Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting praises federal guidance issued opposing internet voting

The following is a statement from Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting in response to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s guidance to states warning about security concerns with any voting system that…

National: Internet-based voting is the new front in the election security wars | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

Voting systems that rely on the Internet are fast becoming a major conflict zone in the battle to secure the 2020 election against hacking. The development comes as states are scrambling to revamp their voting procedures to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In some cases that means allowing digital voting to play a more prominent role, despite persistent warnings from experts that it’s highly insecure and often unverifiable. The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Election Assistance Commission jumped into the fray on Friday, sending guidance to states warning about the major security challenges posed by all voting systems that use the Internet in some way. The guidance covers ballots sent digitally to voters; ballots sent and marked online but printed out and returned by physical mail; and ballots that are received and returned entirely digitally. The agencies warned about dangers related to all three systems but especially the third, which they say poses “significant security risks.” Among those risks: Hackers could change large numbers of votes, block votes from being recorded or undermine ballot secrecy.

National: DHS memo: ‘Significant’ security risks presented by online voting | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

The Department of Homeland Security has told election officials and voting vendors that internet-connected voting is risky to the point that ballots returned online “could be manipulated at scale” by a malicious attacker. The advisory that DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency sent states on Fri ay is perhaps the federal government’s sternest warning yet against online voting. It comes as officials weigh their options for conducting elections during a pandemic and as digital voting vendors see an opportunity to hawk their products. While the risk of election officials delivering ballots to voters via the internet can be managed, the return of those ballots by voters “faces significant security risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of voted ballots,” CISA said in the guidance, which CyberScoop reviewed. “These risks can ultimately affect the tabulation and results and, can occur at scale.” The guidance, which is marked “For Official Use Only” and is not public, cites a theoretical “man-in-the-middle” attack, in which a hacker intercepts and alters data, as one risk to voters who return ballots electronically. Other federal agencies involved in election security — the Election Assistance Commission, the FBI, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology — signed off on the document.

National: Federal Agencies Warn States Online Voting Is ‘High Risk’ | Miles Parks/NPR

The federal government is letting states know it considers online voting to be a “high-risk” way of running elections even if all recommended security protocols are followed. It’s the latest development in the debate over Internet voting as a few states have announced they plan to offer it to voters with disabilities this year, while security experts have voiced grave warnings against doing so. An eight-page report distributed to states last week recommends mail-in ballots as a more secure method of voting. It was co-authored by four federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “We recommend paper ballot return as electronic ballot return technologies are high-risk even with controls in place,” says the document, according to a copy obtained by The Wall Street Journal. A source with knowledge of the document confirmed its authenticity to NPR. West Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey all have confirmed plans to pilot a system provided by the Seattle-based company Democracy Live in upcoming elections to allow military and overseas voters as well as some voters with disabilities the option to vote online.

National: Senator Warren warns coronavirus ‘poses a threat to free and fair elections’ | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday warned that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to “free and fair elections,” as experts cautioned that states are running out of time to prepare to hold elections during the crisis. “Coronavirus poses a threat to free and fair elections. But we can fix that,” Warren tweeted. “We need vote by mail. We need online and same-day registration. We need early voting and extended voting hours. We need real money for governments to administer elections safely.” Warren voiced her concerns in response to a New York Times Magazine report that explored the question of whether Americans could be disenfranchised by the pandemic. The article highlighted the recent Wisconsin primary election, when residents were forced to vote in-person. Dozens of coronavirus cases tied to election day have been reported in the weeks since. Warren released a plan on the day of the Wisconsin primary on how to secure voting during COVID-19, advocating for states to send an absentee ballot to every eligible American voter, and that Congress give $4 billion to states for elections.

National: Pandemic Prompts Questions About 2020 Presidential Election | Cameron Langford/Courthouse News

With Election Day fast approaching, the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored a central question seemingly destined for a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court: Will states let all voters cast absentee ballots, given concerns about spreading the virus? The absentee ballot question is just one of many questions swirling around the 2020 presidential election. Will states be able to find enough volunteers to usher voters through the polls? Many poll workers are elderly, a group at high risk for Covid-19 health complications. Wisconsin called in 2,400 National Guard troops to staff the polls for its April 7 primary election, a move voting-rights advocates say should not be duplicated. “Members of the National Guard can have an intimidating effect inside our nation’s polling sites and discourage some voters from feeling able to freely cast their ballots … Particularly voters of color,” said Kristen Clarke, president of Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan organization. “There are also concerns with deploying people who may not be sufficiently trained and experienced to manage poll sites,” Clarke said in an email.

National: Putin Is Well on His Way to Stealing the Next Election #DemocracyRIP | Franklin Foer/The Atlantic

Jack Cable sat down at the desk in his cramped dorm room to become an adult in the eyes of democracy. The rangy teenager, with neatly manicured brown hair and chunky glasses, had recently arrived at Stanford—his first semester of life away from home—and the 2018 midterm elections were less than two months away. Although he wasn’t one for covering his laptop with strident stickers or for taking loud stands, he felt a genuine thrill at the prospect of voting. But before he could cast an absentee ballot, he needed to register with the Board of Elections back home in Chicago. When Cable tried to complete the digital forms, an error message stared at him from his browser. Clicking back to his initial entry, he realized that he had accidentally typed an extraneous quotation mark into his home address. The fact that a single keystroke had short-circuited his registration filled Cable with a sense of dread. Despite his youth, Cable already enjoyed a global reputation as a gifted hacker—or, as he is prone to clarify, an “ethical hacker.” As a sophomore in high school, he had started participating in “bug bounties,” contests in which companies such as Google and Uber publicly invite attacks on their digital infrastructure so that they can identify and patch vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them. Cable, who is preternaturally persistent, had a knack for finding these soft spots. He collected enough cash prizes from the bug bounties to cover the costs of four years at Stanford.

Editorials: ELECTION-20 and COVID-19: Keeping our democracy while keeping our distance | Rob Sprinkle and David Mussington/Medium

Decades of concern with election security have so far led to scandalously few reforms of our voting procedures. Many Americans are no longer confident that vote totals this coming November will be accurate or, more fundamentally, will reflect the preferences of citizens among whom “voter suppression” is a reawakened worry. States remain firmly in control of election administration, and states vary widely in timing votes, deciding where votes can be cast, permitting votes to be cast early or other than in-person, handling votes cast overseas or in advance, recording votes, counting votes, and reporting votes. And states also vary widely — and frighteningly — in their attitudes toward cyber attacks by foreign intelligence organizations, by digital criminals, and by thrill-seeking Internet trolls. Deterring such attacks is difficult, and retaliating against them is dicey. Our 2016 experience and our ongoing observations show many states, Maryland fortunately an exception, either uninterested in election security or ineffective at mitigating the dangers they do expect to face. Familiar risks — storms, earthquakes, fires, riots, fraud — have strained past votes, and our new cyber risk, most dangerous where least feared, will surely strain the coming vote, but no stress prior to our current coronavirus pandemic has created, in every state simultaneously, a conflict between exercising the electoral franchise and staying healthy. Directly ahead in COVID-19’s policy-forcing path and already immunocompromised by pre-existing conditions, lies ELECTION-20.

Georgia: Precincts close before primary because of coronavirus | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Some churches, senior centers and fire stations are shutting their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Georgia voters with fewer places to cast their ballots in the June 9 primary. Polling places have closed across Georgia, but especially in Fulton County, where more than 30 locations told election officials they’re unwilling to host voters on election day. The loss of precincts leaves fewer options for voters, increasing the danger of groups gathering to vote in fewer places. While nearly 1.3 million people have requested absentee ballots, in-person voting must remain available during three weeks of early voting starting May 18 and on election day June 9, according to state law. Voting locations in churches are the most vulnerable. Churches normally serve as 35% of the state’s precincts, but many of them have closed to both parishioners and the public to help prevent the spread of the coroanvirus, according to a statewide analysis of polling places by the Georgia News Lab, an investigative reporting partnership among Georgia universities and GPB News. An additional 27% of precincts are located in schools or municipal buildings, which are more likely to remain open for voting.

Illinois: County Clerks Prepare For 2020 Election As Pandemic Continues | Claudia Baker/WNIJ and WNIU

Local officials across Illinois are preparing for the 2020 election amid concerns over how the coronavirus may affect the logistics of the election. Several voting locations used during the March 17 primaries have been linked to coronavirus cases. An election judge in Chicago died from complications due to coronavirus a few weeks after the primary. Many election judges across Illinois are over the age of 60, putting them at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. Many election judges may decide not to work in November which could strain local polling places. One solution suggested by Illinois lawmakers is to expand mail-in voting measures. Joe Tirio, the McHenry county clerk and recorder spoke about the political push for such measures. “There have been efforts to expand vote by mail predating coronavirus. There were two bills in the last legislative session addressing this and there’s an appetite for it on the federal level,” Tirio said.

Louisiana: Suit has been filed challenging State’s COVID-19 absentee voting restrictions | New Orleans’ Multicultural News Source | Fritz Esker/The Louisiana Weekly

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the Washington, D.C. law firm Covington & Burling, LLP filed a federal lawsuit on May 7 challenging voting requirements imposed by the state of Louisiana. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, centers around restrictions on the use of absentee mail-in ballots and the health risk to in-person voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, and four individual voters. “Risking your health, and the health of your family, should not be a requirement to partake in the electoral process,” said Catherine Meza, senior counsel at the LDF, in a statement. “We are hoping this lawsuit not only increases access to absentee voting, but also makes in-person voting safer, so Louisianians can exercise their constitutional right without putting their lives at risk.”

Nebraska: State Holds In-Person Primary Amid Coronavirus Pandemic | Grand Schulte/Associated Press

Nebraska on Tuesday will hold the nation’s first in-person primary since a heavily criticized election in Wisconsin five weeks ago in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Election officials have repeatedly urged voters to cast early, mail-in ballots, but Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and Secretary of State Bob Evnen both pledged to forge ahead with an in-person primary even though many other states have rescheduled theirs or switched to all-mail voting. On Monday, Ricketts said members of the Nebraska National Guard will be on call help short-staffed polling sites in eight counties, including the Omaha and Lincoln areas. He said Guard members will be dressed in civilian clothes, not their normal uniforms. “They’ll be available to help out,” he said. A Guard spokesman said 135 members have gone through poll worker training but won’t be dispatched unless they’re requested. The counties that might have Guard members as poll workers are some of Nebraska’s hardest-hit: Dakota, Dawson, Douglas Hall, Lancaster, Lincoln, Madison and Scottsbluff.

North Carolina: The pandemic will drive up election costs, and so far North Carolina isn’t ready | WRAL

The first coronavirus response legislation that the N.C. General Assembly passed functions like a tourniquet — it aimed to stop the immediate economic hemorrhage from the pandemic and shore up health care across the state. But with legislators set to return to Raleigh on May 18, budgetary patients will still be in the waiting room needing attention. For North Carolina’s state and county elections agencies, and the voters relying on them to run a safe, fair and secure election, the clock is ticking. Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell has sent three letters to the legislature asking for changes to state voting laws and roughly $2 million in funding to match federal money made available by the CARES Act. Brinson Bell said the $11 million in federal money is needed to help counties pay for what elections officials expect will be a dramatic increase in absentee-by-mail voting and equipment to run in-person voting safely. As it will for the upcoming second primary in western North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District and a new primary for a county commission seat in Columbus County, Brinson Bell said the state plans to purchase masks for every poll worker as well as every voter. They will also buy enough pens that each voter gets his or her own, plexiglass shields for check-in stations and heavy-duty sanitizing kits for every polling place.

Ohio: Democrats call for streamlined ballot requests, expanded voter registration for November election | Andrew J. Tobias/Cleveland Plain Dealer

A group of elected Ohio Democrats are calling for expanded voter registration and streamlined ballot requests, among other policy changes, to help prepare the state for a November election that could be upended by coronavirus. The changes are meant to increase the number of Ohioans who vote early while reducing Election Day lines, something that will be helpful whether or not a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks lead to public-health restrictions that close polling places, the Democrats said. Typically, about one-third of voters in Ohio vote early, and Democrats say they’d like to see the number get closer to one-half. “We’re not saying this should be all-mail, and we’re not saying this should be all in-person,” said Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, an Akron Democrat. “What we are saying is we need to start preparing for every possible scenario, because we have no clue what October could look like.” Some of the proposals, like allowing people to apply online for mail-in ballots, providing postage-paid envelopes for applications and ballots, and increasing funding for local county elections offices, are supported by Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. That sets up the possibility of a bipartisan coalition supporting elections changes in Ohio as it and likely other states debate expanding mail-in voting against the backdrop of risks posed by the coronavirus.

South Carolina: Democrats, Republicans to clash in court over absentee voting in time of COVID | John Monk/Charlotte Observer

When the state Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday on a historic question — whether to expand absentee ballot voting in upcoming elections during the COVID-19 pandemic — the arguments themselves will be historic. “These arguments will be the first time the court has used video web conferencing to conduct an argument,” a note on the Supreme Court Judicial Branch website said. All or most of the lawyers and justices will be in separate locations and visible on a computer screen. The issue has come before the court because of the highly contagious and sometimes fatal virus, as well as the increased threat the disease poses to people in their sixties and older and others with underlying health conditions.Moreover, African Americans have been stricken and have died at significantly higher rates than people of other races. The virus is easily spread by small droplets in infected peoples’ breaths, coughs and sneezes. The dangers from COVID-19 means the high court should interpret existing law to make it clear that people wanting to stay away from large gatherings for fear of getting sick should be allowed to do so, Democrats say. Republicans say the legislature should decide whether to expand absentee balloting.

Texas: State’s rules for mail-in voting won’t work during pandemic, a new lawsuit argues | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune

A coalition of voters and civil rights groups opened a new front Monday in the legal wars over mail-in voting in Texas during the new coronavirus pandemic. Several lawsuits already underway challenge state limits on who can vote by mail, but a lawsuit filed Monday dives into the mechanics of mail-in balloting, arguing that existing rules will deprive voters of their constitutional rights in the middle of a public health crisis. In the federal lawsuit filed in San Antonio, five Texas voters with medical conditions, Voto Latino, the NAACP Texas and the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans argue that four existing rules for absentee voting will place undue burdens on the right to vote, or risk disenfranchising Texans, during the pandemic.

Utah: Hackers, COVID-19 and foreign disinformation create challenges for Utah elections this year | Lee Davidson/The Salt Lake Tribune

Hackers likely will still try to infiltrate government voting databases. Officials worry foreign countries may spread disinformation about elections. And the coronavirus is doing away with in-person voting in Utah’s primary on June 30. So what could go wrong amid all that? Utah officials plan to discuss that in an online public workshop Tuesday. But Justin Lee — state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox — says Utah is better prepared to deal with challenges than most states because it has years of experience with voting by mail. With COVID-19, “The big concern is just to maintain appropriate social distancing but still allow everyone their right to vote,” so most states are attempting to vote by mail, often for the first time on a large scale, Lee said. “The good thing for Utah is that 90% of our voters already vote by mail,” he said. “So we’re already in a very good place compared to some of these other states that are scrambling.”

Wisconsin: Clerks Plan Protective Measures For In-Person Voting In Congressional Special Election | Rob Mentzer/Wisconsin Public Radio

Voters in the 7th Congressional District can expect to encounter protective barriers, strict limits on the number of people at polling places and other protective measures as they head to the polls for Tuesday’s special election. “The clerks in our district are taking the safety of the voters extremely seriously,” Oneida County clerk Tracy Hartman said Friday on WPR’s “The Morning Show.” Besides adding clear-plastic partitions between voters and poll workers and limiting numbers in polling locations, clerks will offer hand sanitizer stations and make pens single use, one per voter. Many of these practices were put in place statewide for Wisconsin’s April 7 presidential primary and state Supreme Court elections. Hartman said some clerks have used the last month to implement new safety measures. “We took April, we learned from it and we’ve improved upon it,” she said. “Overall, at least in Oneida County, it was a positive experience and we kept the voters as safe as possible.”