You don’t even have to know much about voting machines to hack some of the systems that are still in use across the country. A new report published on Tuesday outlines how amateur hackers were able to “effectively breach” voting equipment, in some cases in a matter of minutes or hours, over just four days in July at DEFCON, an annual hacker conference. The report underscores the vulnerability of U.S. election systems. It also highlights the need for states to improve their security protocols after the Department of Homeland Security said Russian hackers attempted to target them during the 2016 election. “The DEFCON Voting Village showed that technical minds with little or no previous knowledge about voting machines, without even being provided proper documentation or tools, can still learn how to hack the machines within tens of minutes or a few hours,” the report says.
Organizers of the long-running DEFCON hacking conference have teamed with a variety of groups, including the National Governors Association, on an initiative to boost electoral security. The new coalition comes on the heels of a new report highlighting how insecure many voting machines really are. The DEFCON hacking conference, which has existed in one form or another for nearly a quarter century, is getting into the election security business—with the help of a number of associations and nonprofits. A September report [PDF] outlines the results of the first-ever “Voting Machine Hacking Village,” held at the DEFCON conference in Las Vegas last summer. The exercise revealed significant vulnerabilities in digital voting machines and in the ways they’re used to tally votes. And this week it led to the announcement of a coalition on election security that includes the National Governors Association, the Atlantic Council, the Center for Internet Security, and a variety of academic groups, among others.
The electronic voting machine, now used to some degree in all 50 states, is the functional equivalent of an unoccupied Lamborghini left running at midnight with vanity plates that say STEALME. This summer, hobbyist hackers with no specialized expertise who attended a convention called Defcon were able to compromise four different voting machines, one in less than 30 minutes. “Unfortunately, they were much easier than, say, a home router or mobile device,” says Defcon organizer Jeff Moss. … Online voting is hardly a fix. “There are so many problems and insecurities in internet voting, it’s not something we should even begin to consider in the next ten years,” says Princeton University professor of computer science Andrew Appel.
National: A warning from the Senate Intelligence Committee has vulnerable lawmakers fretting about election security | Politico
Democratic senators fighting to hold on to their seats next year are increasingly worried about a troubling reality: Russia appears set to mess with U.S. elections — again. The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned last week that Russia’s second straight attempt to upend a major election appears certain. They pointed to hacked emails, fake news stories and other evidence of interference in France, Montenegro and elsewhere over the past year as signs Moscow remains determined to monkey with voting. Democratic senators such as Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Jon Tester of Montana — who hail from states President Donald Trump won in 2016 — know they’re already facing stiff reelection challenges.
National: Obama-linked group asks for temporary injunction against Trump fraud commission | McClatchy
A group of former Obama Administration lawyers on Wednesday moved for a temporary injunction against President Donald Trump’s voting fraud commission, saying the committee caused an “immediate blow to the proper functioning of our democracy” when it requested voter data from all 50 states without following legally mandated procedures. The motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by Protect Democracy Project and United to Protect Democracy, cited reports of people withdrawing their voter registration in response to the Trump commission’s request for information — proof, the motion argues, that the court should stop the Trump group from collecting the data now before it does more harm. The motion also argues that the requests “may increase the vulnerability of voter registration systems to hackers” and, contrary to federal law, gives Protect Democracy insufficient time to respond and mobilize the public to its actions.
Editorials: Let’s Consider The Risks of Applying Election Ad Rules to the Online World | Electronic Frontier Foundation
Social media platforms are avenues for typical Americans—those without enough money to purchase expensive television or radio ads—to make their voices part of the national political dialogue. But with news that a Russian company with ties to the Kremlin maintained hundreds of Twitter accounts and purchased $100,000 worth of Facebook ads aimed at influencing American voters—and specifically targeting voters in swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan—these same social media companies are now at the center of a widening government investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. This controversy has also sparked renewed calls for more government regulation of political ads on social media and other online platforms—including creating news rules for Internet ads that would mirror those the FEC and FCC currently apply to political ads on TV, cable, and radio. In the past, policymakers proposed essentially extending the broadcast rules to the Internet without adequately and thoughtfully considering the differences between the broadcast and online worlds. As a result, we argued for limiting the burden on online speakers from campaign finance regulations in both 2006 and 2014.
Voting Blogs: 20th Century Law Can’t Regulate 21st Century Technology | Ciara Torres-Spelliscy/Brennan Center for Justice
Unless you’ve been residing in a cave for the past 12 months or so, it is overwhelmingly evident Russia tried to covertly manipulate the 2016 election. The latest to announce that they were unwitting participants in this campaign is Google, which revealed Monday that the Russians had surreptitiously spent tens of thousands of dollars in ads on YouTube, Gmail, and ads associated with Google search. This effort has not only drawn the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who reportedly will hold hearings November 1. Of all the online providers involved in this affair, none have come in for as much criticism as Facebook. Two days after Trump’s election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a crowd at a tech conference at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Ca., “the idea that fake news on Facebook…influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea.”
Roy Harness is a U.S. Army and a National Guard veteran, a recovered drug addict and a Jackson State University student studying for his master’s degree in social work. He has lived through the stress of military life, the depressing depths of addiction, which led to years of homelessness and helplessness—and ultimately a stint in prison for forging a check. “I owed the drug dealer a lot of money. That’s what caused me to write the check,” Harness told the Jackson Free Press. The McComb native says he started using drugs to numb his fear during his military service as well as deal with the pain of his service-related injuries. He went to prison for the forgery in 1986. Harness knew before he was released in 1988 that he had lost his right to vote—he remembers talking about it while he was in prison. “You hear about all this in jail,” he said. “… When I was up in jail, they were letting people out who were able to go vote.”
Amid a lapse in communication and uncertainty for the future, some Democratic members of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission are growing restless. Nearly a month after the group came to New Hampshire, holding its second meeting at Saint Anselm College, neither Vice Chairman Kris Kobach nor any other commission member has made contact to discuss future plans, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. “I don’t know that we’re ever going to meet again, to tell you the truth,” Dunlap said. But New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said he doesn’t see a reason for alarm. Speaking Wednesday, Gardner, also a Democrat, said he continues to support the goals of the commission, even if he too has not received communication from any of its members. “I haven’t had any communications, but I don’t have any expectations,” he said.
Editorials: Redistricting ‘reform’ brought to you by Ohio GOP leaders scared of a ballot issue | Cleveland Plain Dealer
The Ohio General Assembly’s Republican leadership is trundling out a time-tested Statehouse response to demands for congressional redistricting reform: Deflect, divert, stall – and, if that fails, confect a purported “reform” of its own, which would be anything but. This time, though, the GOP’s legislative leaders may be running scared. A voter-initiated plan, Fair Districts = Fair Ballots, likely will gather enough voter signatures to reach November 2018’s statewide ballot. Maybe sooner, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a recently argued Wisconsin case, could put the kibosh on grotesquely partisan congressional districts such as those our GOP-run legislature has inflicted on Ohio.
Pedro Cortes, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, abruptly resigned from office Wednesday, three weeks after his agency came under criticism for a glitch that may have allowed thousands of ineligible immigrants statewide to vote. Cortes’ departure was announced in a 349-word “personnel update” emailed from Gov. Wolf’s office that offered no reason and focused almost entirely on his replacement, interim Secretary of State Robert Torres. Just 14 of the words were about Cortes, who also served as secretary of state from 2003 to 2010 under Gov. Ed Rendell. J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf, said he could not offer an explanation for Cortes’ departure.
The American Civil Liberties Union is supporting a proposed constitutional amendment that would take control of redistricting from South Dakota legislators and give it to an independent commission. The civil liberties organization reported an Oct. 1 expenditure of $1,145.60 for web pages supporting signature-gathering efforts for the amendment. ACLU of South Dakota spokeswoman Jen Petersen says the spending comes as part of a 50-state voting rights campaign from the ACLU’s grassroots platform.
Election security, especially when it comes to electronic voting, is not just a matter of trust. Following last year’s elections, and reports that Russian intelligence agencies probed and tested U.S. election systems, it’s now also a matter of national security. Yet last week, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told county commissioners that she was canceling an initiative to give local voters a revolutionarily and trustworthy system because no firm would step up to design and implement the software and infrastructure it would require. That system is called STAR-Vote: an open-source electronic voting machine with the kind of verifiable and independently auditable paper trail that transparency groups have for years demanded. Prior to 2001, Travis County shipped every single paper ballot from every polling station in the county to a central location, then put them through an optical scanner – a process that Rice University professor and STAR-Vote team leader Dan Wallach called “a logistical nightmare.” In 2001, the county became one of the first in Texas to adopt the Hart InterCivic eSlate system, picking it over the biggest competitor, the Diebold TSx. That’s proven a wise choice in hindsight; the TSx later faced accusations of being disturbingly easy to hack.
Activists in Clark County and across the state are preparing for a new push to enact automatic voter registration in Washington either in the upcoming legislative session or through a ballot initiative next year. If adopted, the state would automatically register voters who prove their eligibility when they interface with government offices, such as getting an enhanced driver’s license. Proponents say it not only increases voter turnout and engagement but also streamlines the process. “The idea, from our perspective, is to make voting as easy as possible,” said Alice Perry Linker, a volunteer with an informal group of that’s supporting the effort. “It’s a right that all citizens have and we want to make it easy for them.”
Austrian politics is set to tip to the right less than a year after averting a far-right presidency by the populist Freedom party , with the party on course to emerge as coalition kingmaker in Sunday’s national elections. Though currently fighting for second place behind 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right Austrian People’s party (ÖVP), the Freedom party has managed to dictate the agenda of a campaign centred largely around immigration and fears of radical Islam, and will receive a last-stretch boost from a “dirty campaigning” row between the traditional centre parties. Neither Kurz nor incumbent chancellor Christian Kern of the centre-left SPÖ have ruled out entering a coalition with the Freedom party, whose current leader Heinz-Christian Strache could become the first European politician with a neo-Nazi background to sit in government since the second world war.
The election to pick DR Congo’s next president will not happen before early 2019, the electoral commission said Wednesday, a delay that raises fresh security worries in the vast African nation. Polls were due this year under a transitional deal aimed at avoiding fresh political bloodshed after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his second mandate ended in December. But the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said Wednesday it would need another 504 days to prepare for the vote after the completion of an electoral census, which is far from accomplished in the restive Kasai region. The delay could be reduced “if we accept to use voting machines and if we change the electoral law,” a commission spokesman told AFP.
The Italian government on Wednesday won two confidence votes on a fiercely contested electoral law that is likely to penalize the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in next year’s national election. The proposed voting system is backed by three of the country’s four largest parties, with the centre-left government looking to rush it onto the statute books ahead of elections, which are due by May 2018. Five-Star supporters protested in front of parliament as the Chamber of Deputies approved two confidence motions by a wide margin. A third such vote is scheduled for Thursday ahead of a final ballot in the lower house on the disputed bill. Unlike the current rules, the new system would allow the formation of multi-party coalitions before the ballot, a factor likely to hurt 5-Star, which is topping most opinion polls and refuses to join alliances.
Kyrgyzstan: Diplomat says Kyrgyzstan set for ‘freest and fairest election in central Asian history’ | The Guardian
There’s something very odd about Kyrgyzstan’s upcoming presidential election. The vote is less than a week away, and nobody knows who is going to win. In a region known for ageing autocrats and rigged elections, Kyrgyzstan is a strange anomaly. The mountainous former Soviet republic of 6 million inhabitants has experienced two revolutions in the past 12 years and is now a chaotic but functioning democracy. A dozen contenders will take part in Sunday’s presidential vote, and the two leading contenders both say they expect to win. One is a former prime minister and the choice of the outgoing president, and the other is a charismatic businessman who promises more economic opportunities for the impoverished country. The capital, Bishkek, is plastered with billboards promoting various candidates, and the leading candidates draw thousands of people to their rallies.
Liberia’s provisional election results are expected Thursday, the election commission said Wednesday, as the West African nation waits to see who will succeed the Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the country’s recovery from Ebola and civil war. A runoff election was widely expected with 20 candidates vying to replace Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president. The National Election Commission said local vote counting had ended after a largely smooth election. It apologized for delays in some areas and said it had quarantined materials from one precinct and will investigate reports of alleged compromised voting.
Spain’s prime minister on Wednesday asked the head of the secession-minded Catalonia region the question that no one can seem to answer: Did he declare independence or not? The query reflected more than just confusion. Clarity on Catalonia’s position is critical for Spain to map out its next move — including possible harsh measures against Catalonia if it proclaims itself a sovereign nation. The uncertainty comes after the region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, told the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday that Catalonia had the right to be an independent country, citing a disputed referendum last week that showed strong support for secession from Spain. But instead of an outright declaration, Puigdemont said the “effect” of independence would be delayed for several weeks to facilitate further dialogue with Madrid. He then signed a document that some perceived as formalizing a break from Spain, baffling observers in Barcelona and Madrid alike.