When news hit this week that West Virginian military members serving abroad will become the first people to vote by phone in a major US election this November, security experts were dismayed. For years, they have warned that all forms of online voting are particularly vulnerable to attacks, and with signs that the midterm elections are already being targeted, they worry this is exactly the wrong time to roll out a new method. Experts who spoke to WIRED doubt that Voatz, the Boston-based startup whose app will run the West Virginia mobile voting, has figured out how to secure online voting when no one else has. At the very least, they are concerned about the lack of transparency. “From what is available publicly about this app, it’s no different from sending voting materials over the internet,” says Marian Schneider, president of the nonpartisan advocacy group Verified Voting. “So that means that all the built-in vulnerability of doing the voting transactions over the internet is present.”
National: At DEF CON ’18, kids as young as 5 challenged to hack election results websites, voting machines | ABC
At DEF CON, one of the world’s largest hacking conferences, hackers clad in black hoodies made headlines last year when they exposed an array of structural vulnerabilities in voting technology, successfully hacking into every voting machine they attempted to breach. This year’s DEF CON kicks off Friday in Las Vegas, and hackers will again have access to dozens of pieces of equipment — voting machines and pollbooks widely used in U.S. elections, including several models they haven’t previously attempted to crack. Children as young as 5 will compete to hack election results websites, and DEF CON has partnered with children’s hacking organization r00tz Asylum to award prizes to the first and youngest kids to breach the sites and hack equipment.
In June, voting security advocate Marilyn Marks bought four used optical scanners online from the Canadian government for about $2.50 apiece. Her purchase was meant to make a point: The state of Georgia doesn’t have to spend a lot to replace computerized voting machines considered the most vulnerable in the U.S. And it could do so in time for the midterm elections. Marks’s advice: Don’t listen to lobbyists for vendors pushing unnecessarily fancy and expensive voting equipment. Go back to paper ballots. Buy cheap used scanners to read them. Get it done now. “The Department of Homeland Security has said it. Every cyber expert says it,” she says. Voting machines like Georgia’s “are a national security risk.” As government officials warn of continuing cyberattacks intended to disrupt U.S. elections, Georgia is among 14 states heading into Election Day using touchscreen, computerized machines that don’t meet federal security guidelines because they produce no paper record—so voters can’t verify their choices and officials can’t audit the results.
Def Con, one of the world’s largest hacker conventions, will serve as a laboratory for breaking into voting machines this week, extending its efforts to identify potential security flaws in technology that may be used in the November U.S. elections. The three-day “Voting Village,” which opens in Las Vegas on Friday, also aims to expose vulnerabilities in devices such as digital poll books and memory-card readers. Def Con held its first voting village last year after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded the Russian government used hacking in its attempt to support Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy for president. Moscow has denied the allegations.
Hacking democracy was as easy as abcde. When Carsten Schurmann sat down to hack one of the voting machines used instead of paper ballots in the state of Virginia, he used a simple online tool to discover a flaw in the machine that had been public — and remained unfixed — for 14 years. And he already knew the password, because he had found that on the internet, too. The password was abcde. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt and wire-framed glasses, the Danish computer science professor described how simple it had been to get in to the WINvote machine, after which he was able to tamper with the vote tally. “The machines are all vulnerable,” he said. “I’m not a hacker but I tried the first thing and it worked.”
National: Many states are purging voters from the rolls – On election day, stay away | The Economist
In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Among other things, this required places with a history of discriminating against non-white voters to obtain federal approval before changing the way they conducted elections. In the ensuing decades it narrowed, and in some cases reversed, racial gaps in voting. Congress repeatedly reauthorised the Act, most recently in 2006 for 25 years. But in 2013 the Supreme Court gutted the pre-clearance provision. Since then states that had been bound by it have purged voters from their rolls at a greater rate than other states. That is part of a dramatic rise in voter purges in recent years. Many on the right say such purges and other policies are essential to ensuring electoral integrity. Others see a darker purpose.
National: More Government Websites Encrypt as Google Chrome Warns Users Non-HTTPS Sites are ‘Not Secure’ | Goverment Technology
Google Chrome, the most widely used Internet browser, has officially started warning users that unencrypted Web pages are “not secure.” Among those “not secure,” as of Aug. 9: The front pages of the official government websites for 14 states and four of the nation’s 10 most populous cities. Encryption — most easily represented with an “HTTPS” rather than “HTTP” in front of a site’s Web address — is the practice of encoding data traveling between a website and its visitor so that any third parties who are able to peek into the data don’t know what’s happening. With encryption, users can reasonably expect that their connection is private. Without it, bad actors can do things like steal information and change a Web page’s content without the user realizing it. It has become more or less the standard for the Internet. According to Google, 93 percent of Web traffic on Chrome takes place on encrypted pages. The tech giant started labeling non-HTTPS pages as “not secure” to push laggards toward encryption.
As the U.S. government closed a public comment period on Wednesday on its plans for the 2020 census, scientists, philanthropists and civil rights groups used the occasion to again criticize plans to include a question about U.S. citizenship. The comment period gave any member of the public a chance to comment on aspects of the census which is a mandatory, once-a-decade count of the U.S. population that next occurs in April 2020. The comments have not yet been published, but some groups and individuals reinforced their opposition to the Trump administration’s plan to ask census respondents whether they are U.S. citizens.
Old code, software problems and server configuration in Marin County, combined with heavy traffic, caused the blooper that made it impossible for the public to view results on election night June 5, county officials said this week. “We determined that it was a combination of three things,” said Liza Lowery Massey, director of Marin County’s Department of Information Services and Technology. The Registrar of Voters website, which had been redesigned to feature more graphs and other visual elements to make the data more accessible to the general public, remained inaccessible most of the night. Specifically, Massey said there was some antiquated legacy software code in some of the county’s Web pages.
Florida: State building defenses against Russian hack attack in 2018, but is it too late? | Tallahassee Democrat
Vladimir Putin winks at Mark Earley while the Leon County Elections Supervisor works. The photo of the Russian president was a gift from the Capital Tiger Bay Club to celebrate Earley’s 2016 election victory. “I put some horns on it and keep it on my desk as a reminder that none of this is fake,” said Earley, after a tour of his central office in Tallahassee where Leon County stores information on more than 207,000 voters. The idea Russia conducted an expeditionary probe of the nation’s election infrastructure two years ago for a later attack on democracy keeps Earley and other elections supervisors up at night and on their toes at work. “It’s all real – a clear and present danger,” said Earley.
Georgia: Companies asked to submit paper-based voting systems for Georgia | Atlanta Journal Constitution
Voting machine companies will submit proposals this month to replace Georgia’s touchscreens with hand-marked paper ballots or ballot-marking devices. The Secretary of State’s Office posted a request for information Wednesday to review companies’ voting systems and their costs, which could range from roughly $30 million to $150 million. A competitive bidding process could begin next year. Georgia has used electronic touchscreens since 2002, a voting system that lacks a verifiable paper backup to ensure accuracy. Election integrity advocates say electronic voting computers could be hacked.
Indiana: Federal judge rejects Attorney General’s attempt to scrap early voting decree | The Herald Times
A federal judge Thursday rejected Attorney General Curtis Hill’s attempt to unravel the consent decree reached earlier this summer requiring Marion County to establish satellite voting sites in November and in future elections. Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker said Hill’s objections to the consent decree reached between the county election board and Common Cause of Indiana and the local branch of the NAACP are without merit. Common Cause and the NAACP sued last year to require Marion County to provide more than one location for voters to cast ballots in advance of the election. The consent decree requires the election board to have six satellite voting sites in November.
Attorneys for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate were at the Iowa Supreme Court today, arguing for reinstatement of parts of Iowa’s new Voter ID law. Requiring an ID at the polls doesn’t take effect until next year, but new rules for absentee ballots went into effect this year. Last month, a district court judge issued a temporary injunction halting those parts of the law. The Secretary of State wants the injunction lifted so the new absentee ballot rules can be in effect for the November election.
Kansas’ most populous county left the rest of the state waiting nearly 13 hours until Wednesday morning for complete primary election results that proved to be pivotal in a high profile and close Republican race for governor — the second consecutive major election fumble by the affluent Kansas City-area county. “I’m embarrassed for our county,” Johnson County election commissioner Ronnie Metsker told The Kansas City Star . “It’s embarrassing for our office, it’s embarrassing for me, for our team and for the vendor.” In an odd twist, one of the candidates in the tight GOP race for governor, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is also the statewide official responsible for elections. Under Kansas law, the secretary of state appoints the top elections officials in the four most populous counties, including Metsker in Johnson County. Kobach quickly came to his colleague’s defense and said the delays were not Metsker’s fault.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a cable news interview Thursday night that he plans to recuse himself from the vote tally process in the face of pressure from Gov. Jeff Colyer and mounting confusion over vote totals. Kobach said that he would recuse himself in an interview with CNN hours after Colyer had sent a letter demanding that Kobach refrain from instructing county election officials on the counting of ballots in the primary race for governor on a day when the vote total narrowed to roughly 100 votes as multiple counties reported that vote totals were incorrect.
Kansas: Colyer campaign claims voters ‘turned away’ on same day hundreds of new votes found | The Kansas City Star
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a cable news interview Thursday night that he plans to recuse himself from the vote tally process in the face of pressure from Gov. Jeff Colyer and mounting confusion over vote totals. Kobach said that he would recuse himself in an interview with CNN hours after Colyer had sent a letter demanding that Kobach refrain from instructing county election officials on the counting of ballots in the primary race for governor on a day when the vote total narrowed to roughly 100 votes as multiple counties reported that vote totals were incorrect. “I’ll be happy to recuse myself. But as I say, it really doesn’t make any difference. My office doesn’t count the votes. The counties do,” Kobach said in an interview with host Chris Cuomo. Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr told The Star that the governor had not been notified by Kobach or his office that he intended to recuse himself. He said Coyler’s team found out about it through news reports.
The Office of State Procurement on behalf of Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has issued an intent to award the RFP for Acquisition of New Voting Equipment to Dominion Voting Systems, Inc.. The State of Louisiana intends to enter into a contract with Dominion for the replacement of all early voting and Election Day voting machines. “We are very excited about new voting technology in our state,” said Secretary of State Ardoin. “Considering voting machines are purchased every 15-20 years, we anticipated this process would be highly scrutinized and possibly contentious. We appreciate the expert advice of the Office of State Procurement which has worked with my office to ensure the process has been fair and equitable for all bidders and we look forward to negotiating a final agreement with Dominion in the near future.”
Louisiana’s pick to replace thousands of decade-old voting machines is the company that was the subject of bid-rigging complaints involving the secretary of state’s office. The state’s procurement office sent letters Thursday announcing Colorado-based Dominion Voting Systems is the winning bidder based on “price and other evaluation factors.” Negotiations are set to begin for a contract now estimated to be worth up to $95 million. Louisiana slowed work to replace the machines and overhauled the team evaluating vendor proposals, after competitor Election Systems and Software raised allegations the secretary of state’s office manipulated the selection process to award the deal to Dominion.
Maryland: Senators seek election probe to look at Russian’s ties to state contractor | Baltimore Sun
Less than three months before early voting begins, Maryland’s U.S. senators have joined the chorus of elected officials warning that the November elections could be threatened by a Russian oligarch’s stake in a firm that manages some of the state’s most critical electoral systems. Maryland has already endured one major election snag this year. Some 80,000 voters were told just before the June 26 primary to cast provisional ballots because their change-of-address requests were flubbed by a faulty computer program. Then FBI agents revealed last month that a contractor that manages many of Maryland’s election systems has ties to Vladimir Potanin, an oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. State officials launched a barrage of probes. On Tuesday Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen added to the list of inquiries by asking that a U.S. Treasury Department committee determine whether Potanin’s investment in the state contractor, ByteGrid, poses a national security threat.
Massachusetts on Thursday became the 14th state in the country to adopt an automatic voter registration system, according to Secretary of State William Galvin and advocates who backed the measure. Galvin announced that Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that would automatically register eligible voters when they interact with the Registry of Motor Vehicles and MassHealth, unless they opt out. Galvin said he was “excited to begin preparations today” and expected to have the necessary systems in place on Jan. 1, 2020, “just in time for the next Presidential Primaries.”
Ohio: Franklin County finds hundreds of uncounted votes in already too-close-to-call special election | The Hill
Ohio election officials on Wednesday found 588 previously uncounted votes in its hotly contested special election for the state’s 12th Congressional District. Officials found the votes in a Columbus suburb, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, netting Democratic candidate Danny O’Connor 190 more votes and narrowing his race against Republican Troy Balderson to 1,564 votes. “The votes from a portion of one voting location had not been processed into the tabulation system,” the Franklin County Board of Elections said in a news release obtained by the paper. Balderson, who was backed by President Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) during his campaign, claimed a narrow victory on Tuesday night for the district which Trump won and which has been held by a Republican since 1983.
The “missing ballots” in Ohio’s special election have caused a stir – but analysts said they really aren’t a mystery and often pop up in elections across the country. Under the rush of election nights, voting precinct officials nationwide often misplace ballots or send them to the wrong office. And those ballots are just as often discovered via audits or recounts, analysts said. “It’s not unusual,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21, a watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C. “It’s one of the reasons people do recounts in close races.” Post-election audits also yield uncounted votes, as happened this week in the special election for Ohio’s 12th congressional district.
U.S. Territories: Presidential voting rights for veterans on Guam, territories sought | Pacific Daily News
Gov. Eddie Calvo seeks President Donald Trump’s support for veterans on Guam and other territories by granting them the right to vote for president. American citizens on Guam, the CNMI, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands are not allowed to vote for the American president. The governor said it’s a “tragic irony” that so many from Guam laid down their lives and thousands more fought and bled on foreign shores in the service of America’s most cherished ideal of defending democracy, yet they cannot vote for their commander-in-chief, the American president. “American veterans residing in Guam and other U.S. territories have served tirelessly for generations now, advocating with force of arms to protect our rights. Whose voices are raised for their rights?” Calvo said in an Aug. 8 letter to Trump. Copies of the letter were also addressed to members of Trump’s administration and members of Congress.
Verified Voting in the News: Why security experts hate that “blockchain voting” will be used in the midterm elections | MIT Technology Review
Voting in West Virginia just got a lot more high-tech—and experts focused on election security aren’t happy about it. This fall, the state will become the first in the US to allow some voters to submit their federal general election ballots using a smartphone app, part of a pilot project primarily involving members of the military serving overseas. The decision seems to fly in the face of years of dire warnings about the risks of online voting issued by cybersecurity researchers and advocacy groups focused on election integrity. But even more surprising is how West Virginia officials say they plan to address those risks: by using a blockchain. The project has drawn harsh criticism from election security experts, who argue that as designed, the system does little to fix the problems inherent in online voting. We first heard of the West Virginia pilot in May, when the state tested a mobile app, developed by a startup called Voatz, during primary elections. The test was limited to overseas voters registered in two counties. Now, citing third-party audits of those results, officials plan to offer the option to overseas voters from the whole state. Their argument is that a more convenient and secure way to vote online will increase turnout—and that a blockchain, which can be used to create records that are extremely difficult to tamper with, can protect the process against meddling.
Iraq’s top election body said Thursday a manual recount of votes from the parliamentary election in May showed almost no difference from the initial tally, clearing the way for political parties to form a government. Fewer than a dozen members of parliament out of 329 lost their seats in the recount, according to Iraq’s electoral commission. The ballots were recounted after widespread allegations of fraud in the election in which populist anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won a surprise victory. Those allegations paralyzed Iraq’s politics and increased popular anger, and the recount result is unlikely to restore confidence in the democratic process.
An alliance between two parties that has governed Ivory Coast since 2010 broke down on Thursday, two months ahead of elections. The Ivory Coast Democratic Party (PDCI) announced it was “withdrawing” from an initiative by President Alassane Ouattara to create a joint party with his own organisation, the Rally of the Republicans (RDR). It added that it would contest municipal and regional elections in October “under its own banner”. The PDCI and RDR have been in an electoral alliance since 2005 — a partnership that brought Ouattara to power after elections in 2010 and enabled his re-election in 2015.
Japan: Government panel proposes allowing Japanese expats to vote online using My Number ID cards | The Japan Times
A government panel said Friday it would be feasible to introduce an online voting system for Japanese expatriates to participate in national elections. Technical hurdles concerning voter identification could be overcome with the use of My Number ID cards, according to a report compiled by the internal affairs ministry panel. The ministry plans to conduct an online voting test in fiscal 2019 and request funds for the trial under the government’s budget for the year, which runs from April next year, ministry officials said. It hopes to revise the public offices election law in fiscal 2020 at the earliest so that the internet voting system can be introduced for Japanese people living abroad, they said.
Malians are preparing to vote in a runoff election that will go ahead on Sunday despite widespread allegations of fraud in the first round. The current president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, won 41% of the vote in the first round on 29 July, with Soumaila Cissé a distant second with 18%. The pool of candidates has now been reduced from 24 to two, and it is the first time an incumbent president of Mali has ever had to face a runoff. Around 250,000 people, 3% of the electorate, were unable to vote because of insecurity in central and northern Mali, and Cissé has accused Keita of stuffing ballot boxes there.
Zimbabwe: Opposition’s Democratic Hopes Dashed as Ruling Party Returns to Mugabe Mode After Disputed Election | The Intercept
Instead of jubilation, a silence fell upon Harare late last week. Final results in Zimbabwe’s contested general election had just been announced, purporting to hand a narrow 50.8 percent victory to former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, an ally of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, who was recently deposed after decades in power. In claiming his win, Mnangagwa, who is in the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, embraced the results as free and fair. Nelson Chamisa, the 40-year-old opposition candidate, and his Movement for Democratic Change Alliance claimed the election was rigged in favor of Mnangagwa. A preliminary statement by the European Union Election Observation Mission to Zimbabwe painted the election campaign as peaceful, with “political freedoms” generally respected, but went on to accuse the state of the same anti-democratic tactics that have marred prior contests. Mnangagwa became the interim president after Mugabe’s presidency came to an end last November in a chaotic series of events that resulted in a military coup.