Andrew Yang asked a question in July, months after he ended his presidential bid, that has dogged election officials: “Why is it again that I can pay a parking ticket online, apply for a passport and conduct personal financial transactions but I can’t vote the same way?”It’s an understandable wish. With technology now powering just…
The Justice Department unsealed charges against six alleged Russian government hackers on Monday and said they were behind a rash of recent cyberattacks — from damaging Ukraine’s electrical grid to interfering in France’s election to spying on European investigations and more. The men work for the Russian military intelligence agency GRU — which also led Russian cyber-interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Justice Department officials said Moscow has only sustained or heightened its intensity of effort since then.”No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” said John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security. “Today the department has charged these Russian officers with conducting the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group. … No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way.”
National: How Will the U.S. Combat Election Day Cyberwarfare? With Paper | Kassie Bracken and Alexandra Eaton/The New York Times
The 2016 U.S. election was a game changer for voting technology. Widespread Russian interference in our voting systems spurred new federal scrutiny of the country’s vast and fragmented election infrastructure. Four years later, “The psychological import of what the Russians did may be greater than anything that they actually hacked into, because they have managed to shake the confidence of American voters that their votes will be counted as they cast them,” said David Sanger, national security correspondent for The New York Times. And this lack of trust has led to a renewed examination of the nation’s voting equipment. That, in part, is why some election experts believe that when it comes to the security of election machines, voters should feel more confident than ever in 2020.
National: How officials are protecting the election from ransomware hackers | Patrick Howell O’Neill/MIT Technology Review
Hackers played a significant role in the 2016 election, when the Russian government hacked into the Democratic campaign and ran an information operation that dominated national headlines. American law enforcement, intelligence services, and even Republican lawmakers have concluded, repeatedly, that Moscow sought to interfere with the election in favor of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, in the last four years, ransomware has exploded into a multibillion-dollar business. It’s a type of malware that hackers use to restrict access to data or machines until they’re paid ransoms that can run into the tens of millions of dollars. There’s now a global extortion industry built on the fact that the critical infrastructure and digital systems we rely on are deeply vulnerable. Put those two things together, and you get the nightmare scenario many election security officials are focused on: that ransomware could infect and disrupt election systems in some way, perhaps by targeting voter registration databases on the eve of Election Day. Steps to prevent such attacks are well under way.
National: A ruling against expanding online voting is a win for cybersecurity advocates | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
A federal judge yesterd
ay dismissed a lawsuit that sought to dramatically expand online voting by military service members and other citizens living overseas, halting an effort that critics say could have made the election far more vulnerable to hacking.The overseas voters who brought the suit hail from seven states and said they fear restrictions and slowdowns between the U.S. Postal Service and the postal services where they live raise dangers their ballots won’t arrive in time to be counted. They wanted an option of submitting the ballots as PDF attachments to emails or using a secure fax system managed by the Defense Department. Similar voting methods are available to overseas voters from 30 other states. The ruling underscores how efforts to make voting easier during the pandemic can sometimes clash with efforts to protect the election against foreign interference.
The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cybersecurity agency has worked since 2016 to help states protect their election infrastructure from electronic attack, but it only takes one small breach to dent confidence in the systems, according to a digital rights and technology expert.” There has been a ton of effort from [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] and others,” said William Adler, senior technologist for elections and democracy at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).” But cybersecurity is an active process. Threats are constantly changing and evolving, so we need to keep making the case that election officials need to prioritize cybersecurity and not be complacent,” he said during a conference call with reporters on Oct. 16. On the call, officials at the technology and digital rights advocacy group explained the variety of threats facing the upcoming elections, from voter suppression, to misinformation about mail-in ballots and cybersecurity.
National: Eight-Hour Waits. Machine Glitches. Why Early Voting in Some States Has Had a Rough Start. | Reid J. Epstein, Stephanie Saul and Manny Fernandez/The New York Times
Virginia’s online voter registration portal crashed on the final day it was available when roadside utility workers cut the wrong cable. Texans waited in long lines on the first day of early voting in their state’s biggest cities, and in one county in the Houston suburbs, a programming error took down all of the voting machines for much of the morning. On Georgia’s second day of early voting, long lines again built up at polling places in the Atlanta suburbs. The hurdles to early voting on Tuesday resulted from a combination of intense voter interest that stressed the capacity of overwhelmed local elections officials and the sort of messiness that has long been common in American elections and which is now under a microscope as concerns over voter suppression and the unprecedented dynamics of voting during a pandemic collide.The long lines in Georgia and Texas illustrate how eager voters are to cast ballots in the 2020 election — particularly, but not only, in Democratic-trending urban and suburban areas. By 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, had smashed its first-day early-voting turnout record. In Gwinnett County, Ga., north of Atlanta, even with the long lines there was a 450 percent increase in first-day early voting compared with 2016, according to Ryan Anderson, who tracks Georgia voting data on the Georgia Votes website.
National: Critical swing states push for ‘simple change’ to make counting mail-in ballots easier | Allan Smith/NBC
There’s a “simple change” that makes counting mail-in votes easier but some critical swing states still don’t allow it. Already, 32 states — under both Democratic and Republican control — allow for the county-level election overseers to begin processing ballots before Election Day— a process known as “pre-canvassing.” But in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, election officials have not been able to begin doing so until Election Day. Pre-canvassing involves checking the ballots for eligibility, preparing them to be scanned and other manual steps that can be time-consuming. The process does not include counting and tabulating the votes. Election officials, facing record numbers of mail-in ballots, say that if they are able to begin this work before Election Day, they will be able to complete the final vote count much more quickly. President Donald Trump has repeatedly lamented that the counting of ballots may not be completed in some states by the end of Election Day. But pre-canvassing of ballots in those earlier mentioned states will help speed the process, officials said.”It’ll take forever,” Trump said at a new conference last month. “You think Nov. 3? You might not have — I guess, at a certain point, it goes to Congress. You know, at a certain point, it goes to Congress. You know that.”
Alabama Secretary of State announces electronic poll books in 63 of 67 counties | Alabama Political Reporter
head of the Nov. 3, 2020, general election, Secretary of State John Merrill’s office said that electronic poll books will be utilized in 63 of Alabama’s 67 counties.In recent years, Alabama has made progress in updating outdated systems and replacing old equipment with the most up-to-date technology, installed with full security measures. Notably, in 2019, the Secretary of State’s office replaced the computers used by local election officials in all 67 counties at no cost at all to the county or state through the use of Help America Vote Act funds.The electronic poll books provided for 63 of Alabama’s counties will be used to increase the security, speed and efficiency of the check-in process for voters.
Bad actors working for the likes of Russia and other nation-states are lurking on the internet, waiting for their chance to infiltrate the American voting system. Florida may be ripe for the picking, computer scientists say, because numerous counties rely on voting machines that are drawing fire for their vulnerability to a cyberattack. These computer scientists along with election integrity groups familiar with the model that Palm Beach and 48 other counties use, say there are potentially numerous ways for a foreign entity to alter results. They say that state election officials have accepted wholesale the spin from the manufacturer that these machines — which voters at polling places feed ballots into after marking candidates of their choice — are secure. “It has been asserted that voting machines are not vulnerable to remote hacking because they are never connected to the Internet, but both the premise and the conclusion are false,” states a Sept. 15 letter sent to Florida’s Division of Elections by nearly 30 of the country’s top computer scientists and election integrity groups.
Georgia’s new touchscreen voting system survives court challenge | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A federal judge has once again denied an effort to throw out Georgia’s touchscreen voting computers because of election security concerns. Her decision came late Sunday, just hours before the start of early voting.U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ruled against switching the state to paper ballots filled out by hand. She wrote that it was too late to make such a sweeping change that would disrupt the election as tens of thousands of voters are expected to go to the polls. Georgia’s new $104 million voting system adds paper ballots to the voting process for the first time in 18 years. Voters will make their choices on touchscreens connected to printers that will produce paper ballots. Totenberg criticized state election officials for problems with voting equipment during this year’s primary elections but acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that courts must exercise restraint in changing procedures near an election.
Georgia: Technical breakdown hangs over Georgia early voting | Brad Schrade and Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The first week of early voting once again tested Georgia’s voting system, and technical breakdowns and long waits returned. An overloaded statewide voter registration system, combined with high turnout, created long lines of frustrated voters, raising questions with two weeks of early voting remaining: Have the problems been solved, or was last week a precursor to larger challenges as Georgia races toward a Nov. 3 Election Day that is expected to be like no other?By late Friday, the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top election official, couldn’t assure voters that the problem was fully fixed. His office could offer no details about the nature of a bandwidth problem that reportedly caused the delays. They said they had worked with their vendor, Civix, to expand the system’s capacity.
Idaho: Ada County Election’s Office purchases almost half a million dollar ballot-sorting machine | Nicole Camarda/KIVI
With almost 144,000 absentee ballots already mailed, Ada County sent out their own record number of mail-in ballots for this year’s November election. Ada County purchased a machine to help with the sorting and signature verifications of absentee ballots. The almost half a million dollar Bluecrest ballot-sorting machine, nicknamed “Bessie,” allows the Ada County election’s office to scan in mail-in ballots as soon as they arrive. “It takes a picture of everyone’s signature that we then cross verify with our system,” Ada County elections director Saul Seyler says. Once the signatures are verified, the ballots will get re-run, and the machine will alert to anything that wasn’t adequately verified or causes of concerns.
Michigan appeals court reinstates Election Day mail-in ballot deadline as early voting surge continues | Elise Viebeck, John M. Glionna and Douglas Moser/The Washington Post
A state appeals court in Michigan moved up the deadline for voters to return mail-in ballots, reimposing a cutoff favored by Republicans during a continuing surge in early and mail-in voting around the country.With a little over two weeks until the election, a panel from the Michigan Court of Appeals on Friday reversed a lower court’s ruling that said ballots could be counted if they were postmarked before Election Day and received within 14 days. The extension would have made Michigan’s deadline one of the most generous in the country. Voters in the state now must return their mail-in ballots by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.The decision — and the plaintiffs’ plans to appeal — arrived amid further signs of record turnout in mail-in and early voting this year, continuing a trajectory that could lead to a majority of votes being cast before Election Day for the first time in U.S. history.
New Jersey Election Officials Scramble on First Mostly Mail-In Vote | Joseph De Avila/Wall Street Journal
New Jersey’s election system will be tested in the coming weeks as most voters will be casting their ballots for the presidential election by mail or dropping them off for the first time in the state’s history.The state is one of four in the U.S. that this year opted to automatically mail ballots to voters to minimize in-person voting to limit the spread of the coronavirus. A handful of other states, including Utah and Oregon, already take the approach for every election.Local election officials have begun delivering nearly six million ballots statewide to active registered voters, the most ever mailed in the state. More than 1.25 million ballots had been returned as of Thursday, according to the New Jersey Secretary of State’s office, or 32% of the total number who voted in the 2016 presidential election.
Outside vendors hired to help run Ohio elections have been blamed for mistakenly scheduling voter registrations to be purged and for slowing down the distribution of mail-in ballots during the past year. But state law provides little in the way of oversight for those vendors, and elections in Ohio are “decentralized,” left mostly to local boards of elections to manage. That means decisions about who to hire to print ballots, manage voter registration rolls and other outsourcing of elections administration are made individually in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. “There is scrutiny to the extent that they’re public agencies that are conducting a public bid,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “Local boards of elections need to conduct due diligence when they’re considering their vendors just like any public company or agency would do.” But most of the state and federal oversight is reserved for voting equipment providers, and not the vendors that have had problems over the past year.
Pennsylvania: Amid fears of Election Day chaos, one county prepares for anxious days after the vote | Marc Fisher/The Washington Post
In Erie County, Pa., either Joe Biden or President Trump is showing up every week now, and the anxiety level is through the roof.There’s fear of neighbors: On Election Day, self-appointed guardians armed with assault weapons plan to take up positions outside local polling places. There’s fear of outsiders: A Ku Klux Klan group from out of state recently dropped racist fliers on the driveways of some homes with Biden signs on the lawns. And there’s fear of what’s coming Nov. 3: The county sheriff doesn’t have nearly enough deputies to keep eyes on all 149 polls. In one of the most important battlegrounds in one of the most critical swing states in the 2020 presidential race, the Republican county chairman, Verel Salmon, 73, sees “passion like never before in my lifetime, for good and bad, and I started with ‘I Like Ike.’ I don’t think I’ve heard a single optimistic thing this year.”
A $5.8 million contract for a new voting system in Shelby County fell one vote short of the seven needed from the Shelby County County Commission Monday, Oct. 12, in a move that critics say could delay the local vote count in the upcoming presidential election. While the election system wouldn’t have been used until the 2022 elections, the Election Commission sought approval to buy the system in order to have ballot scanners to process an expected increase in absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election in less than a month. Ultimately, however, county commissioners had too many problems with a call by the Election Commission to approve the entire contract or nothing at all. Commissioners, therefore, voted down the system 6-5.Commissioners also expressed reservations about changes in the bid terms for the number of scanners before the Election Commission approved the contract with ES&S LLC of Omaha, Nebraska, and sent it to the County Commission. Election Commission administrators increased the number of ballot scanners, upping the dollar amount of the contract by $1.1 million after realizing none of the firms bidding for the contract realized that by state law, such scanners can only process a maximum of 9,999 ballots each in an election night count.
Texas Republicans’ challenge to Harris County drive-thru voting dismissed | Jolie McCullough/The Texas Tribune
Drive-thru and curbside voting programs in Harris County can continue after a state appeals court Wednesday quickly threw out a last-minute lawsuit filed by the Texas Republican Party challenging the county’s efforts to provide more voting options during the coronavirus pandemic. The state GOP had filed suit Monday night asking the court to place limits on curbside voting and halt drive-thru voting. The appellate judges said the party and a voter who filed the suit did so too late, and did not show how they specifically might be injured by the voting practices. The lawsuit was filed just hours before early voting polls opened and more than a month after the Harris County Clerk announced his plan for drive-thru voting. “The election is currently in progress and the relators delayed filing this mandamus until over a month after learning of the actions of the Harris County Clerk’s Office,” the panel of three judges on Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals wrote in their ruling dismissing the case.
Virginia audits its elections every year – but state law renders the check powerless to fix mistakes | Mike Valerio/WUSA
Each election year, Virginia conducts a meticulous audit of its election system to ensure each voter the marks on their ballot are accurately recorded by voting machines. It’s called a “risk-limiting audit” – the gold standard of election integrity checks nation-wide. Ballots are hand-examined, and compared against computer records. The process ensures that bugs in election machines, dust-blocking ballot scanners or occasional software glitches are caught and no vote is inadvertently altered. But in Virginia, this meticulous audit takes place only after the results of the November 3 election are certified. That means potentially erroneous election results cannot be changed. By state law, “an audit shall have no effect on the election results.”