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.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has turned to technology to support its efforts to capture the addresses of over 26 million registered voters before 30 June 2018. In 2016, the Constitutional Court ordered the IEC to correctly capture the addresses of all registered voters on the voters’ roll before the 2019 general elections. Yesterday, the IEC unveiled MyIEC, an online portal that allows South African voters to submit or update their registration details when they have changed address or when there has been a change in their identity number. … The implementation of online systems in relation to the democratic voting process often brings up concerns of security, especially where citizens’ sensitive information is concerned.
Spain: How Catalonia Pulled Off Independence Vote Using “Pizza” Code Words and Secret Schemes | The Intercept
I arrived at the polling station on the night before Catalonia was set to vote in a contested referendum on the region’s independence from Spain. A Spanish court had declared the referendum illegal, and Madrid had sent thousands of riot police to Catalonia to shut down the vote. By midnight, workers at the polling station closed the building’s corrugated metal gate and sealed us in until morning, or until the police arrived. Inside, we waited for whichever came first. The vote was organized in secret. The organizers spoke and texted in code: In this polling station — a community center in Barcelona, called Foment Martinenc — and others in the area, ballot boxes were called pizzas and the ballots, napkins. The government representative who officially opened the voting center was called “la pizzera” — the pizza maker. The organizers who drove from polling station to polling station, to make sure each center had enough pizza and napkins, were called Telepizzas, after a cheap pizza delivery chain. Central Barcelona was divided among five Telepizzas.
Venezuelans vote Sunday in state elections seen as a test of President Nicolás Maduro’s willingness to share power. But with polls showing the ruling socialists at risk of landslide losses, the authoritarian government appears to be falling back on a trifecta of tactics. Manipulation, confusion and fear. Two and a half months after the creation of a super-congress that gave the government nearly absolute power, Maduro has called the vote for state governors clear evidence that democracy remains alive here. But opposition leaders see a dirty campaign by the Venezuelan government, which President Trump has denounced as a “socialist dictatorship.” State media is airing almost round-the-clock supportive coverage of pro-government candidates, while portraying their challengers as hypocritical and inept. All candidates, meanwhile, are being limited to four minutes of political ads per day on independent networks that now survive by self-censoring.
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.