A voting system certified and tested earlier this year for use in North Carolina’s March 2020 primaries won’t be available, according to manufacturer Elections Systems and Software, so the company’s lobbyists have suggested the state quickly approve one of its other systems instead. While the N.C. Board of Elections director has recommended going along with the vendor on the substitution, others see the move as a deceptive bait and switch. One Board of Elections member, Stella Anderson, has objected to the situation, thereby forcing the board to convene a special meeting on the issue. She and others have questioned the integrity of the company and suggested both ES&S and board staff have used language that understates the significance of the difference between the two systems and misrepresents federal government requirements for approving such modifications to voting systems. ES&S has been trying to get its EVS voting system certified in North Carolina since 2017. Litigation between the Republican legislature and the Democratic governor, the 9th Congressional District ballot fraud scandal in 2018, and the resignation of the former Board of Elections chairman delayed certification of the new system until the 11th hour.
National: Top U.S. Cybersecurity Officials to Depart as Election Season Enters Full Swing | Byron Tau and Dustin Volz/Wall Street Journal
Two top government officials with broad cybersecurity and election-integrity portfolios have announced they are stepping down this month, a loss of expertise in a critical area less than a year before the 2020 presidential election. Amy Hess, the executive assistant director of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation will depart for a job as the chief of public services in Louisville, Ky. Jeanette Manfra, the most senior official dedicated exclusively to cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, will leave her post at year’s end for a job in the private sector. Both women have announced their departure in recent weeks. Senior U.S. intelligence officials have warned the elections are likely to be targeted online by Russia and other foreign adversaries following Moscow’s success in disrupting the 2016 race. The FBI and DHS are two of the primary agencies responsible for combating foreign influence operations online, along with intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency. The FBI established a Foreign Influence Task Force in 2017 and has made investments to deepen its cybersecurity capabilities. DHS is the lead federal partner for state and local election officials with a focus on safeguarding voting systems from hackers.
Editorials: This is our last chance to ensure the 2020 election is not rigged | Myrna Pérez/The Guardian
On Friday the House of Representatives showed the country that it will not tolerate racial discrimination at the polls. It passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill that would restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act to its full strength. Our country needs that reform and others to make the 2020 election free and fair for all. Since its founding, America has moved slowly towards granting suffrage to more and more Americans, bringing more people into the electoral process. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been instrumental to that progress. But in 2013 the supreme court dramatically weakened that law. In Shelby county v Holder, the court disabled the act’s provision that required states and localities with histories of racial discrimination in voting to “pre-clear” new voting regulations. The pre-clearance system had allowed federal authorities to vet proposed voting rules for racial discrimination before they could cause injury. From 1965 right up until the Shelby decision, this safeguard blocked many restrictions that would have made it more difficult for black and brown people to participate and vote.
Georgia: Groups Claim New Voting Machines Will Cost Counties Millions Extra, Georgia Secretary Of State’s Office Disagrees | Emil Moffat and Emma Hurt/WABE
A new study warns that Georgia’s new voting system could cost counties more than $80 million over the next ten years. The study was compiled by three groups: Fair Fight Action, a group founded by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams; The National Election Defense Coalition, which declares itself bi-partisan; and Freedom Works, a conservative group. That cost estimate, for some counties, includes the purchase of additional voting machines for this coming election to meet requirements under a new law that passed this year. The law, House Bill 316, mandates that each precinct has one voting station for every 250 registered voters. The estimates for the additional machines gathered in the study varied from hundreds, such as in Fulton County, to no additional machines, such as in DeKalb County. The state of Georgia agreed to a $107 million contract with Dominion Voting Systems in July. The groups who compiled the election cost study argue that the terms of the contract don’t cover warranty and licensing costs in the future, as well as printing costs like paper and toner, leaving the counties to foot the bill.
Ohio: Deadline looming for Ohio’s county elections boards to complete new state security requirements for 2020 | Andrew J. Tobias/Cleveland Plain Dealer
While Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections are at various stages of completing a mandatory pre-election security check-list, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Friday that he’s confident Ohio will have a secure 2020 election. During a security briefing in Columbus on Friday, LaRose, a Republican, urged local elections officials to get working on the security directive his office issued last June. Counties are required, among other things, to install a device that can automatically detect hacking attempts, and to conduct criminal background checks on elections workers who hold sensitive jobs. LaRose’s office, which oversees state elections, set a Jan. 31 deadline to get everything done. LaRose’s office emphasized that 52 of Ohio’s 88 counties are at least half done completing the security check-list. But that means 36 aren’t. And a handful are far behind, LaRose said. Only 13 counties have installed the devices that detect hacking attempts. LaRose drew chuckles and whispering from local elections officials when he said the current period — after last November’s election and before the Dec. 17 filing deadline for the March primary election — could be a slower time where elections board can get caught up.
Ohio: Few county boards of elections have adopted digital alarm used to detect hacks | Rick Rouan/The Columbus Dispatch
The vast majority of Ohio’s county boards of elections haven’t installed the digital burglar alarm that Secretary of State Frank LaRose says helped his office detect a hacking attempt of his office’s website on Election Day. With less than two months to go before the deadline LaRose imposed for installation of the so-called Albert systems, just 13 out of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections have operational alarms. The remaining 75 have until Jan. 31 to install them. “The most important consequence is not being prepared,” LaRose said Friday after the start of a daylong security conference for county elections officials in Columbus. “This is too important to take lightly.” Franklin County has had an Albert sensor in place since May 2018, with other network sensors in place at the Franklin County data center before that. But even with the threat of digital attacks, LaRose said Ohio’s election procedures are secure. None of the equipment used to cast or tally ballots is connected to the internet. Doing so would violate Ohio law.
With the end-of-the-year deadline to pass election security measures in Congress quickly approaching, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said Oklahoma has already taken steps to secure elections from foreign interference. Lankford, who has been pushing election security to keep American democracy from foreign interference, said there is “no question” that Russia tried to meddle in the 2016 election. “We were one of the 21 states that were identified early by the FBI that the Russians tried to get into, but they couldn’t get into our system in 2016, so they moved along to others,” Lankford said. In 2017, this information was brought to the Oklahoma State Election Board, encouraging the board to partner with numerous federal and state agencies to address the issue of election security. “We met regularly to discuss risks and plan for contingencies. We arranged for unclassified briefings and security training for county election officials, and shared ‘best practices’ with state and county election employees,” said Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax in a June congressional testimony.
Pennsylvania: Voting-Machine Upgrade Stirs a Partisan Clash in Pennsylvania | Alexa Corse/Wall Street Journal
A partisan clash is unfolding over an effort to upgrade voting systems in Pennsylvania, after Republicans accused the Democratic governor of rushing the deployment of new voting machines, some of which malfunctioned in November. The rift in Pennsylvania—a key battleground state for the 2020 elections—is an example of how election security is becoming a political flashpoint across the country. A spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said this week that the state has made significant security improvements and is continuing such efforts. “These inaccurate, political claims only serve to undermine confidence in our election,” said spokesman J.J. Abbott. Election-security efforts elsewhere have attracted controversy as well. On Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans and Democrats have clashed on election-security bills and on whether to give more funding to the states to improve their systems. Complaints at the state level are significant because of Pennsylvania’s potential importance as a battleground state in the 2020 election, and because state and local governments have the primary responsibility for administering elections. At issue in Pennsylvania are reports that some voting machines malfunctioned during a statewide election on Nov. 5. In Northampton County, election workers counted paper records all night. Another glitch was blamed for causing long lines in York County.
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia’s voting machines challenged in federal court | The Philadelphia Sunday Sun
A federal court was asked last Tuesday to force Pennsylvania to rescind its certification of a voting machine newly purchased by Philadelphia and at least two other counties in the state ahead of 2020’s presidential election. The filing casts doubt on how 17% of Pennsylvania’s registered voters will cast ballots in the April 28 primary election, as well as next November, when the state is expected to be one of the nation’s premier presidential battlegrounds. Court papers filed by former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and several supporters accuse Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration of violating their year-old agreement in Philadelphia’s federal court by certifying the ExpressVote XL touchscreen system made by Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software. The plaintiffs say certifying the system violates their agreement, in part because the machine does not meet the agreement’s requirements “that every Pennsylvania voter in 2020 uses a voter-verifiable paper ballot.” For one, the ExpressVote XL counts votes by counting machine-printed barcodes on paper, a format that is neither readable nor verifiable by an individual voter, they wrote in court papers. Second, the ExpressVote XL does not use a “paper ballot” and relies on software to record the voter’s choice, they wrote. Third, it is not capable of supporting strong pre-certification auditing of election results because its paper records may not accurately reflect voters’ intent, they wrote.
Texas: District Judge approved petition to open Midland County ballot boxes | Brandi Addison/Midland Reporter-Telegram
Midland County Attorney Russell Malm filed a petition Friday morning for permission to open ballot boxes from this election season. The petition was approved by Judge David Lindemood of the 318th District Court, and ballot boxes are set to be opened at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Commissioners’ Court located at the Midland County Annex on “A” Street. The request comes after a manual paper-ballot recount, on Midland ISD’s $569 million bond on Nov. 22, showed an 820-vote discrepancy from what the electronic machines tabulated on Nov. 5 and 12. The opening of ballot boxes is just part of an ongoing process of investigation, Malm said. Under the guidance of the Secretary of State, this was the suggested step that should help determine whether the large gap was due to incorrect tallying during the recount or if the electronic voting machines duplicated votes. The Elections Office will open the boxes to see if there was anything misplaced – specifically a tally sheet – and if so, Elections Administrator Deborah Land will make a copy and place it in an original sealed envelope. From there, all ballots will be run through the electronic machines to count the number of votes cast. This will not tabulate how many votes were “for” or “against,” but rather if the numbers match the tallies from the recount or match the votes tabulated on the electronic machines.
China: Fear of China’s election meddling triggers reforms across Pacific | Fumi Matsumoto & Kensaku Ihaha/Nikkei Asian Review
From Taiwan to Australia, governments across the Pacific are launching new laws and organizations to guard against possible Chinese interference in upcoming elections. A slew of reports alleging Chinese attempts to influence local politics have fueled concern throughout the region. Beijing denies these claims, but other countries in Asia-Pacific could follow suit. Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party unveiled a bill at the end of November to curb “hostile” external influence in the island’s elections, which it aims to pass by the end of the year. The legislation would impose a sentence of up to five years for those who campaign, make political donations, or spread fake news under the instructions of a hostile power — a veiled reference to Beijing. Many Taiwanese worry that Beijing is covertly steering their island toward reunification with the mainland. A June rally against Chinese intervention drew more than 100,000 attendees. Recent reports of a self-proclaimed Chinese spy, who said he was part of operations to meddle with Taiwan’s local elections last year and is now seeking asylum in Australia, have further stoked concerns.
United Kingdom: Leak of classified papers ahead of UK election tied to Russian operation: Reddit | Jack Stubbs/Reuters
The leak and distribution of classified UK-U.S. trade documents online is tied to a previous Russian disinformation campaign, social media site Reddit said on Friday, fuelling fears that Moscow is seeking to interfere in Britain’s upcoming election. Britain’s opposition Labour Party seized on the leaked documents on Nov. 27, saying they showed the ruling Conservatives were plotting to offer the state-run National Health Service (NHS) for sale in trade talks with Washington. The NHS is much loved by Britons and has become an important issue in the country’s election campaign, in which Labour trails the Conservatives despite cutting its lead in some polls. But researchers told Reuters on Monday that the way the documents were first shared on Reddit and then promoted online closely resembled a disinformation campaign uncovered earlier this year. That operation — known as Secondary Infektion — attempted to spread false narratives across at least 30 online platforms, and stemmed from a network of social media accounts which Facebook said “originated in Russia.”