Editorial: The absurd legal theory conservative judges are using to restrict voting | Neal Katyal and Joshua A. Geltzer/The Washington Post

A novel legal theory is surging among conservative judges and justices. The notion is that, under the Constitution, only state legislatures — without any input from state executives or courts — may set the rules for presidential elections. This theory is clearly a misunderstanding of constitutional election law. But it’s actually worse than that: It fundamentally misapprehends how law itself functions. To imagine that the work of legislatures can be wholly isolated from the work of other parts of our government is a fantasy untethered from an inescapable feature of the American legal system: Law represents an interplay between legislators and those who must interpret and implement their handiwork, including judges and executive branch officials. Here’s what everyone agrees on: Article II of the Constitution says that “[e]ach State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” that state’s representatives to the electoral college, which chooses the president. No one disputes the basic reality that state legislatures typically take the lead in setting rules for the statewide elections that choose electors who, in turn, choose a president. But in the past couple of weeks, the focus on two words in that constitutional text — “the Legislature” — has been taken to fanatical extremes. Most recent — and most absurd — is a decision on Thursday by a federal court of appeals that, five days before Election Day (too late for the state to do anything to respond to it), abruptly changed the rule for Minnesota voters from a requirement that their mail-in ballots be sent by Election Day to a requirement that those ballots be received by Election Day, thus unsettling at the last moment both the law and voters’ expectations.

Full Article: The Minnesota voting ruling relies on an absurd conservative legal theory – The Washington Post

National: ‘To me, it’s voter suppression’: the Republican fight to limit ballot boxes | Jess Hardin/The Guardian

On the East Side of Youngstown, Ohio, a steady stream of early voters drop off completed absentee ballots into the new drop box outside the Mahoning county board of elections. Gloria Phifer is one of them. The 68-year-old retired mail carrier drove about 15 minutes to the former hospital-turned-county office center. She doesn’t mind walking, so she found a parking spot outside, walked up to the entrance and dropped her ballot into the red drop box – the only one in the county. “My fellow mail carriers, God bless them and everything, but I thought it would easier just to bring it down here,” Phifer said. “This is an important election and I wanted to just make sure [there were] no problems.” In response to safety concerns spurred by the coronavirus pandemic and worries about potential mail delays, drop boxes are popping up all over the country – in many places for the first time. The largely secure voting method has long been available to voters in states like Colorado and Washington. But amid the partisan battles over access to the polls, election officials in battleground states are still fighting to limit their usage with only days left until 3 November.

Source: ‘To me, it’s voter suppression’: the Republican fight to limit ballot boxes | US news | The Guardian

In Florida, voters of color and young voters have had ballots flagged for possible rejection at higher rates than others | Elise Viebeck and Beth Reinhard/The Washington Post

As Floridians rush to vote in the presidential election, mail ballots from Black, Hispanic and younger voters are being flagged for problems at a higher rate than they are for other voters, potentially jeopardizing their participation in the race for the country’s largest battleground state. The deficient ballots — which have been tagged for issues such as a missing signature — could be rejected if voters do not remedy the problems by 5 p.m. Nov. 5. As of Thursday, election officials had set aside twice as many ballots from Black and Hispanic voters as those from White voters, according to an analysis by University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith. For people younger than 24, the rate was more than four times what it was for those 65 and older. While the number of deficient mail ballots in Florida was relatively low one week before the election, at roughly 15,000 out of more than 4.3 million cast, that figure could rise sharply: Roughly 1.6 million Floridians still have outstanding mail ballots.

Full Article: In Florida, voters of color and young voters have had ballots flagged for possible rejection at higher rates than others – The Washington Post

Florida failed to spend $10 million for election security, COVID protection | Jeffrey Schweers/Tallahassee Democrat

With days to go, Florida has failed to spend more than $10 million designated for election security, COVID-19 protection at the polls and a surge in mailed ballots. A large piece of that pie is $3.5 million that Secretary of State Laurel Lee requested from the Legislature earlier this year for the state’s 67 county supervisors of elections to shore up their systems. The counties didn’t ask for that money. And it remains unspent, sitting in a state account as “unbudgeted reserve.” Another chunk of pie left on the plate is $6 million in CARES Act funds that 19 counties decided not to take advantage of, which could be used to make polling places safer for voters and hire extra people to count mail-in ballots. As the state’s top election official, Lee insists Florida is ready. “Florida is very well situated to proceed to our November election,” Lee said. Lee said the same thing about making sure the online voter registration system could handle the onslaught of new applicants. But it crashed on the last day people were allowed to apply to vote, forcing Lee to extend the deadline and sparking a legal challenge to extend it further.

Full Article: Florida failed to spend $10 million for election security, COVID protection

Georgia officials expect outages won’t affect Election Day | Kate Brumback and Jeff Martin/Associated Press

Georgia officials say they don’t expect power outages caused by severe weather that swept through parts of the state to interrupt Election Day voting. The remnants of Hurricane Zeta, which hit southeastern Louisiana as a Category 2 storm Wednesday, swept across northern Georgia, knocking down trees and leaving more than a million residents without power early Thursday. But power crews quickly sprang to action, working nonstop to restore electricity. Statewide, roughly 255,000 customers in Georgia were still without power Friday afternoon, nearly 36 hours after the storm barreled through. Allison Gregoire, a Georgia Power spokeswoman, said the company expects to restore power to about 95% of its customers by Sunday night. “We should be back and rolling by Election Day,” she said Friday. Gabriel Sterling, voting system implementation manager for the secretary of state’s office, said he’s been in close contact with Georgia Power and with the electric membership cooperatives and expects power to be restored to the state’s 2,419 Election Day polling places by Tuesday. But he also said the secretary of state’s office is talking to the state emergency management agency about backup generators. All of the voting machines have a minimum two-hour battery backup and polling places are required to have backup paper ballots on hand for emergencies, he added.

Full Article: Georgia officials expect outages won’t affect Election Day

Georgia election networks untouched by Hall County ransomware attack | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A ransomware attack that took over some Hall County election information won’t harm other Georgia election systems, according to the secretary of state’s office. “There is no connective tissue between those things, so I want to put everyone’s mind at ease on that,” Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, said during a meeting Thursday of Georgia’s new Safe, Secure, and Accessible Elections Task Force. Hackers penetrated Hall’s networks and captured some election information, hindering the county’s ability to verify voter signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, Sterling said. “They weren’t targeting an election system. They were just targeting anywhere where they could get in,” Sterling said. “It never touched the state system.”

Full Article: A ransomware attack in Hall County didn’t infect Georgia election systems

‘Like a yo-yo’: Election officials grapple with flood of confusing last-minute rule changes | Lucien Bruggeman/ABC

Local election administrators are scrambling to keep up with a crush of ongoing litigation winding its way through the courts, with some saying they feel like “yo-yos” caught in the middle of politically fraught legal battles over ballot deadlines and other voting rules. County and municipal clerks are already navigating an election season burdened by unprecedented challenges – with the coronavirus pandemic bearing down on key swing states and a record-setting number of voters casting their ballots by mail. The blizzard of legal challenges, conflicting rulings, deadline extensions and last-minute rule changes, has only compounded the confusion, several officials told ABC News. “It’s like a yo-yo,” said John Gleason, the election clerk in Genessee County, Michigan — a key swing state. “We get a directive, then a judge says ‘no.’ We get another directive, and the appeals court says ‘no.’ It has not been easy.” Partisans in at least 44 states have filed an unprecedented number of lawsuits tied to voting rules changes during the pandemic, according to a tally gathered by the Stanford-MIT Project on a Healthy Election — more than half of which remain pending or on appeal.

Full Article: ‘Like a yo-yo’: Election officials grapple with flood of confusing last-minute rule changes – ABC News

Iowa: Judge backs limits on absentee ballot drop box sites | Ryan J. Foley/Associated Press

A judge has kept in place guidance from Iowa’s secretary of state that county elections commissioners can only set up absentee ballot drop boxes at or outside their offices. Judge William Kelly rejected a request from a Latino civil rights organization and a group aligned with Democrats to block Secretary of State Paul Pate’s guidance and allow for drop boxes in locations such as grocery stores. The ruling, coming nearly three weeks after Kelly heard arguments in the case, isn’t expected to have an impact because it comes so close to Election Day. Most absentee ballots have already been returned and auditors had dropped plans to add drop box locations even if Pate’s guidance was suspended. Kelly said that requiring voters or their designees to return ballots to a location where the county auditor conducts business is “not a severe burden” on the right to vote. He noted that voters can also put them in the mail or vote in person, either early or on Election Day. Iowa law says that absentee ballots should be returned to the county elections commissioner’s office by voters or their designees and is silent on the use of drop boxes to collect them.

Full Article: Judge backs Iowa’s limits on absentee ballot drop box sites

Massachusetts: Federal immigration officials wrongly tell new US citizens they missed chance to vote | Collin Binkley/Associated Press

Federal immigration officials acknowledged Thursday that they erroneously told some new U.S. citizens in Massachusetts that they could not vote in next week’s election because they had missed the state’s voter registration deadline. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the citizenship process, said officials at some recent naturalization ceremonies mistakenly told new citizens they were ineligible to vote because the Oct. 24 registration deadline had passed. State law, however, allows new citizens to register until 4 p.m. the day before an election if they became citizens after the deadline. Agency spokesman Daniel Hetlage said in a written statement that the error was based on information from a state website. The agency has contacted all new citizens who may have received incorrect information, he said. “The state has since updated its webpage and we at USCIS are not aware of this happening anywhere else,” Hetlage said. In a statement to GBH News, which first reported the story, the immigration agency said it was contacting 409 new citizens who had received incorrect information at 36 ceremonies Monday and Tuesday. Debra O’Malley, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts secretary of state, said the elections website did not previously include details on registration for new citizens. The issue has rarely arisen, she said, but department officials have consistently told USCIS about the extension for newly naturalized citizens.

Full Article: Feds wrongly tell new US citizens they missed chance to vote

Michigan clerks have ‘deep concern’ about violence, COVID-19 at polls | Dave Boucher Christina Hall/Detroit Free Press

It’s not the surge in absentee ballots, or even the global pandemic that have Alpena City Clerk Anna Soik most concerned heading into Election Day. The clerk of the roughly 10,000-person city that rests on the shores of Lake Huron in northern Michigan is instead worried about what happens if someone fired up about the election brings a gun to a polling place. “I’m not going to lie, I am concerned about it. And we may possibly even have a police presence,” Soik said. “Because I think right now, in the time that we’re in, everybody is kind of on edge, and you just don’t know how someone is going to react, so we just need to be prepared for that.” Michigan election officials understand they face unprecedented challenges on Tuesday. They know someone may contract the coronavirus on Election Day, or that a woman or man with a gun may disrupt voting somewhere. They know a voting populace desperate for results will question why we do not know who won within minutes of polls closing. They are experts on absentee voting, ballot tabulation and poll worker training. They are not epidemiologists. They are not law enforcement officers.

Full Article: Michigan clerks have ‘deep concern’ about violence, COVID-19 at polls

Minnesota: Federal appeals court nixes extended ballot counting | Jan Wolfe/Reuters

A federal appeals court on Thursday said Minnesota’s plan to count absentee ballots received after Election Day was illegal, siding with Republicans in the battleground state. In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said the deadline extension was an unconstitutional maneuver by the state’s top election official, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat. The appeals court said Minnesota election officials should identify and set aside all absentee ballots received after Nov. 3. “Simply put, the Secretary has no power to override the Minnesota Legislature,” the court’s majority wrote.

Full Article: U.S. appeals court nixes Minnesota’s extended ballot counting | Reuters

New Hampshire voters can bring guns to polling stations | New Hampshire | Christian Wade/The Center Square

When voters go to the polls in New Hampshire in Tuesday’s presidential election, they’ll be allowed to take firearms with them. New Hampshire is one of a handful of “open carry” states where firearm owners can possess a gun in plain view, without any special permit. The issue of guns in polling stations comes up every election cycle, but has been elevated this year amid heightened concerns about voter intimidation and violence ahead of a rancorous election. President Donald Trump, who is seeking another term, has been accused of stoking those fears with calls for his supporters to act as election “monitors” to check for fraud in the voting process. In a joint letter to local election officials on Thursday, New Hampshire’s Secretary of State William Gardner and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald clarified that the state doesn’t have the authority to prevent people from carrying firearms into polling stations, even if they are located inside schools. “There are no state election laws governing carrying of a firearm in a polling place,” the officials wrote. “Voters should not be prevented from voting based on possession of a firearm.” While a 1990 federal law prohibits firearms from being brought into schools, the officials noted they cannot prevent licensed carriers from entering school buildings.

Full Article: New Hampshire voters can bring guns to polling stations | New Hampshire | thecentersquare.com

North Carolina: Chatham County hit by cyber attack. Systems rendered ‘inoperable’ | Charlie Innis/Raleigh News & Observer

An unidentified “cyber incident” breached Chatham County’s communication systems Wednesday, County Manager Dan LaMontagne said. The attack rendered the government’s network, email and phone lines “inoperable for an undetermined amount of time,” LaMontagne said in an email to The News & Observer. “We are working with law enforcement and support agencies so we can recover from this incident as soon as possible. Our priority is to restore our systems in a secure manner and maintain the provision of critical services,” he said. The incident did not affect the county’s early voting or 911 communications, he said. When asked for details about what happened and how the system was breached, public information officer Kara Dudley said the county is “still evaluating the impact.”

Full Article: Chatham County systems “inoperable” after Cyber attack | Raleigh News & Observer

North Carolina: Supreme Court rejects second GOP effort to block mail-ballot extension | John Kruzel/The Hill

The Supreme Court on Thursday denied a Republican bid to block a mail-ballot extension in North Carolina, a day after rejecting a similar GOP effort in the key battleground state. The court’s three most conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito — would have granted the Republican request. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the bench Tuesday, took no part in considering the case. The voting breakdown mirrored that of a similar Wednesday night ruling in which the court rejected an effort by the Trump campaign and North Carolina Republicans to reverse a six-day mail ballot due date extension. Together, the two rulings represent a major blow for President Trump and his GOP allies and means that North Carolina mail ballots that arrive by Nov. 12 and aren’t postmarked after Election Day will be accepted.

Source: Supreme Court rejects second GOP effort to block mail-ballot extension in North Carolina | TheHill

Ohio: Two conservative operatives charged in a robocall scam are ordered to call 85,000 people back | Kathleen Gray/The New York Times

Two conservative operatives, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, who have been charged in Ohio and Michigan with election fraud for sending out tens of thousands of robocalls intended to deter people from voting, have been ordered by a federal judge to call those voters back and inform them that the original call “contained false information.” U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, in the Southern District of New York, said in his ruling on Wednesday that the initial robocall sent in August to 85,000 people, “cannot be described as anything but deliberate interference with voters’ rights to cast their ballots in any legal manner they choose.” Mr. Wohl, 22, and Mr. Burkman, 54, both of Arlington, Va., were charged last month in Michigan and indicted by a grand jury in Ohio this week, with sending deceptive robocalls to 85,000 people, mostly in minority communities, that stated authorities would use the information on their absentee ballot forms to create a database to track down people with arrest warrants or outstanding debt. According to Judge Marrero’s ruling on Wednesday, the pair must make calls to everyone who received the robocall and deliver this message: “At the direction of a United States district court, this call is intended to inform you that a federal court has found that the message you previously received regarding mail-in voting from Project 1599, a political organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, contained false information that has had the effect of intimidating voters, and thus interfering with the upcoming presidential election, in violation of federal voting-rights laws.”

Full Article: Two conservative operatives charged in a robocall scam are ordered to call 85,000 people back. – The New York Times

Pennsylvania struggles with how — or if — to help voters fix their mail ballots | Jonathan Lai/The Philadelphia Inquirer

Officials across Pennsylvania are trying to help voters fix mail ballots that would otherwise be disqualified because of technical mistakes in completing them, creating a patchwork of policies around how — or even whether — people are notified and given a chance to make their votes count. Some counties are marking those ballots as received, the same as any other ballot, which gives voters no indication there’s a problem. Some are marking them as canceled, as the state says to do, which sends voters warning emails and updates the online ballot status tool but doesn’t notify voters without email addresses on file. Still others try to reach voters directly, including by mail, phone, or email — and at least one county mails the actual flawed ballots back to voters. The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, provided some direction Sunday, telling counties to mark ballots as canceled if they have clear flaws, such as missing voters’ signatures, or are “naked ballots” without the required inner secrecy envelopes. Those ballots have to be rejected when votes are counted beginning on Election Day.

Source: Pennsylvania struggles with how — or if — to help voters fix their mail ballots

Pennsylvania elections chief urges counties to begin counting mail-in ballots early Tuesday morning | Kyle Cheney/Politico

Pennsylvania’s elections chief pleaded with county leaders Friday to make sure they start counting mail-in ballots the morning of Election Day, rather than waiting until the next day to begin the crucial tally. “The outcome of Tuesday’s election could well depend on Pennsylvania. It is vitally important that the more than 3 million ballots cast by mail here be counted as soon as possible,” Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said in a statement. “The country will be looking to Pennsylvania for accurate and timely results.” Her comments come as President Donald Trump has continued to question the need for votes to be counted after Nov. 3, despite the fact that it’s been commonplace in all presidential elections. This year, in particular, as voters leaned more heavily on mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic, the prospect of vote-counting that continues days or even weeks after Election Day has grown. Pennsylvania has already agreed to segregate any mail-in ballots that arrive after the polls close on Election Day, a nod to lingering legal questions about whether those ballots will be permitted to be counted. Boockvar’s comments come amid plans by some Pennsylvania counties to postpone counting of any mail-in ballots — whether they arrive before the polls close or after — until late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Full Article: Pa. elections chief urges counties to begin counting mail-in ballots early Tuesday morning – POLITICO

Texas: Federal judge to hear challenge to Harris County’s drive-thru voting already used by 100,000 | Alejandro Serrano/Houston Chronicle

A federal judge on Monday will hear a complaint brought by Texas conservatives that challenges Harris County’s use of curbside drive-thru voting, according to the judge’s schedule and court records. Houston conservative activist Steven Hotze and three Republicans — state Rep. Steve Toth, Wendell Champion, a candidate for Congress, and Sharon Hemphill, who is running for a judgeship — are seeking an injunction requiring all memory cards from 10 drive-thru voting locations be secured and not entered or downloaded into the tally machine until the court issues a ruling on the complaint. The plaintiffs allege that curbside drive-thru voting runs afoul of state and federal election law. They are seeking the rejection of any votes “cast in violation of the Texas Election Code”; an order to make county elections officials review all curbside voting applications and reject those that do not meet parameters set by the code; and a permanent injunction stopping “a universal drive-thru voting scheme” unless it is adopted by the state legislature.By the time the complaint was filed, 100,000 drive-thru votes had already been cast. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, the only named defendant, said Saturday afternoon the option was “a safe, secure and convenient way to vote.” “Texas Election Code allows it, the Secretary of State approved it, and 117,000 voters from all walks of life have used it,” Hollins said in a statement. “The Harris County Clerk’s Office is committed to counting every vote cast by registered voters in this election. In the event court proceedings require any additional steps from these voters, we will work swiftly to provide that information to the public.”

Full Article: Federal judge to hear challenge to Harris County’s drive-thru voting already used by 100,000 – HoustonChronicle.com

Wisconsin Republican Party says hackers stole $2.3 million in campaign funds | Scott Bauer/Associated Press

Hackers have stolen $2.3 million from the Wisconsin Republican Party’s account that was being used to help reelect President Donald Trump in the key battleground state, the party’s chairman told The Associated Press on Thursday. The party noticed the suspicious activity on Oct. 22 and contacted the FBI on Friday, said Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt. Hitt said the FBI is investigating. FBI spokesman Brett Banner said that, per policy, “the FBI is not permitted to confirm or deny an investigation.” The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which has a center focused on cyber crime able to assist if requested, has not been asked to investigate, said spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg. The alleged hack was discovered less than two weeks before Election Day, as Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden made their final push to win Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes. Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and was planning his third visit in seven days on Friday. Biden also planned to campaign in Wisconsin on Friday. Polls have consistently shown a tight race in the state, usually with Biden ahead by single digits and within the margin of error. Hitt said he was not aware of any other state GOP being targeted for a similar hack, but state parties were warned at the Republican National Convention this summer to be on the lookout for cyber attacks.

Full Article: Wisconsin Republican Party says hackers stole $2.3 million

National: Election operations are holding up so far against a wave of hacks and technical failures | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

The week before Election Day has seen a wave of digital attacks on election systems and technical foul-ups, but officials are mostly parrying the blows to keep voting going on as planned. The most concerning hit came late yesterday, when the Wall Street Journal reported that hackers who compromised some election systems in Hall County, Ga., earlier this month had posted a small trove of nonpublic information, including voters’ social security numbers, as a ploy to persuade the county to pay a ransom. Officials’ greatest fear about such strikes, called ransomware attacks, is that hackers could seize voter registration databases and hold them hostage during voting so it becomes exceedingly difficult to check in voters. This is far from that worst case scenario because it hasn’t impeded any voting operations. But knowing that the act of voting put their personal data at risk is sure to have a chilling effect on some people. The hackers also teased the release as “example files,” which suggests they could release more sensitive and damaging information later.

Full Article: The Cybersecurity 202: Election operations are holding up so far against a wave of hacks and technical failures – The Washington Post

Anxiety 2020: Voters worry about safety at the polls | Laurie Kellman/Associated Press

Gary Kauffman says he does not scare easily. So when men waving President Donald Trump flags drive by his house in downtown Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he stands on his front steps and waves a banner for Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. “Sometimes I yell at them. They yell back at me,” says Kauffman, 54. Still, Kauffman is keeping a closer eye on who they are and what they’re carrying as Election Day approaches. Tension has been rising in his town, known best as hallowed ground of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. Recently, it’s become a hot spot of angry confrontations between Trump supporters and liberal protesters. Kauffman has seen some of the Trump supporters carrying weapons. “If there’s guns, I’m a bit more cautious,” he said on Monday. Americans aren’t accustomed to worrying about violence or safety ahead of an election. It’s a luxury afforded by years of largely peaceful voting, a recent history of fairly orderly displays of democracy. But after months filled with disease, disruption and unrest, Americans are worried that Election Day could become a flashpoint.

Full Article: Anxiety 2020: Voters worry about safety at the polls

National: Early Voting Shines Spotlight on Consolidated Voting-Equipment Market | Chris Cumming/Wall Street Journal

Leveraged-buyout firms are playing a key role in the 2020 elections: Companies they own are counting the flood of mail-in ballots, and that isn’t sitting well with some lawmakers. Two private-equity-owned companies dominate the market for high-speed ballot scanners and other voting equipment. Lawmakers have raised questions about the lack of transparency and competition in the industry, and more broadly over the role of private-equity firms in elections. Election Systems & Software LLC and Dominion Voting Systems Corp. together produce the technology used by over three-quarters of U.S. voters, according to a coming report by researchers at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The third-largest player, Hart InterCivic, was owned by private-equity firm H.I.G. Capital from 2011 to this April, when it was quietly sold, according to H.I.G. Private-equity firms “have taken over nearly all of the nation’s election technology—and how they do business is clouded in secrecy,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) said in an email. Lawmakers including Sens. Warren and Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) in December wrote that the private-equity-backed voting companies’ lack of transparency threatens the integrity of elections. Under private-equity ownership, the voting-machine market has consolidated through mergers. In a little over a decade, at least eight major vendors have consolidated to three, which control about 92% of the market, Wharton researchers said in 2017.

Full Article: Early Voting Shines Spotlight on Consolidated Voting-Equipment Market – WSJ

National: Who Owns Our Voting Machines? | Sue Halpern/The New York Review of Books

Buried in a dense government report from 1975 is an observation that has come to haunt the American system of voting. “Effective Use of Computing Technology in Vote-Tallying,” a hundred-page compendium of all that can go wrong when digital technology is used to register and count votes, was written by Roy Saltman, a computer scientist, at the behest of the National Bureau of Standards. At the time, computerized election technology was a shiny new thing, primed to replace time-honored manual ways of voting. But as Saltman observed, because this technology was beyond the comprehension of most election officials, they had little choice but to put their trust in, and cede authority to, equipment manufacturers. As a consequence, he wrote, “when vendors assume more responsibility than they should, due to the jurisdictions’ lack of in-house capability, situations may be created in which conflict of interest is a serious concern.” This is still true. The ever-increasing sophistication of digital election technology has left election officials ever more reliant on the vendors (and under the sway of their lobbyists), who play an outsized and largely hidden part in both the administration of elections and the ways we exercise our most fundamental right as citizens in a democracy.

Full Article: Who Owns Our Voting Machines? | by Sue Halpern | The New York Review of Books

National: Fear Of Voter Intimidation Is Its Own Voter Intimidation | Maggie Koerth/FiveThirtyEight

In 1981, the Republican National Committee sent hundreds of armed, off-duty police officers to the polls in the state of New Jersey. Dressed in official-looking “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands, they demanded voter registration cards from people waiting in line in heavily Black and Hispanic districts, turning some voters away and intimidating others into not voting at all. As my colleague Clare Malone has written, the whole thing was illegal. After a lawsuit, it led to a 37-year-long ban preventing the RNC from organizing poll watching efforts. This will be the first presidential election without the ban in place. It is also a presidential election where the incumbent has cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the election, toyed repeatedly with the idea of not giving up office and recruited thousands of poll watchers. It is also a presidential election where far-right militias and other supporters of the president have discussed showing up, armed, at polling sites. But despite that tension, neither experts in election law nor experts in militia and armed radical groups believe we are likely to see a repeat of what happened in New Jersey nearly four decades ago. Why? Partly, it’s because laws heavily restrict what poll watchers can do and how they can do it. And partly, experts told me, it’s because the actual job of poll watching is unlikely to appeal to the groups and individuals whose presence would be most dangerous.

Full Article: Fear Of Voter Intimidation Is Its Own Voter Intimidation | FiveThirtyEight

National: Maze Ransomware Is An Election Night Threat | Calvin Hennick/StateTech Magazine

Imagine it: It’s election night, and the results are starting to trickle in. Then, just as the electoral picture is beginning to come into focus, large voting precincts in critical swing states begin to experience problems. Voter registration databases are inaccessible to election officials, and even the websites where results are posted come crashing down. The culprit? It’s ransomware — specifically Maze ransomware. This is a nightmare scenario, but one that Chase Cunningham, principal analyst and vice president serving security and risk professionals for Forrester, says could really happen… “I think there should be a whole lot more worry about it,” says Cunningham. “I think we’re going to see a ransomware event in a major district, and it’s going to cause civil unrest. Of all the things that concern me about the election cycle, that is the one that keeps me awake at night.” Maze ransomware, a new type of threat discovered in 2019, is a major point of concern. Here’s what state, county and local officials need to know about the threat, why voting systems are particularly vulnerable and what can be done to protect their systems before Nov. 3.

Full Article: How Maze Ransomware Threatens Voter Databases | StateTech Magazine

National: Trump campaign site hack shows risks of even low-grade election interference | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

A brief but colorful breach of President Trump’s campaign website is underscoring how even unsophisticated efforts at election interference can rattle voters and undermine the democratic process.  Officials and experts were eager to put the breach into context in the final week of the election – during which millions of Americans are expected to flock to the websites of candidates and state and local election offices for last-minute information before casting their ballots. Chris Krebs, head of the Department of Homeland Security’s election security division, sought to tamp down concern and called it an effort to “distract, sensationalize, and confuse” and to “undermine your confidence in our voting process.” The hackers managed to deface the site’s “About” page for several minutes, replacing it with a screed that claimed in broken English and without evidence to have compromising information about the president and his family culled from multiple hacked devices. “[T]he world has had enough of the fake-news spreaded daily by president donald j trump,” read the message, which also included FBI and Justice Department seals. “[I]t is time to allow the world to know truth.”

Full Article: The Cybersecurity 202: Trump campaign site hack shows risks of even low-grade election interference – The Washington Post

National: ‘Ripe for error’: Ballot signature verification is flawed — and a big factor in the election | Maya Lau and Laura J. Nelson/Los Angeles Times

Mail-in ballots are pouring in by the millions to election offices across the country, getting stacked and prepared for processing. But before the count comes the signature test.  Election workers eyeball voter signatures on ballots one by one, comparing the loop of an “L” or the squiggle of an “S” against other samples of that person’s writing. When performed by professionals in criminal cases or legal proceedings, signature verification can take hours. But election employees in many states must do the job in as little as five seconds. In an election marked by uncertainty amid the pandemic, the signature verification process represents one of the biggest unknowns: whether a system riddled with vulnerabilities will work on such a massive scale. In 2016, mismatched signatures were the most common reason that mail ballots were rejected, according to federal officials. With record numbers of people voting by mail this cycle, ballots thrown out for signature problems and other issues have the potential to decide races where the margin of victory is slim. Candidates could mount legal battles over the verification process to challenge election outcomes. President Trump has repeatedly asserted, with no evidence, that mail-in voting is rife with fraud.

Full Article: 2020 election: How does voter signature verification work? – Los Angeles Times

National: How a fake persona laid the groundwork for a Hunter Biden conspiracy deluge | Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny/NBC

One month before a purported leak of files from Hunter Biden’s laptop, a fake “intelligence” document about him went viral on the right-wing internet, asserting an elaborate conspiracy theory involving former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and business in China. The document, a 64-page composition that was later disseminated by close associates of President Donald Trump, appears to be the work of a fake “intelligence firm” called Typhoon Investigations, according to researchers and public documents. The author of the document, a self-identified Swiss security analyst named Martin Aspen, is a fabricated identity, according to analysis by disinformation researchers, who also concluded that Aspen’s profile picture was created with an artificial intelligence face generator. The intelligence firm that Aspen lists as his previous employer said that no one by that name had ever worked for the company and that no one by that name lives in Switzerland, according to public records and social media searches. One of the original posters of the document, a blogger and professor named Christopher Balding, took credit for writing parts of it when asked about it and said Aspen does not exist. Despite the document’s questionable authorship and anonymous sourcing, its claims that Hunter Biden has a problematic connection to the Communist Party of China have been used by people who oppose the Chinese government, as well as by far-right influencers, to baselessly accuse candidate Joe Biden of being beholden to the Chinese government.

Full Article: How a fake persona laid the groundwork for a Hunter Biden conspiracy deluge

‘Perception Hacks’ and Other Potential Threats to the Election | David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth/The New York Times

In Georgia, a database that verifies voter signatures was locked up by Russian hackers in a ransomware attack that also dumped voters’ registration data online. In California and Indiana, Russia’s most formidable state hackers, a unit linked to the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., bored into local networks and hit some election systems, though it is still unclear why. In Louisiana, the National Guard was called in to stop cyberattacks aimed at small government offices that employed tools previously seen only in attacks by North Korea. And on Tuesday night, someone hacked the Trump campaign, defacing its website with a threatening message in broken English warning that there would be more to come. None of these attacks amounted to much. But from the sprawling war room at United States Cyber Command to those monitoring the election at Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft, experts are watching closely for more “perception hacks.” Those are smaller attacks that can be easily exaggerated into something bigger and potentially seized upon as evidence that the whole voting process is “rigged,” as President Trump has claimed it will be.

Full Article: ‘Perception Hacks’ and Other Potential Threats to the Election – The New York Times

National: ‘Tsunamis of Misinformation’ Overwhelm Local Election Officials | Kellen Browning and Davey Alba/The New York Times

The morning after last month’s presidential debate, the phones inside the Philadelphia election offices that Al Schmidt helps oversee rang off the hook. One caller asked whether President Trump’s comments hinting at rampant voter fraud in Philadelphia were true. Another yelled about the inaccurate rumor that poll watchers were being barred from polling places. Still another demanded to know what the city was trying to hide. It was just another day at the office for Mr. Schmidt, one of Philadelphia’s three city commissioners, a job that includes supervising voter registration and elections. Hundreds of people have called in every day for months, many parroting conspiracy theories about the election and lies about how partisan megadonors own the voting machines. Staff members spend hours shooting down the rumors, he said. “It’s not like we have tens of millions of dollars to spend on communications to battle tsunamis of misinformation that come our way,” said Mr. Schmidt, 49, whose team has been working up to 17-hour days ahead of Election Day on Tuesday. “It wears on all of us.” Election officials across the country are already stretched thin this year, dealing with a record number of mail-in ballots and other effects of the coronavirus pandemic. On top of that, many are battling another scourge: misinformation.

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