The nationwide shortage of poll workers has inspired a young generation of Americans to step up to the front lines of the election process. Through The Poll Hero Project, founded by a group of students at Princeton University, Denver East High School, and the University of Chicago, thousands of college and high school students are being recruited to serve as paid poll workers in the upcoming election. “Most poll workers are typically over the age of 60, so they are a lot more vulnerable to COVID-19. We’ve expanded nationally to try and recruit poll workers everywhere,” said 19-year-old Kai Tsurumaki, a student at Princeton University and co-founder of the Poll Hero Project. The project, which initially focused on federal funding for vote-by-mail efforts, shifted its mission to recruiting poll workers once the nationwide shortage became evident. Through their recruitment efforts and outreach, The Poll Hero Project estimates that they have been able to register over 32,500 poll workers.
´As voters head to the polls for the 2020 elections, the U.S. faces on-going security threats such as disinformation campaigns, data breaches, and ballot tampering in an effort by foreign adversaries to erode the integrity of the democratic process. Recent events from Russian and Iranian hackers stealing data to threaten and intimidate voters to Russian actors actively targeting state, local, and territorial networks demonstrate that elections rely on crucial technological tools to ensure process integrity, the disruption of which would have a debilitating impact on national security and society.Critical infrastructure (CI) provides essential services and is the backbone of the country’s economy, security, and health. From transportation enabling personal mobility and commerce, to electricity powering our homes and businesses, to telecommunications networks fostering global connectivity—particularly amid the pandemic—CI is the lynchpin to functioning social, economic, and political systems. While these systems have long been subject to threats from terrorism and natural disasters, cyberattacks represent among the most destabilizing and underappreciated risk. With the rapid digitalization of all facets of society and increasing dependence on information and communications technologies (ICT), attackers ranging from nation-states to hacktivists to organized criminal groups can identify vulnerabilities and infiltrate seemingly disparate systems to disrupt services and damage global society—all without a physical attack. As a designated CI subsector, election systems are vital to domestic and international security (see U.N. nonbinding consensus report A/70/174) and election security risks can threaten democracies worldwide.
One week away from the 2020 presidential election, the United States finds itself in almost the opposite predicament from four years ago: Far from ignoring foreign interference, we’re in danger of imagining more of it than exists — and that in itself could cause big problems. Adversaries from Russia to China to Iran are indeed assailing our democracy, a reality that should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention — but the good news is that this time, our government is paying attention. Influence operations on social media sites are getting caught before they can gain much ground. What the hack-and-leak experts have dreaded so far hasn’t happened; even if investigators do find a link between the Kremlin and the dubious Hunter Biden laptop story published by the New York Post, the tale hasn’t caught on because cautious mainstream media organizations haven’t let it and many American voters have grown warier. President Trump has refused even to acknowledge what happened last time around, yet that hasn’t stopped top security agencies from taking action. The Treasury Department has sanctioned multiple individuals who have attempted to meddle, including Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach for acting as a Russian agent to launder disinformation through U.S. sources discrediting former vice president Joe Biden; this step, in turn, empowered platforms like Google and Facebook to kick the criminals off their sites. The State Department has revoked the visas of similar actors. U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency are preemptively keeping malicious botnets off the Web to prevent ransomware attacks and other nefariousness on Nov. 3.
National: Jeering sign-wavers. Caravans of honking trucks. Voter intimidation or free speech? | Abigail Hauslohner/The Washington Post
Jeering sign-wavers, caravans of honking trucks flying Trump 2020 flags, and charged political rhetoric — delivered via bullhorn at people waiting in line at polling sites — have become the increasingly common backdrop to early voting across the country, particularly in swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania. Some of the loud displays, often from supporters of President Trump and particularly frustrating to Democrats, have prompted local law enforcement agencies to station officers near polling places to keep the peace. In some locations, they have sparked allegations of voter intimidation and fears of tinderbox confrontations on the cusp of escalation in the run-up to Election Day next week. “I do think activities like that can be intimidating, and especially an activity where we have seen violence associated with Trump caravans,” said Lindsay Schubiner, the program director at the Western States Center, a progressive nonprofit focused on far-right extremism. The center is based in Portland, Ore., where a Trump supporter was killed on a public street in August when a self-described antifa adherent shot him after a Trump caravan spilled into a crowd of racial justice protesters.
National: One week out, election IT officials project calm, with caution | Benjamin Freed/StateScoop
For many, the final week leading up to Election Day will be spent doomscrolling through poll results, enduring wall-to-wall campaign ads during every television commercial break and nervously refreshing some number-crunching Electoral College forecast. But as Election Day draws near, the IT and cybersecurity officials backstopping their states’ voting processes are projecting much more calm than your Facebook feed or family group text. “The technical pieces are in place, the planning is in place,” said Jeff Franklin, the chief cybersecurity officer in the office of Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. “We’re checking the locks on the doors and that the windows are shut and walking through that checklist.” Within the election security community, if the 2018 midterms — the first nationwide vote since the federal government declared elections to be critical infrastructure — were the “dress rehearsal,” 2020 has been considered the “big show.” In just the past few weeks, U.S. officials, led by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, have pumped out multiple alerts, including warnings that a Russia-linked hacking group has breached state and local networks and blaming Iran for a string of threatening emails to voters. And while the overall level of malicious cyber activity appears to be down from 2016, other threats, like misinformation and disinformation, still abound.
National: The lowly DDoS attack is still a viable threat for undermining elections | Tim Starks/CyberScoop
Scenes like what happened to Florida’s voter registration site on Oct. 6 has played out over and over again: A system goes down, and questions fly. Was there a cyberattack, specifically a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack meant to overwhelm a website site with traffic, knocking it offline? Could there have been too many legitimate visitors rushing to the site to beat the voter registration deadline — that surged past what the system could handle? Or, was it something weirder, as in this case, like pop singer Ariana Grande urging fans on Twitter to register to vote? Florida’s chief information officer eventually blamed misconfigured computer servers. The incident, though, was one of several over the course of the past month that exposed ongoing anxieties about how cyberattacks, accidental outages and other technical failures could upend a polling place, or even an election. Few, if any, election security experts would rank the relatively antiquated technique of DDoS attacks as one of the top couple threats, particularly compared to ransomware or disinformation. Still, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security on Sept. 30 issued a warning about DDoS election threats. And Google, in an Oct. 16 report, said it was watching government-backed hacking groups build their abilities to conduct large-scale DDoS attacks in recent years.
National: U.S. Homeland Security agency faulted for election planning around potential violence | Raphael Satter and Christopher Bing/Reuters
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s watchdog body said on Tuesday that officials at its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had not adequately planned for potential violence at polling places and vote counting stations. The watchdog’s report, issued with a week to go before the Nov. 3, comes as the threat of violence has crept up the national agenda. Recent Reuters reporting has highlighted how everyone from retailers (here to social media companies here) has begun making contingency plans should the election turn chaotic or violent. The shift in attention comes after years of election-related anxiety revolving around the integrity of vote tallying machines and electronic poll books or the threat of foreign disinformation carried by social media. The DHS Office of the Inspector General noted that the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – the DHS arm generally responsible for protecting U.S. infrastructure from digital and physical threats – offers an array of cybersecurity support to state and local governments.
National: Courts rule election money from Facebook founder will stay despite conservative attempts to reverse it | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
Federal judges have so far declined to halt $400 million in grants to city and county election administrators from Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, despite a conservative law firm’s efforts to overturn them. The grants from the Facebook founder and his wife, delivered by the nonprofit Center for Technology and Civic Life, are aimed at helping cash-strapped counties hire more poll workers, provide personal protective equipment and manage a surge in mail voting during the pandemic. Lawyers for the Thomas More Society don’t object to those goals, but they argued the grants were strategically awarded to boost voter turnout in urban centers and Democratic strongholds and to disadvantage Republicans. But federal judges have declined to halt the funding to counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Iowa and South Carolina, saying they see no partisan tilt in the grants, which were also given to many rural and Republican counties. CTCL delivered the grants to more than 2,300 election departments using a formula that links funding to the district’s voting population. “The truth is that plaintiffs — like all residents of the counties — stand to benefit from the additional resources for safe and efficient voting provided by CTCL grants,” Judge Amos L. Mazzant III noted in denying an injunction on grants to counties that include the cities of Houston and Dallas.
Editorial: Kavanaugh has wild ideas about voting. They likely won’t matter on Election Day. | Richard L. Hasen/The Washington Post
Should we panic about Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion in the Wisconsin voting case that the Supreme Court decided Monday night? Does it mean that the Supreme Court is going to do something crazy that will hand the election to President Trump even if Joe Biden is ahead in the count?The short answer is that an intervention by the Supreme Court to decide the presidential election is still extremely unlikely — but if the extremely unlikely happens, there’s great reason to be worried about the court’s protection of voting rights and the integrity of the vote.As I have been watching all the election litigation as it works its way up and down the courts, I did not expect the Wisconsin ruling to be a major one. The Supreme Court had sent a consistent signal before deciding this case that federal courts should not be easing voting rules even during the pandemic and that there should be deference to state rules. A federal-district court had extended the deadline for the receipt of absentee ballots in Wisconsin because of delays in delivering mail during the pandemic, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, following the Supreme Court’s lead, reversed that order. Democrats and voting rights groups, inexplicably thinking they would do better before the voter-hostile Supreme Court, took the case up and lost Monday night.
Michigan judge halts Secretary of State Benson’s ban on open carry of guns at polling places | Beth LeBlanc/The Detroit Times
Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday that effectively halts Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s directive banning the open carry of guns near polling locations on Election Day. Attorney General Dana Nessel announced almost immediately after the decision was issued that her office would appeal to the Court of Appeals “as this issue is of significant public interest and importance to our election process.” The edict by Benson “smacks of an attempt at legislation” and lacks public input instead of following the regular rule-making process, Murray said during a Tuesday emergency hearing. Further, the state already has a law prohibiting voter intimidation, said Murray, an appointee of Republican former Gov. John Engler. “The Legislature has said: Here are the places you cannot carry a weapon,” Murray said during the hearing. “The secretary has expanded that. And so how is that in accordance with state law?”
A Minnesota Republican candidate’s bid to delay voting in his congressional race to February after the death of a third-party candidate was rejected Tuesday at the Supreme Court. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who handles emergency requests from the federal appeals court that oversees Minnesota, denied the request from Tyler Kistner. As is typical when the court acts on an emergency basis, Gorsuch did not say anything in denying the request. But he also didn’t ask Kistner’s opponent to respond in writing or refer the question to the full court, suggesting it wasn’t a close question. Kistner is running against Democrat Angie Craig, the incumbent, in the Nov. 3 race for Minnesota’s competitive 2nd District, which stretches south from St. Paul’s suburbs. “It’s unfortunate that Angie Craig is continuing to silence and disenfranchise thousands of her own constituents,” Kistner said in a statement. Craig said Kistner’s case has been before three different courts, and each court rejected it.
The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected a Republican-backed election lawsuit, even as the GOP moved forward with a second court challenge over absentee ballot protocols. With state election officials pushing early voting due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, voting via absentee ballot has already hit unprecedented levels across New Mexico. A total of 265,739 absentee ballots had been cast statewide as of Tuesday morning – or about 44.8% of the roughly 593,000 votes cast in all. That deluge of absentee ballots has prompted lawsuits even before vote counting begins, especially since the state’s laws regarding absentee voting procedures were updated in 2019 and earlier this year. The petition denied Tuesday by three Supreme Court justices – the court’s two remaining justices had recused themselves – sought to guarantee that poll watchers could observe the initial verification of absentee ballots.
South Carolina judge rules that local election boards cannot reject ballots due to mismatched signatures | Michelle Liu/Associated Press
A federal judge in South Carolina ruled Tuesday that local election boards cannot reject voters’ absentee ballots on the basis of mismatched signatures and must review and reprocess previously rejected ballots for the upcoming general election. The temporary injunction comes after a recent survey by the South Carolina State Election Commission discovered a handful of county election boards were conducting signature matching on ballots, though the state has no laws, rules or regulations on the practice. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel of Charleston wrote Tuesday that counties that wish to continue matching signatures on absentee ballots must seek approval of the court first. Voter outreach groups filed the lawsuit earlier this month, as the significant number of first-time absentee voters this election has brought due process issues to the forefront, said Christe McCoy-Lawrence, co-president of the League of Women Voters’ South Carolina chapter. The suit sought a permanent procedure for elections officials to notify voters and allow them to fix ballots with signature issues.
Tennessee: Shelby County election officials get eight new ballot scanners for absentee vote count | Bill Dries/Daily Memphian
The Shelby County Election Commission is getting eight new ballot scanners to assist in counting the large number of absentee ballots being cast locally in the presidential general election. The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office is providing a share of its federal CARES Act funding for the election hardware and technology, aimed at shortening what could be a long vote count election night following what could be a record overall turnout. Secretary of State Tre Hargett Tuesday, Oct. 27, confirmed to The Daily Memphian the arrangement worked out with the local election commission using federal CARES Act funding. “Shelby County had expressed the need for scanners to handle the larger-than-normal absentee ballot turnout,” Hargett said. “We have gone back to counties and said, ‘Look, if there is a need that you have at this time, there is CARES Act funding remaining.’ ” The Secretary of State’s office approved $47,800 specifically for elections to allow the Shelby County Election Commission to buy the scanners.
Texas counties will be allowed only one drop-off location for mail-in ballots, state Supreme Court rules | Jolie McCullough/The Texas Tribune
In what’s expected to be the final ruling on the matter, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting Texas counties to only one drop-off location for voters to hand deliver their absentee ballots during the pandemic. The ruling, issued Tuesday by the all-Republican court, is the final outcome in one of a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts that challenged Abbott’s order from early this month. A federal appeals court also sided with the Republican governor in an earlier ruling, overturning a lower court’s decision. The state lawsuit argued that the governor doesn’t have authority under state law to limit absentee ballot hand-delivery locations, and that his order violates voters’ equal protection rights under the state constitution. The suit was filed in Travis County by a Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, a voting rights advocacy group and a voter. In their opinion, the justices wrote that Abbott’s order “provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone.”
Texas: Roughly one-third of Tarrant County’s mail-in ballots cause scanning issues due to defective barcodes | Alex Briseno/The Dallas Morning News
Roughly one-third of Tarrant County’s mail-in ballots are getting rejected by ballot scanners due to illegible barcodes by the printing company, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first reported. Tarrant County Election Administrator Heider Garcia placed the blame on the printing vendor, as officials said the scanners are having trouble reading the barcode on the envelope to validate the ballot inside, which is causing the scanners to reject them. Garcia told the Tarrant County Commissioners Court Tuesday morning that the election board will have to manually recopy the mail-in ballots with illegible barcodes into new ballots under the election code, but that every valid vote ultimately will be counted properly. “What’s happening is we scan the ballots in, and the scanner says, ‘I don’t identify these documents, I can’t see the barcodes,’” Garcia told the board. “When the scanner doesn’t see the barcode, it might as well have been a newspaper that you scanned, it’s just not a ballot.” Garcia said they are having to scan the ballots in, separate the faulty barcodes and go through the same process the ballot board follows with overseas ballots. In that case, Garcia explained, overseas voters receive their ballot via email and print it out. Once the board receives that ballot, they copy it onto an official ballot.
Only days before the November election, Microsoft turned to a federal judge in Alexandria, arguing a ransomware network run by Russian-speaking cyber criminals posed a growing threat to the integrity of the vote. The corporation asserted its computer code is illegally used to operate Trickbot ransomware, a virus weaponized to lock electronic networks and make computers inoperable. That is, until a ransom is paid to the hackers. “Defendants have directed malicious computer code at the computers of individual users located in Virginia and the Eastern District of Virginia,” lawyers for Microsoft wrote in an October 6 federal civil complaint. “Defendants have attempted to and, in fact, have infected such user’s computers with malicious computer code.” The court this month granted approval for Microsoft to disable Trickbot servers and IP addresses, as the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command launched a parallel action to neutralize the global botnet.
Wisconsin county clerks ask State Supreme Court to address ballot misprint | Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Election clerks asked the state Supreme Court on Monday to issue an order that will allow them to make sure all votes are counted despite a misprint on thousands of ballots in northeastern Wisconsin. About 13,000 ballots in Outagamie and Calumet counties have a misprinted “timing mark” along their edges. Electronic tabulators use those marks to read the ballots, and they can’t count the ones with the errors on them. State law doesn’t provide a clear way to address the problem, and the clerks are asking the justices to help them figure out what to do. State law requires defective ballots to be remade by clerks so they can be fed into machines. Remaking the ballots would be time-consuming, and clerks fear they will miss a deadline that requires them to tally votes by 4 p.m. on the day after the election. Others have raised concerns about remaking ballots because they believe officials could make mistakes as they transcribe voters’ choices from one ballot to another.
Wisconsin: With All Eyes on Wisconsin, Partisan Gridlock at State Elections Commission Frustrates Voters and Local Officials | Vanessa Swales/ProPublica
As ballots began pouring in by mail after Wisconsin’s April 7 primary, local election officials became increasingly perplexed over which ones to count. A federal judge had ordered that ballots arriving as many as six days after the election should be accepted, but the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed that window, ruling that ballots should be counted only if they were postmarked by Election Day. The trouble was that many ballots were arriving without postmarks, or the marks were unreadable. Other mail ballots were lost or delayed, threatening to disenfranchise thousands of voters. Desperate for guidance, the 1,850 municipal clerks who run Wisconsin’s elections turned to the state agency tasked with helping them: the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Three days after the primary, the commission’s three Democrats and three Republicans wrangled over the issue for two and a half hours in a virtual meeting. The Democrats wanted all ballots received in the mail by April 8 — postmarked or not — to be accepted; the Republicans pushed to reject all ballots with missing or illegible postmarks.