North Carolina: Elections board chastises voting equipment vendor | Gary D. Robertson/Associated Press

North Carolina’s election supervisors chastised the nation’s largest voting machine manufacturer on Friday for late software and supply changes involving the planned rollout in coming weeks of voting systems that were recently approved for use in 2020 elections. Still, majorities on the State Board of Elections accepted vote the software alterations and equipment tweaks by the manufacturer, Election Systems & Software. In August, the board certified some of the company’s touch-screen ballot-marking devices and tally machines so they could be sold to counties beginning with next year’s elections. The voting systems digitize a person’s choices onto a ballot with both bar code data and by names. The ballot’s bar code is then read by the company’s counting machines. The certification came as the company’s touchscreen-only equipment — used for years by about one-third of state’s voting population of nearly 7 million in about 20 counties — could no longer be used starting this month.

National: Democrats want tougher language on election security in defense bill | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Democrats are complaining that the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) set for a Senate vote this week doesn’t go far enough to protect election security. The bill includes a number of provisions that would tighten security, but Democrats — who for much of the year have targeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the issue of election security — say it lacks key safeguards that would help prevent foreign meddling, including post-election audits of the results and requirements for states that do not use paper ballots. While the concerns won’t prevent the Senate from approving the massive bill, they are likely to lead to complaints as Democrats continue to press the issue of election security next year. “We can’t mandate that, but we could say if you want to take the federal money, you’ve got to meet these prerequisites,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said of the paper ballot issue. “I still don’t think we’re as protected as we should be going into the 2020 election.”

National: Election, grid security provisions in defense bill | Tim Starks/Politico

Via inclusion of a multi-year intelligence authorization measure, the defense legislation issues numerous election security edicts. The legislation would establish briefings and notifications from the Director of National Intelligence and DHS to Congress, state and local governments, campaigns and parties when there’s a significant cyber intrusion or attack campaign. It would take steps to expand and speed up security clearances for election officials. It would require development of a strategy for countering foreign influence. And ODNI would have to designate a lead counterintelligence official for election security. Intel officials (often in partnership with other agencies) would have to deliver reports and assessments to Congress on past attempted and successful cyberattacks on the 2016 elections, as well as those anticipated in the future; how prepared intel agencies are to counter Russian election influence; foreign intelligence threats to U.S. elections; and Russian influence campaigns in foreign elections. The grid: House and Senate negotiators included a proposal (S. 174) from Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) that would establish a program to test analog and other methods of protecting the grid from cyberattack. It would authorize the use of military construction funding to make cyber and other improvements to utility systems that serve military installations.

National: Voting-Machine Parts Made by Foreign Suppliers Stir Security Concerns | Alexa Corse/Wall Street Journal

A voting machine that is widely used across the country contains some parts made by companies with ties to China and Russia, researchers found, fueling questions about the security of using overseas suppliers, which has also sparked scrutiny in Washington. Voting-machine vendors could be at risk of using insecure components from such overseas suppliers, which generally are difficult to vet and monitor, said a report being released Monday by Interos Inc., an Arlington, Va.-based supply-chain monitoring company that has consulted for government agencies and Fortune 500 companies. The findings are likely to fan worries about whether voting-machine vendors are doing enough to defend themselves against foreign interference ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, which U.S. intelligence officials say hostile powers could try to disrupt. Voting-machine vendors assailed the research, which Interos conducted independently, saying the report failed to note existing safeguards, such as testing done at the federal, state and local levels, and the vendors’ internal protocols. The report comes as U.S. lawmakers and national-security officials increasingly have sounded alarms about supply-chain risks. Although supply chains that span the globe are common in the tech industry, Russia and China pose concerns because of how, according to U.S. officials, they press companies for access to technology within their borders. Washington lawmakers have specifically cited voting machines as an area of concern, among such other products as telecom equipment made by Chinese firm Huawei and antivirus software from Russia-based Kaspersky Lab. Russia and China historically have denied interfering in U.S. politics. The report examined one voting machine as a case study. In that machine, around 20% of the components in the supply chain that Interos was able to identify came from China-based companies, including processors, software and touch screens, according to the Interos research. Those components weren’t necessarily made in China, as the suppliers may have several locations globally, and the Interos data doesn’t necessarily cover the entire supply chain, the researchers noted. Researchers declined to name the particular model of voting machine they examined, or its maker, citing the sensitivity of the issue. They said only that it is “widely used” in the U.S. Two major vendors, Election Systems & Software LLC and Dominion Voting Systems Corp., said they didn’t think it was one of their products.

National: The biggest tech threats to 2020 elections | Roi Carmel/VentureBeat

As our election system modernizes, securing our democratic process has become a chief concern for both U.S. legislators and voters. Just last month, the House passed the SHIELD Act, which is focused on securing our elections. But that’s not going to be enough in an era when technology is turning out entirely new attack surfaces. In 2016, the Pew Research Center put the number of electronic voting machines — also known as direct-recording electronic (DRE) devices — at 28%. The 2020 election cycle will likely show an uptick in that number. But attacking American voting booths is an obvious move, and attackers consistently follow the path of least resistance. In the case of election security, the weakest point today is critical infrastructure. It’s the framework that supports our modern democratic process, and it runs deep, from traffic light systems and mass transit to the way we receive vital news and information.

Verified Voting Blog: Letter to Georgia Secretary of State regarding Verified Voting’s position and involvement with risk-limiting audit pilots

The following letter was sent to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on December 16, 2019. The letter addresses Verified Voting’s concerns following the November 2019 election in Georgia and provides clarity on Verified Voting’s position and involvement with risk-limiting audit pilots in the state. Download the Letter (PDF) Dear Secretary Raffensperger, I am writing…

Florida: Pensacola mum on ransom demands by cyberattackers | Bobby Caina Calvan and Frank Bajak/ Associated Press

A Florida city confirmed Friday that hackers seeking to extort money were responsible for crippling its computer systems earlier this week but officials have yet to decide whether they will pay a reported $1 million ransom. If they do opt to fork over the money, they may have to dip into Pensacola city coffers; the city of about 52,000 in Florida’s Panhandle — whose annual budget is roughly $245 million — is not insured for such an attack. Obtaining it in the future is “something that our risk manager will certainly be looking into,” said city spokeswoman Kaycee Lagarde. Lagarde confirmed that ransomware was behind the attack that brought down the city’s computer network over the weekend, less than a day after a Saudi aviation student killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight other people at a nearby naval air station. The FBI has said the attacks were not connected.

Nevada: Cybersecurity risks cast shadow on Nevada’s 2020 Democratic presidential caucuses | Steven Rosenfeld/Salon

In August, the Democratic National Committee decreed there would be no online voting in 2020’s state party-run presidential caucuses due to security and reliability issues. But the Nevada Democratic Party will be using several online elements in early voting and 1,700-plus local precinct caucuses, reviving these concerns among election experts. The state party, as detailed in a long report in the Nevada Independent, will use an app—that “has not been finalized yet” — so caucus chairs can receive the results of early voting by area residents (February 15-18) and transmit the outcome of their precinct’s ranked-choice process (February 22) over Wi-Fi or cellular signals to state party headquarters. Nevadans who have not registered as Democrats can do so to vote early or at precinct caucuses, where party representatives will add them to their voter rolls via online or cellular transmissions, the Independent also said. Early voters and those participating in the caucuses will also record their registrations and presidential preferences on paper forms — as backups. But the central systems that will be used to manage voter lists and to submit local precinct results in 2020’s third Democratic presidential contest will be over the internet.

North Carolina: A divided North Carolina Elections Board narrowly approves newly ‘tweaked’ voting machines | Will Doran/Raleigh News & Observer

North Carolina elections officials approved a new type of touchscreen voting machine Friday over the objection of outside advocates and two elections board members who said the machines haven’t been properly tested. Election security and hacking concerns are at the center of the debate, with the 2020 election just a few months away. Federal government agencies have said foreign countries tried to interfere in the 2016 elections — including potentially in North Carolina — and will likely try to do so again next year. There are two main types of voting methods approved for the 2020 elections in North Carolina. Most counties plan to use hand-marked paper ballots. But some counties, including Mecklenburg, the state’s largest, plan to use touchscreen voting machines. Some election security advocates say touchscreen voting is more susceptible to hackers. But the state’s professional election experts have vouched for those machines, saying they’re confident in their ability to stop hackers. And in August the political leadership of the Board of Elections voted 3-2 to approve voting machines made by three different companies — ES&S, Clear Ballot and Hart InterCivic.

North Carolina: Despite ‘disappointment’ in manufacturer, election board skips certification to approve new voting systems | Benjamin Schachtman/Port City Daily

The state’s election board has resolved the potential for a major shortage of voting machines — including around $1 million worth that New Hanover County plans to order. The move was not without controversy, as some state officials said the manufacturer held back information about the shortage to force the state’s hand in approving a new model. On Friday afternoon, the North Carolina Board of Elections (NCSBE) voted 3-2 to approve the use of a newer model voting system manufactured by Elections Systems and Software (ES&S) without putting it through a state certification process. Board Chair Damon Circosta cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the approval, but expressed disappointment in ES&S behavior. “I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed with ES&S, who in their zeal to sell their product lacked candor and were not forthcoming with this agency,” Circosta said. Circosta ultimately cast the vote in favor of fast-tracking ES&S’s new system, saying “my disappointment does not dissuade me from my obligation to North Carolina voters” and noting that the system itself was in line with the board’s commitment to providing election security and transparency, despite its manufacturer’s actions. The issue stems from a 2018 North Carolina law (SL 2018-13) that decertified direct record electronic (DRE) voting systems because they did not create a physical record that could be checked in the event of election challenges, evidence of hacking, or other irregularities. New Hanover County’s Board of Elections has over 100 DRE units.

Ohio: Fairfield County one of 13 counties to meet state deadline on election security procedures | Rick Rouan/The Columbus Dispatch

The vast majority of Ohio’s county boards of elections haven’t installed the digital burglar alarm Secretary of State Frank LaRose says helped his office detect a hack attempt of his office’s website on Election Day. With less than two months to go before the deadline LaRose imposed to install 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. Fairfield County Board of Elections Director Jane Hanley said her county is one of the 13 that are using the Albert systems. She said she was not allowed to talk much about it for security reasons. But Hanley did say the systems scan all email that comes into the county in trying to detect an intrusion or attack. The county has been using it for about six weeks and will use it permanently.  Hanley said the state gave the county a $50,000 grant to install the new security system. She said the county is so far under budget on the grant and that she expects to stay that way. Hanley said the county is also about halfway to installing a Security Information Event Management (SIEM) system to further enhance security and detect intrusion attempts. She said the purpose to so make sure voters get a fair and honest election. But that’s not all Fairfield County has done.

Ohio: Thousands of Ohio absentee applications denied | Julie Carr Smyth/Associated Press

Thousands of Ohio voters were held up or stymied in their efforts to get absentee ballots for last year’s general election because of missing or mismatched signatures on their ballot applications, an Associated Press review has found. The signature requirement on such applications is a largely overlooked and spottily tracked step in Ohio’s voting process, which has shifted increasingly to mail-in ballots since early, no-fault absentee voting was instituted in 2005. To supporters, the requirement is a useful form of protection against voter fraud and provides an extra layer of security necessary for absentee balloting. To detractors, it’s a recipe for disenfranchisement — a cumbersome addition to an already stringent voter identification system. Susan Barnard, of Dayton in Montgomery County, said her 78-year-old husband, Leslie, who has cancer, missed a chance to vote last year because of a delay related to the signature requirement. “We had planned a cruise last fall to give him something to look forward to,” said Barnard, 73. “It fell at the time of the election, and we were going to vote the absentee ballot. We got right down to the wire and we didn’t have one for him, and so he did not vote because of that.”

Pennsylvania: Suit filed in Pennsylvania court challenges widely used electronic voting machine | Emily Previti/PA Post

The Pennsylvania Department of State is facing another lawsuit demanding decertification of the controversial ExpressVote XL voting machine. In addition to conflicting with Pa.’s election code, the XL’s design violates voters’ rights under the state constitution to cast a secure and secret ballot, according to the 224-page lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court late Thursday by the National Election Defense Coalition, Citizens for Better Elections and 13 individual Pa. voters. The filing comes one day after Election Systems & Software announced the findings of its investigation into problems – including incorrect vote counts in certain races – with XL machines used by Northampton County in the November general election. In addition to Northampton’s tabulation problems, voters there and in Philadelphia, where the machine also debuted, reported other complaints, including over-sensitive touchscreens and excessively long lines. Those experiences are raised in the new filing as proof of the machine’s alleged deficiencies.

Pennsylvania: Northampton County Council presses for assurances that errors won’t occur in 2020 presidential election | Tom Shortell and Christina Tatu/ The Morning Call

Election Systems & Software, the largest voting machine company in the United States, failed to catch errors its employees configured into Northampton County’s new machines, leading to widespread problems this Election Day. Adam Carbullido, a senior vice president with ES&S, said the errors resulted in some voters having difficulty casting ballots. Other mistakes by ES&S allowed a flawed electronic ballot to be distributed to polling places across the county. The errors should have been caught during pre-election testing, Carbullido said, but ES&S failed to properly train county employees and to review the test results. “On behalf of ES&S, I apologize to Northampton County, its administration, County Council members, election officials and staff and, most importantly, to the voters,” Carbullido said Thursday at a news conference in Easton with county Executive Lamont McClure at his side. The Election Day fiasco led Northampton County residents and some elected officials to question the wisdom of entrusting the next election to ES&S’ ExpressVote XL machines. Northampton County Council members have demanded a refund on the $2.8 million purchase, and some have called for a different system for the presidential election. In 2016 the county helped elect Republican President Donald Trump after supporting Democrat Barack Obama four years earlier.

Texas: Alarming Discrepancies Found in Midland County Election | Matt Stringer |/Texas Scorecard

An investigation into a West Texas school district’s bond election found even more ballots unaccounted for and a locked ballot box that officials cannot explain, leaving the community still looking for answers. The election was held last month on a proposed $569 million school bond for the Midland Independent School District. Unofficial results from election night showed 11,560 votes for the bond and 11,548 votes against, with military and absentee votes still pending. But the unofficial results were flipped going into final tabulation, with the bond failing by 30 votes due to an incorrect reading of the unofficial results from election night that stood uncorrected by the elections administrator for some time. Final results showed 23,631 votes cast in the bond election: 11,803 votes for and 11,828 against the measure. A recount of the results conducted on November 23 found that 11,400 people had voted against the bond, while 11,411 voted for it, giving a grand total of 22,811 voters having participated in the election.

Taiwan: Elections vulnerable to cyber-warriors | Kent Wang/Asia Times

According to the latest survey by Taiwan United Daily News, 53% of Taiwanese voters think that hiring cyber-warriors is a severe issue during the current presidential election campaign. President Tsai Ing-wen said last week that during this period, most of the smearing and fake stories came from her Kuomintang (KMT) opponent Han Kuo-yu’s camp, adding that the government spent a lot of efforts to clarify fake news every day. A spokesman for Han’s campaign headquarters said, “At this moment there are so many cyber-warriors. How many people like Slow Yang (楊蕙如) are there exactly? Which attacks are self-motivated and which are organized? These all need to be further investigated by the police.” The general public has for long heard about Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cyber-warriors, whose roars and rampages on the Internet are in direct proportion to their crude and brusque rhetoric. Yang was indicted for allegedly hiring and instructing cyber-warriors to exercise spin control by manipulating fake public opinions, resulting in the suicide of diplomat Su Chii-cherng (蘇啟誠), director of the Taipei Economic and Culture Office (TECO) in Osaka. Through the suicide case, Yang was charged with directing the cyber-warriors in guiding public opinion and her downstream subordinates. And the outside circles were wondering where Yang’s money to pay the cyber-warriors came from.