Election officials face a wide range of new cybersecurity threats stemming from voting changes spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released Friday. The report, compiled by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, lays out threats such as attempts to target election officials working on unsecured networks at home, recovering from voter registration system outages and securing online ballot request systems. “Voters are already placing increased demands on online registration systems and mail ballot options,” the authors wrote in the report. “At the same time, the risk of cyberattacks from foreign state and nonstate actors alike remains.” Lawrence Norden, director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program and a co-author of the report, told The Hill that election officials were already faced with cybersecurity threats, but they’re now also facing COVID-19 challenges. “Now that we are past the primaries in a lot of states, there is time to return our attention again to cybersecurity, and obviously the threat hasn’t gone away just because we are dealing with COVID-19 in the United States,” Norden said.
National: Amid Pandemic and Upheaval, New Cyber Risks to the Presidential Election | David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg/The New York Times
With the general election less than 150 days away, there are rising concerns that the push for remote voting prompted by the pandemic could open new opportunities to hack the vote — for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but also others hoping to disrupt, influence or profit from the election. President Trump has repeatedly said that mail-in ballots invite voter fraud and would benefit Democrats. It is a baseless claim: Mail-in voting has resulted in little fraud in the five states that have used it for years, and a recent study at Stanford University found that voting by mail did not advantage either party and might increase voter turnout for both parties. But there are different worries. The rush to accommodate remote voting is leading a small number of states to experiment with or expand online voting, an approach the Department of Homeland Security deemed “high risk” in a report last month. It has also put renewed focus on the assortment of online state voter registration systems, which were among the chief targets of Russian hackers in 2016. Their security is central to ensuring that, come November, voters actually receive their mail-in ballots or can gain access to online voting. While Russian hackers stopped short of manipulating voter data in 2016, American officials determined the effort was likely a dry run for future interference. To head off that threat, last summer the Department of Homeland Security hired the RAND Corporation to re-evaluate the nation’s election vulnerabilities, from poll booths to the voter registration systems. RAND’s findings only heightened the longstanding fears of government officials: State and local registration databases could be locked by hackers demanding ransomware or manipulated by outside actors.
Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Decries Efforts to Ramp Up Internet Voting; New Report from MIT and Univ. of Michigan Confirms Risks
The following is a statement from Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting about the new report from MIT and the University of Michigan, “Security Analysis of the Democracy Live Online Voting System”. For additional media inquiries, please contact Aurora Matthews, firstname.lastname@example.org June 8, 2020 – “Computer scientists agree that electronic transmission of voted…
National: GOP recruits army of poll watchers to fight voter fraud no one can prove exists | Jane C. Timm/NBC
Republicans are recruiting an estimated 50,000 volunteers to act as “poll watchers” in November, part of a multimillion-dollar effort to police who votes and how. That effort, coordinated by the Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, includes a $20 million fund for legal battles as well as the GOP’s first national poll-patrol operation in nearly 40 years. While poll watching is an ordinary part of elections — both parties do it — voting rights advocates worry that such a moneyed, large-scale offensive by the Republicans will intimidate and target minority voters who tend to vote Democratic and chill turnout in a pivotal contest already upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Some states allow poll monitors to challenge a voter’s eligibility, requiring that person’s ballot undergo additional vetting to be counted. In Michigan, for example, a challenged voter will be removed from line and questioned about their citizenship, age, residency and date of voter registration if, according to election rules, a vote challenger has “good reason” to believe they are not eligible. They are required to take an oath attesting that their answers are true and are given a special ballot.
National: How to Protect Your Vote – a technical report on Democracy Live OmniBallot | Michael A. Specter and J. Alex Halderman/Internet Policy Research Initiative at MIT
See the full technical report on OmniBallot here
Today, MIT and University of Michigan researchers released a report on the security of OmniBallot, an Internet voting and ballot delivery system produced by Democracy Live. This system has been deployed in Delaware, West Virginia, and other jurisdictions. Our goal is to provide election officials and citizens the information they need to ensure that elections are conducted securely. Based on our findings, we have specific recommendations for both governments and individual voters.
National: Attempted hacks of Trump and Biden campaigns reveal a race to disrupt the 2020 general election | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
It’s official: The race to hack the 2020 general election is in full swing. Iran tried to hack into Gmail accounts used by President Trump’s reelection campaign staff, the leader of Google’s threat-hunting team revealed in a tweet. China, meanwhile, tried to hack staff for former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Shane Huntley said. The hackers didn’t successfully breach those accounts. But these nation state-backed hacking campaigns are likely to be the just the beginning of a general election campaign that will be ripe for disruption by U.S. adversaries. “It’s no surprise the Chinese and Iranian governments are trying to compromise our 2020 presidential campaigns through cyberattacks. Their goal is simple: suck up information about our candidates’ campaigns and then create conflict and chaos in our election,” Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and helped launch a bipartisan group aimed at preventing election hacking, told me. Officials with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. intelligence have been warning for years that Russia and other nations will try to use hacking and disinformation to undermine the 2020 contest in a replay of operations from the last presidential race, which leaked reams of embarrassing information about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in an effort to help Donald Trump.
National: George Floyd protests created surge in voter registrations, groups say | Brian Schwartz/CNBC
Voter registrations, volunteer activity and donations for groups linked to Democratic causes are surging in the midst of protests following the death of George Floyd, according to voting advocacy groups. This surge in registrations could end up being one of the factors that helps tip the election between apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. The efforts are by groups including Latino voter registration organizations, Rock the Vote and one co-chaired by former first lady Michelle Obama. Latino voter registration groups in recent weeks have noticed an uptick in their communities mobilization to vote, particularly from younger voters. The leaders of these organizations said that many are registering after nationwide outrage directed at police brutality and the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left over 100,000 dead and tens of millions jobless in the United States. Unemployment rates for Hispanic and black workers remained high at 17.6% and 16.8%, respectively, even after the nation added 2.5 million jobs last month.
States that moved to rapidly expand mail-in balloting amid the coronavirus pandemic are seeing some of their highest levels of voter turnout in years, even as President Trump looks to clamp down on such efforts. In at least four of the eight states that held primaries on Tuesday, turnout surpassed 2016 levels, with most of the votes being cast via mail, according to an analysis of election returns by The Hill. Each of those states took steps earlier this year to send absentee ballot applications to all of their registered voters. In Iowa, for instance, total turnout reached 24 percent, up from about 15 percent in the state’s 2016 primaries and its highest ever turnout for a primary. But more strikingly, of the roughly 524,000 votes cast, some 411,000 of them came from absentee ballots – a nearly 1,000 percent increase over 2016 levels. The high turnout could encourage more states to take similar steps ahead of the November general elections. Trump has resisted such efforts, even threatening last month to hold up federal funding to Michigan and Nevada over state election officials’ decisions to send mail-in ballot applications to registered voters.
National: Report highlights voting inequities in tribal communities | Felicia Fonseca/Associated Press
Native American voting rights advocates are cautioning against states moving to mail-in ballots without opportunities for tribal members to vote safely in person. In a wide-ranging report released Thursday, the Native American Rights Fund outlined the challenges that could arise: online registration hampered by spotty or no internet service, ballots delivered to rarely-checked Post Office boxes and turnout curbed by a general reluctance to vote by mail. “We’re all for increased vote by mail,” said Jacqueline De Leon, a staff attorney with the group and a member of Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. “We’re absolutely against all vote by mail. If there are no in-person opportunities, then Native Americans will be disenfranchised because it will be impossible for some of them to cast a ballot.” A few states automatically mail ballots to every eligible voter. Others are drawing up plans to rely more heavily on a mail-in system for this year’s elections amid the coronavirus pandemic and with social distancing guidelines in mind. Native Americans are reluctant to embrace the system because of cultural, historical, socioeconomic and language barriers, and past experiences, the report said.
COVID-19 social distancing measures will likely continue through 2020 — or should — significantly impacting the November election. One proposed solution has been a shift to online voting — an approach that is the dream of many voting reform advocates and the nightmare of cyber and national security experts. Online voting has an allure, given our pervasive use of the internet: We file taxes online, conduct banking transactions, meet future spouses, buy, and sell houses, and purchase a dizzying array of goods and services. We have shifted so much of our lives and responsibilities online that at times it seems backwards to not digitize every action. So why not voting? There is no room for error with foundational democratic exercises like voting. In this case, the process is more important than the outcome. Trust is a critical element of the system for the winner, but more importantly, for the loser, whose acceptance of defeat based on the will of the people allows for a peaceful transition of power. Many uncertainties surround the technical security needed to ensure confidence in the results of online elections. More troubling still is how foreign governments might seek to deconstruct or disrupt any online voting technology we deploy. Similar efforts are already being reported targeting healthcare and research institutions in the U.S. working on a COVID-19 vaccine. Several threats must be addressed before we ever vote online.
All who rightly insist that remedying embedded racism and economic injustice requires both organized protests and election victories must reckon with this possibility: Election Day 2020 could be a catastrophic mess. Whose interest would a chaotic election serve? The chaos president. President Trump would challenge the results of such an election if he lost, and he might win it by blocking enough of those who oppose him from casting ballots. Last Tuesday’s primaries are a cautionary tale. They showed what can go wrong even in places that operate with the best will in the world. Both the District of Columbia and Maryland hoped to push as much voting by mail as possible. It was an admirable instinct during a pandemic, but it didn’t work out so well. Writing in Slate, Mark Joseph Stern called primary day in the nation’s capital “an unmitigated disaster.” The Post’s Julie Zauzmer, Jenna Portnoy and Erin Cox reported that many are calling for election officials in both D.C. and Maryland “to resign after botched delivery of absentee ballots and hours-long waits at polling places left some voters disenfranchised.”
California: Officials confident it can run November election smoothly even with coronavirus | John Wildermuth/San Francisco Chronicle
The coronavirus turned what already promised to be an unprecedented presidential election year into a new test for California and its voting system, Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Friday. The March 3 primary spotlighted the enthusiasm California voters were feeling, Padilla said in an hour-long online interview with Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. “We entered 2020 knowing this would be a big election year,” the secretary said. “We had record registration of nearly 20.7 million. We had a record number of primary ballots cast. We had the highest-ever percentage of eligible voters registered. “Then COVID happened.” Less than two weeks after the primary, much of the state was shut down as officials tried to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which as of Friday has killed 4,481 Californians and sickened more than 123,000. It also left Padilla and election officials around the state scrambling to ensure that the November election, with what could be a record voter turnout, would run smoothly and, just as important, safely. Luckily, California had a head start on the needed changes, Padilla said.
District of Columbia: Some D.C. Residents Were Allowed To Vote By Email. Was That A Good Idea? | Martin Austermuhle/DCist
By Monday, Ward 6 resident Alex Dickson was running out of options. She had requested an absentee ballot for the following day’s primary election, but even after repeated promises from the D.C. Board of Elections that one had been sent, she had yet to receive it. By late that day, election officials offered her another option: She could vote by email. “What? OMG that’s crazy,” wrote Dickson in a Twitter exchange with an election official. But on Tuesday morning, that’s what she did. Faced with what is reported to have been hundreds of complaints from D.C. residents who said they never got requested absentee ballots in the mail, early this week the elections board decided to offer the chance to cast their ballots via email, using an existing service that had been used in the past — but only for a small group of voters with disabilities, and also for those in the military living overseas. The move came in the last-minute scramble to accommodate voters ahead of Tuesday’s primary, which was being conducted largely through the mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the sudden shift in how the election was to be run — announced in late March, two months ahead of the primary — wasn’t without its challenges, leaving the elections board struggling to keep up with a huge number of requests for absentee ballots: more than 90,000 all told, roughly tenfold most normal election cycles.
Florida: Lawyer says ex-Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin illegally voted in Florida, asks Aramis Ayala to pursue charges | Katie Rice/Orlando Sentinel
A man running for election supervisor in Pinellas County is asking Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala pursue charges against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis ex-cop accused of killing George Floyd, alleging he voted illegally in two Florida elections. Dan Helm, a Democrat and attorney, sent Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala a letter notifying her of Chauvin’s voting record. “While living in Minnesota, working there, paying taxes there, Derek Chauvin cannot claim residency in Orange County. His home, residency and where he intends to live is in Minnesota, not Florida,” Helm wrote. His letter cites the Florida statute prohibiting false swearing and the submission of false voter registration information, adding that violation of the statute is a third-degree felony. “I encourage you to hold people accountable for their actions, especially breaking the laws of our state,” Helm wrote.
Iowa: Senate Republicans propose limiting election officials’ powers during emergency | Ian Richardson and Stephen Gruber-Miller/Des Moines Register
Three days after a statewide primary election that saw record turnout due largely to coronavirus-related absentee voting, Iowa Senate Republicans advanced legislation that would prevent election officials from repeating some of the same steps in the general election. The legislation would prohibit county auditors from reducing polling locations by more than 35% during an emergency and prohibit the secretary of state from mailing absentee ballot requests without a written voter request. Iowa election officials took both of those actions before Tuesday’s primary to ease both voting and election administration during the virus. Republicans have said they want to write guidelines to provide clarity for campaigns ahead of the November federal elections. But Democrats on Friday said the changes would suppress votes, and the amendment also drew outcry from local election officials.
Minnesota: ACLU, NAACP lawsuit: Amid pandemic, mail absentee ballots to all voters | Kirsti Marohn/MPR
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Minnesota secretary of state, asking that absentee ballots be mailed to every registered voter due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the NAACP and two elderly Minnesota voters who live alone and have health conditions. It contends that voting in person would put the women at risk for exposure to the coronavirus. So would voting by absentee ballot, because Minnesota law requires a witness. “They recognize the threat, and so for them having to go to the polls or even having to get a witness to sign the absentee voting ballot envelope puts their health at an undue risk,” said David McKinney, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Minnesota. The lawsuit asks the court to suspend the witness requirement and mail absentee ballots to every registered voter in Minnesota for the August primary and November general election.
Pennsylvania: The primary wasn’t a disaster. But it showed there’s work to do before November | Jonathan Tamari and Jonathan Lai/Philadelphia Inquirer
At least it wasn’t Wisconsin. As with every election, the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday had its problems, from long lines at some poll sites to ballot screwups. With huge numbers switching to voting by mail because of a new law expanding that option and coronavirus fears of voting in person, the state faces a long slog of vote-counting that, as of Friday, left many elections unresolved. Thousands of mail ballots didn’t reach voters in time. Their ability to use those ballots was only saved by a last-minute order from Gov. Tom Wolf that extended the mail-in deadline. The issues were worst in big cities — which suffered the greatest effects from the coronavirus and, just as the election arrived, the largest protests against police brutality. In Philadelphia, the surge of mail ballot requests and delays caused by protests and curfews contributed to a slow counting process to ensure that those who voted by mail didn’t also do so in person, potentially delaying results for weeks. But even with those issues, Pennsylvania’s election Tuesday mostly went OK — at least compared with Wisconsin’s April debacle, when lines in Milwaukee stretched for blocks during one of the worst phases of the pandemic.
Rhode Island: 100K mail ballot applications sent by state were returned to sender | Katherine Gregg/Providence Journal
In the end, roughly 83% of the 123,875 Rhode Islanders who voted in Rhode Island’s June 2 presidential primary voted by mail ballot. But in the first-ever predominantly mail-ballot election, an unknown number of ballots went astray; at least 1,670 ballots arrived in the mail too late to be counted; and approximately 100,000 of the mail ballot applications the state sent, unsolicited, to 779,463 registered voters were returned as undeliverable, according to post-election reports from the Board of Elections. In an effort to reduce potential public exposure to the highly transmissible COVID-19 respiratory disease, state elections officials slashed the number of polling stations and attempted to conduct a predominantly mail-ballot election. While the machine-vote tallies made President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden the apparent winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries on Tuesday, the unofficial tally was not posted until Friday night.
Tennessee: State election coordinator: Don’t send forms yet for expanded voting | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press
Tennessee’s election coordinator told his local counterparts Friday not to send absentee voting applications to some Tennesseans just yet, guidance issued the day after a court ordered that all 4.1 million registered voters can vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. In his email, Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told local election officials not to send the applications for people citing illness or COVID-19 as a reason. He wrote that the state may be revising its application form and that it will ask an appeals court to block the expansion to allow all voters to cast ballots by mail during the pandemic. Those seeking to vote by mail for other valid reasons, including all voters 60 or older, can still be sent applications, Goins wrote. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s ruling late Thursday instructs that anyone who “determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person at a polling place due to the COVID-19 situation” is eligible to check a box on the absentee ballot application about “being hospitalized, ill or physically disabled.” Officials began accepting applications to vote by mail last month for the upcoming Aug. 6 primary election in Tennessee.
Bolivia: A Bitter Election. Accusations of Fraud. And Now Second Thoughts. | Anatoly Kurmanaev and Maria Silvia Trigo/The New York Times
The election was the most tightly contested in decades: Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, was running for a fourth term, facing an opposition that saw him as authoritarian and unwilling to relinquish power. As the preliminary vote count began, on Oct. 20, 2019, tensions ran high. When the tallying stopped — suddenly and without explanation — then resumed again a full day later, it showed Mr. Morales had just enough votes to eke out a victory. Amid suspicions of fraud, protests broke out across the country, and the international community turned to the Organization of American States, which had been invited to observe the elections, for its assessment. The organization’s statement, which cited “an inexplicable change” that “drastically modifies the fate of the election,” heightened doubts about the fairness of the vote and fueled a chain of events that changed the South American nation’s history. The opposition seized on the claim to escalate protests, gather international support, and push Mr. Morales from power with military support weeks later.
Iran has been named as one of the two countries to be running a state backed hacking operation, in an attempt to access sensitive information from the campaign teams of US President Donald Trump and the Presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The other is China. Details of the hacking operation were uncovered by Google Threat Analysis Group (TAG). “Recently TAG saw China APT group targeting Biden campaign staff & Iran APT targeting Trump campaign staff with phishing,” tweeted Shane Huntley, director for Google’s Threat Analysis Group. He said that there was “no sign of compromise” and that both the affected users and federal law enforcement were notified. In a separate tweet, yesterday, Huntley explained APT31 was a Chinese backed hacking group and APT35 was an Iranian backed hacking group, both of which are said to be known to the threat analysis team for targeting government officials.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the controversial Election Laws (Amendment) Bill into law in January this year and allowed the use of a manual back-up in case the electronic system failed, the Opposition threatened to call for mass action. The law allowed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to use “a complementary mechanism for identification of voters and transmission of election results” in case the gadgets failed. Although the commission’s CEO Ezra Chiloba said voters would be identified electronically, and that the manual system would only be used in the event that the former failed, the Opposition claimed that a manual voting system would allow ghost voters to participate in the elections, and termed the laws a plot by Jubilee to rig. The circus on the kind of electoral system that Kenya should embrace has been windy and controversial. The Nasa presidential candidate wanted only an electronic system, with no manual back-up, and his lawyer Paul Mwangi went to court to compel IEBC to stop the plan.