Editorials: Resist push for online ballot box | The Seattle Times

The ubiquity of online life comes with devastating vulnerabilities. Even one of the world’s richest men, Jeff Bezos, is reportedly not safe from hackers of electronic devices. Despite this well-established risk, Washington elections officials are moving in disjointed directions about internet security. In Olympia, Secretary of State Kim Wyman wants to bar emailed ballot returns because of potential fraud and network tampering via attachment. In King County, Elections Director Julie Wise is aiding a local public agency’s experiment with online voting. The King County move is a badly flawed approach to broadening elections access. Washington’s elections must — without exception — be kept safe from online tampering. The best way to do this is to keep elections computers entirely off the internet. House Bill 2647 and Senate Bill 6412 are Wyman’s request legislation that would ban returning ballots by email. The proposal would close a vulnerability without meaningfully limiting access for military and overseas voters. Their current extended voting window of 30 or 45 days to download, print and return ballots reasonably allows for international postal delays.

National: Analysts question whether FBI election cybersecurity changes are robust enough | Jonathan Greig/TechRepublic

The FBI released new guidelines on how it will approach cyberattacks on elections after facing years of criticism from lawmakers across the country for their response to Russian intrusion attempts during the 2016 election. State officials, particularly those in Florida, were incensed when the Mueller Report revealed that two county voting databases were breached by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 election. The FBI never told state-level officials and only coordinated with people in the counties that had been hit, waiting nearly two years until meeting and explaining the situation to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The new guidelines, explained on a media call last Thursday and in a press release last Friday, say the FBI will notify a state’s chief election official and other local election workers in the event of any cyberattack. “Understanding that mitigation of such incidents often hinges on timely notification, the FBI has established a new internal policy outlining how the FBI will notify state and local officials responsible for administering election infrastructure of cyber activity targeting their infrastructure,” the FBI statement said.

National: Weakening Encryption Could Impact Election Security, Coalition Says | Frank Konkel/Nextgov

A coalition for secure elections sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr Wednesday, criticizing the AG for recent comments he made calling on companies to create a “backdoor” through encryption. The letter, published by the Project on Government Oversight, warns such backdoors—even if expressly for use by law enforcement—would weaken the security of encrypted services and devices, “opening the door” for hackers to harm users. “While encryption does not guarantee safety from all forms of malicious hacking, it is a vital safeguard to minimize risk. The Department of Justice has previously asked companies to create a ‘backdoor’ through encryption that would be accessible to law enforcement—but it is simply not possible to create a ‘backdoor’ that could not also be accessed by malicious hackers,” the letter states.

National: Tech Companies Volunteer to Beef Up Presidential Campaigns’ Cybersecurity | Alexa Corse/Wall Street Journal

Nearly a dozen technology companies said they will provide free or reduced-cost cybersecurity services to presidential campaigns, which experts and intelligence officials have warned are ripe targets for intrusion and disinformation. They join a growing number of firms offering protection on a nonpartisan basis, a trend that has gained steam in the past 18 months or so, since federal regulators eased rules to make such offers permissible under campaign-finance laws. The Federal Election Commission made policy changes after urging from nonprofits and technology companies, including Microsoft Corp. Campaigns have struggled to make their information more secure in part because of budget pressures and the fast-moving nature of a campaign. “Any dollar that a campaign spends on extra levels of cybersecurity is a dollar they’re not spending on voter contact and getting their candidate elected,” noted Matt Rhoades, campaign manager for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.

California: Lawsuit claims new Los Angeles County voting machines could favor some candidates | Jason Ruiz/Long Beach Post News

A lawsuit filed Thursday by the City of Beverly Hills alleges that the machines to tabulate votes that are being deployed by Los Angeles County for the upcoming March 3 elections could give some candidates an unfair advantage. In a statement the city said that the issue is that only four candidates can be displayed at one time on the screens and that the confusion between the “More” and “Next” buttons could lead to those not listed on the first page being overlooked by voters. Potential for the city’s suit was first reported by LAist, which earlier this month reported the Beverly Hills City Council was considering the action after it received a preview of the machines and noticed the potential for confusion. One of its incumbent members is listed fifth on the ballot, which means he would appear on the second screen and potentially be skipped over by voters. The county is using VSAP (Voting Solutions for All People) machines for the first time during the March elections, but have rolled them out for demonstrations in the past few months including at November’s California Democratic Party Endorsing Convention hosted in Long Beach. Voters can use the machines to electronically mark selections, with the machine printing out a paper version of their votes to be turned into county officials. The machines have yet to be certified by state election officials.

Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Comment on Los Angeles County VSAP 2.0 Certification

The following is a comment on the certification process for Los Angeles County’s VSAP 2.0 system. To view a pdf, click here. Los Angeles County Voting Systems for All People (VSAP) 2.0 Certification Comment of Pamela Smith, Senior Advisor, Verified Voting January 20, 2020 Verified Voting commends Los Angeles County for the decade-long process of…

Georgia: Fearing long lines, Georgia election officials reject voting proposal | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia’s election board rejected a proposal Wednesday that could have resulted in long lines of voters, instead introducing a plan to require more voting machines during this year’s high-turnout presidential election. Still, the State Election Board’s proposed rules won’t provide as many voting machines as mandated by a state law passed last year, which called for one voting booth for every 250 voters in each precinct. Election officials said they will likely try to change that law during this year’s legislative session. With a new voting system being rolled out during the March 24 presidential primary, the State Election Board approved rules for the state’s voting machines and proposed several other changes dealing with absentee ballot rejections, provisional ballots, paper ballot backups and accessibility options for people with disabilities. The board’s most consequential decision determined how many voting machines are available in each precinct on Election Day.

Iowa: Caucus app sparks election security concerns | Ben Popken/NBC

With less than two weeks until Iowans line up to cast the first votes to pick a Democratic presidential nominee, party officials are reassuring voters that a new app used to report its caucus votes is secure. It’s not clear if they are correct. The app will be used in Iowa and Nevada by caucus managers — local registered Democrats who sign up to organize and run the caucus process in each location — to expedite the process, calculate and assign delegates and report results back quickly. The app will also be used in satellite voting locations across the country and overseas. But questions about the app remain unanswered, including who developed it and whether it has been subjected to independent security testing. Security experts say that the app is a potential target for early election interference, particularly since it is downloaded on to the personal phones of the caucus managers. Party officials say operational security prevents them from disclosing specifics about the app. Kiersten Todt, managing director of the Cyber Readiness Institute, a nonprofit group that provides cybersecurity advice to small and medium-size businesses, said those phones “can be breached in a heartbeat.”

Nevada: Amid hacking fears, Nevada Democrats to use app for caucus results | Jason Hidalgo, Ryan Foley and Christina Cassidy/Reno Gazette Journal

Nevada is one of two early caucus states to use new mobile apps to report caucus results amid heightened worries about election hacking. The Silver State will be joining Iowa in using mobile apps to gather results from thousands of caucus sites. The decision to use the apps was made to increase transparency and help run the caucuses more smoothly, said Shelby Wiltz, director of the Nevada State Democratic Party Caucus, on Monday. “NV Dems has been committed to making our First in the West Caucus the most accessible, expansive and transparent caucus yet,” Wiltz said. “We developed a reporting application in order to streamline the caucus process and provide our volunteers with additional support to run their caucuses as efficiently as possible.” Although the technology is intended to make counting easier, however, it also raises concerns about the potential for hacking or glitches. Party officials said that they worked closely with the Democratic National Committee and security experts while picking and vetting the app vendor that was chosen. They declined to name the vendor, however, citing security reasons.

New Hampshire: Paper Ballots Are Hard to Hack, But That’s Only Part of the Election Security Puzzle | Casey McDermott/New Hampshire Public Radio

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has long projected confidence about the security of the state’s elections. In the fall of 2016, as national security officials were warning state elections offices to “be vigilant and seek cybersecurity assistance” from federal partners, Gardner declined — saying New Hampshire didn’t need the extra help. “We have a system that, we don’t have to be concerned that it’s going to be something different this time because of some imaginary foreign element out there or something that might be interfering with this election,” Gardner said at the time. Since then, Gardner — the nation’s longest serving elections chief — continued to downplay the risk facing New Hampshire. When asked about election security at a meeting of the state’s Ballot Law Commission a few months before the 2018 midterms, he had a simple response. “You want to know about being hacked? You see this pencil here?” Gardner said, holding one up for emphasis. “Want me to give it to you and see if you can hack this pencil? We have this pencil. This is how people vote in this state. And you can’t hack this pencil.”

New Jersey: New Jersey will soon allow you to register to vote online | Brent Johnson and Matt Arco/NJ.com

Looking to register to vote in New Jersey? You will soon be able to do it online under a bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Tuesday. The new law (S589) requires the Garden State’s secretary of state to create and maintain a secure website to allow eligible voters to register to vote using an online form. It takes effect in June. It’s the latest move Murphy and his fellow Democrats who control the state Legislature have made to open up voting in New Jersey. They have also expanding mail-in voting, made voter registration automatic when you apply for a driver’s license, and restored voting rights to people on probation and parole. New Jersey is the 38th state to institute online voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The District of Columbia also has it and Oklahoma is phasing in a similar program.

Pennsylvania: Federal judge delays voting machine case against Department of State | Emily Previti/PA Post

A federal judge on Friday ordered a month-long delay in a case that seeks to bar the use of a specific voting machine in the upcoming presidential primary. Hearings were to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia to determine whether the ExpressVote XL touchscreen tabulator violates a legal settlement that set higher standards for election security in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Northampton and Cumberland counties selected the XL as part of an election system update required of all Pa. counties by the end of 2019. The delay ordered by the judge leaves the counties in limbo. Officials from the counties and the Pa. Department of State say shelving the XL and shifting to different voting systems so close to the election would create chaos for voters. They say plaintiffs could and should have acted sooner — and U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond agreed with that point in the order issued Friday.  A key issue in Diamond’s decision to delay the next hearing until Feb. 18 is the potential that one of the plaintiffs attorneys, Ilann Maazel, could be called as a witness by the DoS. If the state insists on calling Maazel, Diamond said he would remove the lawyer from the case. The delay, the judge said, is intended to give the plaintiffs time to prepare new counsel.

Pennsylvania: More new electronics for voting in Northampton County? Election officials hit pause. | Kurt Bresswein/Lehigh Valley Live

Northampton County officials are considering spending about a quarter of a million dollars on specially configured iPads to check in voters at the polls beginning with the 2020 primary election. County Executive Lamont McClure’s administration sprang the proposal on the county election commission during its quarterly meeting Thursday. Director of Administration Charles Dertinger was looking for a recommendation on the purchase to bring to county council, calling the timeline tight to get the new ePollbooks ordered and delivered. Commission Chairwoman Maudenia Hornik, elected by her colleagues to the leadership role at the start of the meeting, pushed back on having to make a decision immediately. She wants to do her own research on the options available, especially after the problems the county had with new touchscreen paper-ballot voting machines in November’s election. “We just made a huge purchase and we’ve got egg on our face,” Hornik said during Thursday’s meeting at the courthouse and government center in Easton. “I didn’t know we were voting tonight. … i just feel as if I don’t want to do this hastily.”

Tennessee: New Shelby County election machinery debate heightens fraud claims on all sides | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley may have framed the debate on a new voting system that is about to land at the county building. “It’s easy to probably find studies on either side of this,” he said Wednesday, Jan. 22, as commissioners prepared to debate a resolution coming up at the Monday, Jan. 27, commission meeting endorsing hand-marked paper ballots. They would replace the touchscreen machines used in Shelby County elections. The resolution by Commissioner Van Turner is part of a new push by critics of computer-based voting machines. Turner said his goal is to “build integrity into the system.” The committee discussion on a day when committee sessions ran long showed there are disagreements on the matter within the Shelby County Election Commission, the organization that has a request for proposal out now for a new voting system to be used at some point during the current election year.

Washington: Secretary of state questions online, mobile voting plan in King County race | David Gutman/The Seattle Times

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman expressed concerns Wednesday with newly announced plans to allow voters in one obscure King County election to vote online through mobile devices. The plan, which went into effect Wednesday, allows voters to cast ballots through a touch-screen device in the race for King Conservation District Board of Supervisors. That election, which is held annually for a volunteer position on a board with no regulatory power, has traditionally drawn voter turnout of only about 1%. Because of a quirk in state law, the conservation district has to hold its elections in the first three months of the year, so voting can’t piggyback on the primary or general election ballots in August or November. And, sending out paper ballots to all 1.2 million eligible voters in the district would eat up about a quarter of the small agency’s annual budget. So, they’re trying voting by mobile device, the first election in the country to offer that technology to every eligible voter. “Any time you connect a system online, it becomes vulnerable to attack,” said Wyman, a Republican, who oversees most of the state’s elections, but not those of conservation districts.