The upcoming U.S. presidential election can be rigged and sabotaged, and we might never even know it happened. This Election Day voters in 10 states, or parts of them, will use touch-screen voting machines with no paper backup of an individual’s vote; some will have rewritable flash memory. If malware is inserted into these machines that’s smart enough to rewrite itself, votes can be erased or assigned to another candidate with little possibility of figuring out the actual vote. In precincts where vote tallies raise suspicions, computer scientists will be called in the day after the election to conduct forensics. But even if a hack is suspected, or proven, it would likely be impossible to do anything about it. If the voting machine firmware doesn’t match what the vendor supplied, “it’s like you burned all the ballots,” said Daniel Lopresti, a professor and chair of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. “We have no way to confirm that we can really trust the output from the machine,” he said.
The question on the mind of many voting security experts is not whether hackers could disrupt a U.S. election. Instead, they wonder how likely an election hack might be and how it might happen. The good news is a hack that changes the outcome of a U.S. presidential election would be difficult, although not impossible. First of all, there are technology challenges — more than 20 voting technologies are used across the country, including a half dozen electronic voting machine models and several optical scanners, in addition to hand-counted paper ballots. But the major difficulty of hacking an election is less a technological challenge than an organizational one, with hackers needing to marshal and manage the resources needed to pull it off, election security experts say. And a handful of conditions would need to fall into place for an election hack to work. Many U.S. voting systems still have vulnerabilities, and many states use statistically unsound election auditing practices, said Joe Kiniry, a long-time election security researcher. “With enough money and resources, I don’t think [hacking the election] is actually a technical challenge,” said Kiniry, now CEO and chief scientist at Free and Fair, an election technology developer. “It’s a social, a political, and an infrastructural challenge because you’d have a medium-sized conspiracy to achieve such a goal. Technically, it’s not rocket science.”
Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee was hacked, and some of its private emails were released to the public. Last week, the FBI confirmed that hackers targeted voter registration systems in 20 states. But most voting systems are not connected to the internet, which means they’re less prone to hacking. In fact, a 2014 report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, says the biggest threat on Election Day is not hackers — it’s outdated equipment. This November, 42 states will use machines that are more than a decade old, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Machines in 14 states, including Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia are in some cases more than 15 years old. States are increasingly reporting vulnerabilities, such as worn-out modems used to transmit election results, failing central processing units and unsupported memory cards, the National Institute of Standards and Technology reported.
Every time there’s an election, the topic of hacking one comes to the surface. During a presidential election, that conversation gets louder. Yet, even the elections held every two years see some sort of vote hacking coverage. But can you really hack an election? Maybe, but that depends on your goals. The topic of election hacking is different this year, and that’s because someone is actually hacking political targets. Adding fuel to the fire, on Aug. 12, 2016, during an event in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump warned the crowd that if he loses the battleground state, it’s because the vote was rigged. “The only way we can lose, in my opinion—and I really mean this, Pennsylvania—is if cheating goes on,” Trump said. This was no random remark either, Pennsylvania voting has been called in to question before. Such was the case when Republican supporters claimed Mitt Romney lost the state in 2008 due to fraud. When it comes to hacking elections, most people imagine voting machines compromised in such a way that a vote for candidate ‘A’ actually counts as a vote for candidate ‘B’ – or the votes just disappear.
Editorials: Changing votes isn’t the only way hackers could undermine an election | Zoe Lofgren/Slate Magazine
When the House Committee on Science recently held a hearing on cyber vulnerabilities and our elections systems, the committee focused only on threats facing the actual systems of voting—tabulations, electronic machines, and the possibility of a “rigged election.” Experts who testified at the hearing agreed that a threat to widespread vote manipulation across many different precincts and jurisdictions is very small and unlikely. But dismissing the likelihood of cybertampering with the election tally misses an important point: Cyberattacks could shake public confidence in political institutions, sow dissent and distrust among the population, and tilt the electoral playing field. In an attack this spring, hackers—who I have been advised are from Russia —stole data from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They also stole voting data in Arizona and Illinois. Most recently, FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials have confirmed attempted attacks on voter registration systems in more than 20 states. These attacks align with a particular pattern that Russian-sponsored hackers have followed previously in well-documented attempts to influence foreign democratic elections in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, and Philippines. They don’t just release stolen sensitive material; they also create false and counterfeit material designed to impact the outcome of elections.
For years, states have been sounding the alarm about voter fraud and pushing laws to prevent it. One such law would require voters to prove their citizenship, with a birth certificate, passport, or the like, before casting a ballot. This month a federal court slapped down proof-of-citizenship laws, but not for good. The opinion leaves wiggle room, and state lawmakers are not giving up. They are, however, wasting their effort. Anti-fraud measures can make elections safer in some circumstances, but usually they either have no effect (other than creating red tape) or make matters worse. My research proves it. Let’s get up to speed. In 2004, Arizonans approved an initiative requiring voters to prove their citizenship before they could vote. In 2013, the Supreme Court held [PDF] that federal law—specifically, the National Voter Registration Act—preempted the initiative. That Act requires states to use a form, developed by the federal Election Assistance Commission, to register voters for federal elections. The form requires would-be voters to swear, under penalty of law, that they are US citizens. States can ask the EAC to add state-specific instructions to the federal form, including additional requirements on citizenship, but they cannot demand it. Other states—Alabama, Georgia, Kansas—adopted laws like Arizona’s, and they worked many channels to get them enforced. But their efforts failed. States courts, federal courts [PDF], and the EAC [PDF] put proof of citizenship on ice.
As the United States moves into the final month of the 2016 Presidential election, both candidates have been trying to gain advantage over the other by using various outreach methods such as using the internet to get the upper hand. However, in a recently released study on internet usage and voter turnout, the candidates may be doing a disservice to their campaign as the study has shown that an increase in internet usage has decreased the voter participation rate in the last couple of Presidential election cycles. The study done by Dr. Heblich of the University of Bristol’s Economics department, has shown that an increase in information on the internet and the increase in consumption has created a “crowding out effect” for voters. “To the extent that online consumption replaces the consumption of other media (newspaper, radio, or television), with a high information content, there may be no information gains for the average voter, and in the worst case, even a crowding out of information”, Dr. Heblich said in regarding his study.
Editorials: Top-two reform tilts California toward one-party rule | Larry N. Gerston/Los Angeles Times
Since California’s Proposition 14 passed in 2010, all partisan candidates — except those running for president — appear on the same primary ballot, regardless of party. Then the two leading contenders face off in the general election. Like so many other electoral reforms in the state, this top-two primary system isn’t shaking out quite as intended. Reformers promised more moderate candidates and more competitive races. Instead we’ve got something that looks like one-party rule. The race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is exhibit A. State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez were the survivors of a free-for-all nominating contest with 34 candidates, including Democrats, Republicans and a litany of minor party and independent candidates. But in deep blue California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than a 3 to 2 margin, it should be no surprise that Democrats Harris and Sanchez prevailed.
Georgia: Technology error rejected some Georgia voter registration applications | Atlanta Journal Constitution
Any Georgian who tried to register to vote online using his or her driver’s license number between Friday evening and midday Monday is being encouraged to re-register, after state officials found a problem over that weekend that likely rejected many of the applications. The problem originated in the state Department of Driver Services, during an unsuccessful update at 6:30 p.m. Friday to the agency’s online security certificate. The failure caused an error that blocked instant verification of electronic voter registration applications for people using their driver’s license number to confirm their identity. Election officials with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office discovered the problem Monday morning, and the system was back online by 12:30 p.m. that afternoon, officials said. Officials could not say how many people were affected by the outage. However, officials with the Secretary of State’s Office said they saw a spike that same weekend in requests for printed paper registration applications.
In Indiana, an investigation into alleged voter registration fraud intensified rapidly Tuesday when state police reportedly raided the Indianapolis office of a voter registration group and confiscated computers, personal cell phones and paperwork, according to a report from the Intercept. The Intercept reported that workers at the site told them that state police stopped one person from recording the incident and that the group’s lawyer said he was unable to enter the building. State police are investigating the Indiana Voter Registration Project’s efforts in nine counties after claims that the group fraudulently registered voters, according to the Indianapolis Star. Indiana’s Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who was a key sponsor of Indiana’s 2005 voter ID law that went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was upheld– announced the investigation in September.
Kansas: Kris Kobach keeps fighting, sometimes uphill, for stringent immigration laws | Lawrence Journal World
If there was any question whether the immigration debate is still raging in the heartland, it was probably settled the moment that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach demanded the birth certificate of a 90-year-old World War II pilot. On a stiflingly humid September day in central Kansas, Kobach pushed through the courtroom door, head bowed, a storm cloud on his face. His ever-present red tie, front-swept hair and 2-inch sideburns framed an even jawline. He is a secretary of state here, a man who has authored some of the most stringent immigration legislation in the country — often traveling the nation to argue his own cases — and has cleared a viable path to the governor’s mansion. Behind a lectern facing the judge, an ACLU attorney finished her initial fusillade of oral arguments with a comment directed at Kobach. “He has to use such convoluted reasoning,” said Sophia Lin Larkin, representing a class of voters who the ACLU argued was being treated as second-class citizens in Kobach’s voting system. “This is simply another variation of his mistaken understanding in this case.” Kobach’s understanding of the voting-rights case is an extension of his philosophy on rights accorded to any American: They are conditional offers that only apply to those who can prove their citizenship.
Social media and the sanctity of the voting place are colliding in Michigan, where a Portage man is asserting a constitutional right to take “ballot selfies” by challenging the state’s long-standing ban on voting station and polling place photography. Joel Crookston, 32, sued the state in Grand Rapids federal court last month, arguing his First Amendment right to free speech was unconstitutionally limited by state law and policies designed to discourage voter intimidation. “State law and orders from the Secretary of State threaten Crookston and all Michigan voters with forfeiting their votes, fines and even imprisonment for this simple, effective act of political speech,” attorney Stephen Klein wrote in a request for a preliminary injunction filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
Ballot selfies are not a crime, according to Virginia Attorney General Mark. R. Herring. In a formal opinion last month, Herring said it’s not against the law for Virginia voters to use a cellphone inside a polling place to take photos or video of their own ballot for publication on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other voters or disrupt the election. Some states ban photography in polling places. Where it’s not outright illegal, many election organizers consider the use of cellphones to be taboo, given the private nature of voting and the need for an orderly process. But as cellphones and social media become more ubiquitous, bans on ballot photos have started to loosen. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that a New Hampshire law prohibiting voters from posting photos of completed ballots online infringed on free speech.
Wisconsin: Federal judge to consider request to suspend Wisconsin’s voter ID law next week | The Cap Times
A federal judge will consider next week a request to temporarily block Wisconsin’s voter ID law following reports that the state may have violated a previous court order related to the administration of free identification cards. U.S. District Judge James Peterson has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 12 to consider a motion filed late Tuesday by the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute. Peterson on Friday ordered an investigation into media reports that Division of Motor Vehicles employees had given inaccurate information to people seeking state-issued free IDs for the November election, potentially violating an order from the judge’s July ruling in a broad challenge to voting laws implemented over the last five years. The findings of the DMV investigation are due to the judge by Friday. Peterson said both sides may offer evidence at the Oct. 12 hearing to argue whether the state has complied with his initial order.
Wisconsin: Experts Say Judge ‘Unlikely’ To Change Voter ID Law This Close To Election | Wisconsin Public Radio
A federal judge has scheduled a hearing for next week to consider a motion by voter ID opponents to block the law ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Western District Court Judge James Peterson will also use the hearing to discuss a state investigation into recordings that allegedly show eligible voters being turned away from getting IDs. “The parties should be prepared to discuss whether any of the relief requested by plaintiffs is necessary or appropriate,” Peterson wrote. The audio recordings were made public by a group called VoteRiders. In a sworn declaration to the court, the group’s Molly McGrath said they feature Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicle employees giving people incorrect advice about what to do if they lack IDs. For example, one of the recordings features a man being denied an ID and directed away from a petition process for people who can’t easily get identification.
Police interrupted election tellers in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, site of the 1995 genocide of 8,000 Muslims, just as they were about to recount ballots in a tense vote which may bring the town its first Serb mayor since the war. Srebrenica became a symbol of Bosniak suffering in the 1992-95 Bosnian war when Bosnian Serb forces surrounded the town, a U.N-protected enclave, and killed its Muslim men and boys. In Sunday’s local election, 70 percent of votes cast locally went to a Bosnian Serb, Mladen Grujicic, causing uproar in a town that is still deeply scarred by the massacre, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two. Grujicic, like many other Serbs, denies that the massacre amounted to a genocide as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has ruled.
Botswana’s President Ian Khama has signed the Electoral Amendment Bill of 2016, a revision of the existing Electoral Act that paves the way for the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs) ahead of the country’s general elections in 2019. The government believes the move will lead to improvements covering the registration of voters and preparation of rolls, including deleting provisions for supplementary rolls. However, opposition parties are concerned about the development and claim EVMs are open to security breaches and manipulation.
Morocco heads to the polls Friday, and yet there is hardly any trace of the looming general election in the sprawling port city of three million. Campaign posters are few and far between, restricted to authorised locations. A handful of campaigners go door-to-door, canvassing for the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which hopes to oust the ruling Justice and Democracy Party (PJD). The local branch of Istiqlal, one of Morocco’s oldest parties, is eerily deserted. The apparently muted campaign reflects widespread disillusion with political parties in a country where the monarchy still wields considerable power and low turnout rates are common. During the last election in 2011, 55% of eligible voters failed to cast their ballots. The previous vote, in 2008, saw abstention reach 63%.