Nearly a year after the 2016 presidential election, many Americans have been forced, some for the very first time, to look critically at their voting protections, and recognize that US balloting systems are not nearly as impregnable as they once thought. Clearly, the US intelligence reports about Russia hacks provided a long-overdue wake up call for this issue. The good news: some progress has been made in some jurisdictions in the last year. The bad news: that progress hasn’t been as widespread or comprehensive as the problem would seem to demand. “I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Larry Norden, of NYU’s nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. “I’m heartened by the fact that, for instance, we’re seeing, in both House and Congress, bipartisan proposals to invest in increased election system security.” … Election consultant Pam Smith agreed that there has “definitely [been] a pattern towards more secure elections” across the country. Some states appear to be ahead of the game. Virginia, for example, recently earned praise for decertifying all its touchscreen, paperless Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting machines ahead of the termination date required by its own legislation.
Numerous electronic voting machines used in United States elections have critical exposures that could make them vulnerable to hacking. Security experts have known that for a decade. But it wasn’t until Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential campaigns and began probing digital voting systems that the topic took on pressing urgency. Now hackers, researchers, diplomats, and national security experts are pushing to effect real change in Washington. The latest update? It’s working, but maybe not fast enough. On Tuesday, representatives from the hacking conference DefCon and partners at the Atlantic Council think tank shared findings from a report about DefCon’s Voting Village, where hundreds of hackers got to physically interact with—and compromise—actual US voting machines for the first time ever at the conference in July. Work over three days at the Village underscored the fundamental vulnerability of the devices, and raised questions about important issues, like the trustworthiness of hardware parts manufactured in other countries, including China. But most importantly, the report highlights the dire urgency of securing US voting systems before the 2018 midterm elections.
State election officials, worried about the integrity of their voting systems, are pressing to make them more secure ahead of next year’s midterm elections. Reacting in large part to Russian efforts to hack the presidential election last year, a growing number of states are upgrading electoral databases and voting machines, and even adding cybersecurity experts to their election teams. The efforts — from both Democrats and Republicans — amount to the largest overhaul of the nation’s voting infrastructure since the contested presidential election in 2000 spelled an end to punch-card ballots and voting machines with mechanical levers. One aim is to prepare for the 2018 and 2020 elections by upgrading and securing electoral databases and voting machines that were cutting-edge before Facebook and Twitter even existed. Another is to spot and defuse attempts to depress turnout and sway election results by targeting voters with false news reports and social media posts.
DEFCON Report on Machine Vulnerabilities Critical First Step in Raising Awareness, But to Secure Election Systems, States Must Adopt Paper Ballots A new report on cyber vulnerabilities of our elections systems raises awareness of a critical issue, but in order to secure our elections, we need fundamental changes made at the state and local level.…
Editorials: Closing Florida’s write-in loop hole a way to protect voters’ rights | Tallahassee Democrat
Of all the wide-ranging suggestions the Constitution Revision Commission has received, there are two dealing with Florida’s election laws that we hope the panel will put on the 2018 ballot for a statewide referendum. Actually, the Legislature should have taken care of these things the old-fashioned way long ago. But since the elected politicians won’t, we hope the CRC will act to close the “write-in loophole” and bring about open primaries next year. First, that write-in gimmick. The last time the state constitution was overhauled, 20 years ago, commissioners decided that when only Republicans or only Democrats run for an office, everybody should be allowed to vote in the primary in that race. But then the Division of Elections issued a legal opinion decreeing that write-in candidates are real contenders for a public office. Legally, on paper, perhaps they are — but as a matter of practical politics, they’re not. Meaning no disrespect to sincere, well-intended people who can’t afford the qualifying fee, so they offer themselves as write-in candidates, they have no chance of winning. Not one state legislator ran as a write-in, nor has anyone won that way in modern times.
In his Princeton University office, computer science professor Andrew Appel held up a small computer chip from a New Jersey voting machine. It’s the program that tallies your vote behind the curtain, inside the polling booth. It’s used in every single voting machine in 18 out of New Jersey’s 21 counties. It’s also outdated technology, and if you really wanted to, it’s not all that difficult to hack. “If you put a fraudulent program that adds up the votes a different way, you can install it in the voting machine by prying out the legitimate chip in there now and installing this fraudulent chip in the socket,” he said. Appel knows because he did it. Almost all of New Jersey’s 11,000 computerized voting machines are AVC Advantage systems. The Mercer County Board of Elections has a warehouse where the systems have been decertified in most of the country, but not here.
North Carolina’s redrawn legislative districts were debated Thursday before a panel of three federal judges who had struck down previous district maps for racial bias. The judges must decide whether to force another redrawing of the boundaries approved by Republicans over the summer or allow them to be used in the 2018 elections. Lawyers representing GOP legislative leaders and dozens of voters who successfully sued to throw out previous districts were subjected to 3½ hours of questioning by the judges, who did not immediately rule. Later Thursday, the judges opened wider the door to choosing an outside expert to make map changes on their behalf. Candidate filing starts in February. The judges had ordered the GOP-dominated legislature to approve new maps by Sept. 1, in keeping with their decision last year that 28 House and Senate districts drawn in 2011 were unlawful racial gerrymanders.
A federal appeals court Tuesday declined to have all 14 judges participate in the appeal over the Texas voter ID law — a decision that will keep the issue unresolved heading into the 2018 elections, one judge said. Civil rights groups, Democrats and minority voters who challenged the voter ID law as discriminatory had asked for the entire court to hear the appeal as a way to speed the case toward resolution. The 10-4 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, means the appeal will be heard by the customary three-judge panel. Writing in dissent, Justice Jerry Smith noted that the losing side will probably ask the entire court to review the panel’s decision in what is known as “en banc” consideration — a path the 5th Circuit Court took at an earlier stage of the case that, if taken again, would make it “impossible for a decision to be issued before some, if not all, of the 2018 elections are history,” he said.
Kyrgyzstan voted on Sunday in a presidential election with observers predicting no outright winner and a close runoff between two pro-Russian candidates, one of whom is backed by the outgoing leader. The mainly Muslim central Asian nation of 6 million people has a history of violent protest, and the main opposition candidate, oil tycoon Omurbek Babanov, has accused the government of attacking his supporters and campaign staff. President Almazbek Atambayev – likely to remain a powerful figure if his preferred candidate Sooronbai Jeenbekov wins – warned on Sunday he would use any violence as an opportunity to “cleanse” the country.
One of Liberia’s largest political parties called for a halt to counting of election results on Thursday, alleging voting irregularities and fraud, as the country awaited the announcement of the first provisional results. Angry supporters gathered to protest at Liberty Party headquarters, claiming polls in the West African nation opened late and that ballot-tampering occurred in at least one location in the capital, Monrovia. “These people stood in the rain and under the sun; these people sacrificed,” the party’s vice chair for political affairs, Abe Darius Dillon, told The Associated Press. The Liberty Party’s flag-bearer is Charles Brumskine, a corporate lawyer who placed third in 2005 elections and fourth in 2011.
President Donald Trump’s controversial “election integrity” commission is facing yet another legal challenge with a privacy-rights group saying the panel is breaking federal law by gathering massive amounts of information on the nation’s registered voters. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has been doing court battle against the voter panel for months, filed a revised complaint in District of Columbia federal court Thursday. Privacy watchdogs concerned about the panel’s activities have questioned whether the information can and will be kept safe from hackers and whether it will only used for research and not other political purposes. The Trump administration has defended the attempt to collect huge quantities of voter data by saying the panel is not technically a federal agency. Therefore, the argument goes, it does not have to do a so-called “impact assessment” to show that collecting the information doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy rights.
A new report pushes recommendations based on the research done into voting machine hacking at DEFCON 25, including basic cybersecurity guidelines, collaboration with local officials and an offer of free voting machine penetration testing. It took less than an hour for hackers to break into the first voting machine at the DEFCON conference in July. This week, DEFCON organizers released a new report that details the results from the Voting Village and the steps needed to ensure election security in the future. Douglas Lute, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, wrote in the report that “last year’s attack on America’s voting process is as serious a threat to our democracy as any I have ever seen in the last 40+ years – potentially more serious than any physical attack on our Nation. Loss of life and damage to property are tragic, but we are resilient and can recover. Losing confidence in the security of our voting process — the fundamental link between the American people and our government — could be much more damaging,” Lute wrote. “In short, this is a serious national security issue that strikes at the core of our democracy.”
The political instability that has resulted from Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections has put the focus on voting machines as a national security vulnerability, Douglas Lute, a former US permanent representative to NATO, said at the Atlantic Council on October 10. “I don’t think I’ve seen a more severe threat to American national security than the election hacking experience of 2016,” said Lute. There is a “fundamental democratic connection between the individual voter and the democratic outcome” of an election, he said, adding: “If you can undermine that, you don’t need to attack America with planes and ships. You can attack democracy from the inside.” … Lute delivered a keynote address at the Atlantic Council to call for a sense of urgency among policymakers and all stakeholders able to play a role in the solution to insecure voting machines. He also highlighted the findings presented in the DEF CON Report on Cyber Vulnerabilities in US Election Equipment, Databases, and Infrastructure, launched at the Council, which help to shed light on the technological dimensions of this national security threat. Ultimately, as Lute writes in the foreword, “this report makes one key point: our voting systems are not secure.”
When attendees at the July DEFCON conference breached every poll book and voting machine that event organizers had in the Voting Machine Hacking Village, elections officials took notice. A new report from DEFCON, the National Governors Association, the Atlantic Council, the Center for Internet Security and a number of universities and top technology vendors provides a more detailed look at just how vulnerable the entire U.S. election system – equipment, databases and infrastructure — is to hacking and urges policymakers to shore up security gaps. Vulnerabilities start with an insecure supply chain. Many parts used in voting machines are manufactured overseas, and the report authors suggested that bad actors could compromise the equipment “well before that voting machine rolls off the production line.” Voting Village participants found voting machines with universal default passwords and ones that broadcast their own Wi-Fi access point, which would allow hackers to connect. Once hackers gained access, they could escalate their privileges so they could run code, change votes in the database or turn the machine off remotely. Additionally, unprotected, uncovered USB ports provided easy inputs for thumb drives or keyboards.
National: Facebook scrubbed potentially damning Russia data before researchers could analyze it further | Business Insider
Facebook removed thousands of posts shared during the 2016 election by accounts linked to Russia after a Columbia University social-media researcher, Jonathan Albright, used the company’s data-analytics tool to examine the reach of the Russian accounts. Albright, who discovered the content had reached a far broader audience than Facebook had initially acknowledged, told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the data had allowed him “to at least reconstruct some of the pieces of the puzzle” of Russia’s election interference. “Not everything, but it allowed us to make sense of some of this thing,” he said.
Imagine fighting a war on 10 battlefields. You and your opponent each have 200 soldiers, and your aim is to win as many battles as possible. How would you deploy your troops? If you spread them out evenly, sending 20 to each battlefield, your opponent could concentrate their own troops and easily win a majority of the fights. You could try to overwhelm several locations yourself, but there’s no guarantee you’ll win, and you’ll leave the remaining battlefields poorly defended. Devising a winning strategy isn’t easy, but as long as neither side knows the other’s plan in advance, it’s a fair fight. Now imagine your opponent has the power to deploy your troops as well as their own. Even if you get more troops, you can’t win. In the war of politics, this power to deploy forces comes from gerrymandering, the age-old practice of manipulating voting districts for partisan gain. By determining who votes where, politicians can tilt the odds in their favor and defeat their opponents before the battle even begins.
A three-judge federal panel Thursday dismissed a challenge to new district maps approved by the Alabama Legislature last spring. The judges unanimously ruled that plaintiffs who challenged three Jefferson County districts redrawn under the plan lacked standing to bring their challenge and had failed to provide a standard for the court to consider. A message seeking comment was sent Thursday evening to the Alabama attorney general’s office, which represented the state in the case. Attorney James Blacksher, who represented plaintiffs in the case, said Thursday evening the issue would likely come back after the next Census. “It leaves the question open for 2020,” he said.
Try to imagine the uproar if every single active registered voter in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties were turned away at the polls. Yet that’s the equivalent effect of Florida’s hardline policy against voting by ex-felons, which has disenfranchised almost 1.6 million people in the state. Civil rights activists have been working diligently to give Florida voters the opportunity to overturn this punitive policy, but it’s a long, hard — and expensive — slog. It’s much easier for a state panel to clear the way to right this historical wrong. Florida’s policy forces ex-felons who want to regain their right to vote to wait at least five years after they have completed their sentences, then apply to have their rights restored by the governor and the Cabinet. They meet just four times a year as the Board of Executive Clemency to consider applications on a case-by-case basis, normally reviewing fewer than 100 cases per meeting. The board has a waiting list more than 20,000 people long.
Michigan: Group pushing redistricting petition reports they’ve collected more than 200K signatures | MLive
A group petitioning for an independent redistricting commission in Michigan reports they’re more than halfway to the minimum required amount of signatures necessary for the 2018 ballot. The group Voters Not Politicians, which was approved as to form by the Board of State Canvassers Aug. 17, has collected more than 200,000 signatures so far, Voters Not Politicians president Katie Fahey said Wednesday. The group needs to collect 315,654 signatures in 180 days to get the proposal on the 2018 ballot, which must be turned in to state elections officials and verified by the Board of State Canvassers.
A group of Democratic Party voters who argue their voices are muted in Pennsylvania’s congressional elections by “rigged” district lines have asked the state Supreme Court to immediately take up the case. The application for extraordinary relief was filed Wednesday night after Commonwealth Court Judge Daniel Pellegrini indicated he would stay the case – initially filed in the lower court – until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a different gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin. That delay, however, would likely make it impossible for the Pennsylvania case to have any relevance in the coming 2018 election cycle.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico 2 weeks ago, creating devastating damage and a humanitarian crisis for 3.5 million U.S. citizens. Today, 88 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents lack electricity, 43 percent lack water, the health care and school systems are in shambles, and over 58 citizens have died, while the president has been throwing paper towels at people and tweeting racist diatribes. All this is exacerbated by 100 percent of Puerto Ricans lacking equal access to voting rights. Under the 1917 Jones Act, Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million U.S. citizens do not have voting representatives in Congress, and cannot cast votes for president. The Jones Act was in the news recently, as it restricted non-U.S. ships from docking in Puerto Rico. After being temporarily lifted, the Act’s colonialist shipping restrictions are back in place, limiting access to life-saving supplies.
With no one actually disputing the possibility that Rhode Island has for close to a decade violated a federal law requiring a driver’s license or Social Security number from people registering to vote for the first time, a battle of wills broke out Wednesday night at the state Board of Elections. The battle pitted elections board member Stephen Erickson, a one-time state lawmaker and retired District Court judge, against 2014 Republican candidate for governor Ken Block, who did a recent — and highly controversial — voter analysis for a nonprofit co-founded by President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Before a live audience at the election board’s Branch Avenue headquarters, Erickson and Block essentially acted out their running Twitter dispute over the complaint that Block filed with the U.S. Department of Justice late last month alleging violations by Rhode Island of the “Help America Vote Act (HAVA).”
Utah: Records committee: Attorney General opinion on special election should be public | Deseret News
A legal opinion sought by the Utah Legislature about the special election to fill former Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s seat in Congress should be made public, the State Records Committee determined Thursday. Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office wrote an opinion but withheld it from the public, citing an ethical concern over a potential conflict of interest with Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who set up the special election over protests from lawmakers. The opinion was a key point in the dispute earlier this year between both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and the GOP governor over who should have established the process for the special election for the remaining year of Chaffetz’s term.
We Wisconsin political watchers are used to having the Badger State’s redistricting fights end up in court. So used to it, in fact, that some form of court has played a role in the matter since 1931. What is surprising this time, is that redistricting has ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. While much of the political world has their attention focused on Gill v. Whitford, the case which could decide the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, the reality for most Wisconsinites is that the case is nothing but the culmination of decades of backdoor deals, partisan incumbents protecting their own, recall elections to try to overturn previous election results, more. In other words: Politics as usual.
Election ballots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo can look more like the weekend edition of a newspaper than the single folded sheet of paper common the United States. Congolese electoral laws allow a nearly unlimited number of candidates to run for parliament. In the coming election, now pushed to 2019, there may be as many as 28,000 candidates, each one with their name and photo printed in a ballot. The expense and logistical difficulties of printing and distributing 45 million of these massive ballots are nearly insurmountable. After they’re printed, ballots must be trucked or flown to 126,000 polling stations around the country. The electoral commission has yet to acquire the necessary funds, and the voter registry isn’t complete. Or at least, these are some of the official reasons given for why Congo will not be holding elections for another year and a half, according to a source familiar with the election process who requested not to be named.
Germany: Party members in Europe may not actually vote for their candidates. Here’s what’s going on. | The Washington Post
In Germany’s federal election last month, the Liberals (FDP) more than doubled their vote share to 10.7 percent. Post-election analysis has focused primarily on the losses of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the rise of the anti-immigration, new national conservative party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). There’s another story here — the CDU actually lost more voters to the Liberals than the AfD, and the FDP was also a clear winner in this election. What does this tell us about shifting party loyalties, and what happens now? Our research gives some clues. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), which had its worst electoral result in postwar German history, quickly announced that it would not be part of another Grand Coalition with CDU. SPD instead will look to regroup as the leader of the opposition in the next legislative term.
The lower chamber of Italy’s Parliament on Wednesday approved the first pieces of a new election law that aims to make the country more governable by encouraging coalition-building, especially among smaller parties. Major parties on the left and right are backing the law, which calls for a combination of seats assigned by a majority system based on colleges and proportional voting. But it is bitterly opposed by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, Italy’s largest opposition party in Parliament. It has denounced the proposed law as undemocratic.
Kenya’s government has banned protests in three city centres, citing lawlessness during opposition rallies against the electoral commission before a scheduled presidential vote rerun. The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, has called for daily protests next week to keep up pressure on election officials, after his refusal to take part in the 26 October poll plunged the country into uncertainty. “Due to the clear, present and imminent danger of breach of peace, the government notifies the public that, for the time being, we will not allow demonstrations within the central business districts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu,” said the security minister, Fred Matiangi. “The inspector general of police has been advised accordingly.” Hundreds of opposition supporters have marched in recent weeks, sometimes burning tyres and clashing with police who have used teargas to disperse crowds.
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.
New Zealanders’ agonising wait for a general election winner is set to enter a third week, as populist “kingmaker” Winston Peters on Thursday again delayed announcing who he was backing. The South Pacific nation has been in political limbo since the September 23 polls failed to deliver a clear majority for either conservative Prime Minister Bill English or his centre-left rival Jacinda Ardern. They both require Peters’ support to pass the 61 seats needed to form a government, but the 72-year-old has drawn out the negotiations as he seeks maximum advantage for his New Zealand First (NZF) party. Peters initially gave himself until Thursday to announce his decision but reneged on the pledge earlier this week.