigate whether DMV employees are instructing customers properly on the “ID Petition Process” — a system by which Wisconsinites who lack required documents, such as birth certificates, can get alternate papers that would let them vote. That is pivotal, because a federal appeals court has previously said its conclusion that Wisconsin’s voter ID law is constitutional depends on officials adequately implementing and informing the public about the ID Petition Process. Peterson had previously ordered reforms to the process so that it could function as a “safety net” for those who might be left unable to cast a ballot by Wisconsin’s strict ID requirement.
Preliminary results early Monday morning show that nationalist parties, including one that wants to break away from Bosnia, easily won local elections held in Bosnia. Voters were picking mayors and municipal councils in both of Bosnia’s two semi-autonomous regions. Those areas — the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation — each have their own governments, presidents and parliaments, but are linked by shared federal-level institutions. Election officials said slightly more than half of the approximately 3.2 million eligible voters cast ballots Sunday, and in the Bosniak-Croat Federation, the respective nationalist parties almost completely defeated their non-nationalist rivals.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission on Saturday said it would seek to delay calling voters to the polls until late 2017, though the opposition swiftly rejected the proposal. The announcement came amid opposition fears that President Joseph Kabila will not step down when his term expires in December. “Voters will be called to the polls for the presidential and provincial and national legislative elections simultaneously in November 2017,” electoral commission chief Corneile Naanga told reporters.
Low voter turnout invalidated Hungary’s referendum on European Union refugee quotas, even though citizens voted overwhelmingly in support of the government’s opposition to any future, mandatory EU plans to relocate asylum-seekers. The government claimed a “sweeping victory,” but analysts said that the result was an “embarrassing but not totally catastrophic defeat” for Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “We can be proud that we are the first and so far only member state of the European Union” to hold such a referendum, Orban told supporters after the results were known. “Hungarians were able to give their direct opinions on the issue of immigration.”
Defying peace agreements reached in the Minsk, Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine started on Oct. 2 holding“primaries” for local elections in the areas where they have seized control from the Ukrainian government. A final vote for seats on local councils in the areas of Donbas controlled by the separatists is scheduled for Nov. 6. Kyiv views the elections as illegal, as the Ukrainian parliament has yet to adopt separate legislation for them, as required under the Minsk peace agreement. Ukraine has consistently resisted attempts by Russia to short-circuit the Minsk agreements by holding local elections in the occupied territories – a step towards reintegrating them with the rest of Ukraine – before it has removed its servicemen and weapons from eastern Ukraine.