Secretary of State Dennis Richardson announced last week that his office has uncovered 54 instances of what could be voter fraud during Oregon’s November 2016 election. The announcement comes at a time when the nation still is dealing with unproven allegations that millions of people voted illegally during the election, a claim that led to the establishment of a presidential commission on electoral integrity. We still think that commission is pursuing a not-so-secret agenda to impose tighter restrictions on voting, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it will simply run out of steam.
The numbers aren’t there. Those who are convinced that widespread voter fraud is affecting the outcome of elections — including the unsubstantiated claim by President Trump that between 3 million and 5 million people voted illegally in last year’s presidential election, costing him the popular vote — will frequently point to anecdotes and hearsay to support their claims. But they can’t come up with the verified statistics to back those allegations. Secretary of State Kim Wyman, the Republican who won her second term in November, announced Friday the results of a five-state review of the 2016 General Election that checked for instances of potential voter fraud, including people who voted in this state and another, those who voted twice in Washington state and those who voted using the registration of a deceased individual.
When Facebook revealed to investigators that a Kremlin-linked troll farm paid the company $100,000 for divisive political ads during the 2016 election, many saw the news as a bombshell. But in a year of unpredictable leaks, scandals and scoops, this just might be the least surprising news. Almost everybody with a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account saw a political advertisement on the internet last year. The opportunity for a political campaign is obvious. Internet ads give candidates and interest groups the ability to microtarget potential voters more effectively than TV, for far less money. Approximately two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media, while print newspaper readership is a fraction of what it once was. And yet, policymakers for years have ignored or outright opposed the need to hold the internet advertising industry to the same standards the country has already agreed on for television and radio. Our campaign finance rules are outdated for the internet age, and rules on the books aren’t enforced. Now, with the revelation that Russia, too, sees the political value in America’s online advertising market, the chickens have come home to roost.
One of the reasons why computer security is so hard is because you have to get absolutely everything right in order to have a secure system. And there’s lots of different kinds of things you can get wrong. Everything from your software was buggy, your passwords were too weak, you published your passwords accidentally, your hardware was insecure, the user made a mistake and fell victim to a phishing attack and gave their credentials to a foreign agent or a bad guy. All of those things have to be done correctly in order to have a secure system. It might seem tempting to think, you know, everybody has a cell phone so you could just use your cell phone to do voting like we do for American Idol or similar TV shows. It works for American Idol because nobody cares all that much who wins or doesn’t win.
Editorials: Trump lied about ‘voter fraud’ … now he wants to steal people’s votes | Lawrence Douglas/The Guardian
Of the hundreds of whoppers that President Trump has told since his election, an early one remains the most toxic. In days following his electoral college victory, Trump claimed that he would have also won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Trump later refined this claim, insisting that three to five million undocumented voters threw the popular election for Clinton. By way of proof, the president waved at an outlandish story: that golfer Bernhard Langer – a German citizen, barred from voting in the in the US – had had his path to the voting booth clogged by men and women, who by skin color and accent were obviously fraudulent voters. At first, the voter fraud fantasy seemed like no more than a display of the touchiness and extravagant narcissism that led Trump, in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary, to insist that his inaugural crowds were larger than Obama’s. In fact, the lie concealed a much more ambitious and insidious political agenda. In May, with the creation of the “Presidential Advisory Committee on Voter Integrity,” Trump bootstrapped the myth of voter fraud into an institutional reality. The goal: to use the allegation of fraud to tighten voting procedures that will suppress the votes of minorities, groups that generally vote Democratic.
Editorials: Decertifying Virginia’s vulnerable voting machines is just the first step | Fredericksburg Free Lance Star
The Virginia State Board of Elections has belatedly decided that all electronic touchscreen voting machines still in use throughout the commonwealth cannot be used for the Nov. 7 general election because they are vulnerable to hacking, even though they are not connected to the internet. This revelation is not new. For more than a decade, computer scientists at Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and other top universities have demonstrated that hackers can surreptitiously change votes on these machines without leaving a trace. In 2005, Finnish computer programmer Harri Hursti successfully hacked into Diebold voting machines that were in a locked warehouse in Leon County, Fla., under the watchful eyes of elections officials, a feat still referred to today as the Hursti Hack. But it took another demonstration of successful hacking at the DEFcon cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas this summer to finally convince board members that they needed to immediately decertify all touchscreen voting machines still in use in Virginia. Better late than never, as the old saying goes, but that left 22 cities and counties that still use them to tabulate election results in the lurch. Decertification should have happened years ago.
Editorials: Trump’s voter-fraud propagandist cooks up extremely fuzzy math | E.J. Dionne/The Washington Post
It is neither paranoid nor alarmist to begin asking if the Trump administration plans to rationalize blocking a large number of voters who oppose the president from casting ballots in 2018 and 2020. And it is imperative that the civic-minded of all parties demand the disbanding of a government commission whose very existence is based on a lie. The lying doesn’t stop. Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, is vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Its name reminds us why the adjective “Orwellian” was invented. Kobach chose to use a meeting of the commission held in New Hampshire on Tuesday to continue to cast doubt on the state’s election results even after his charges of voter fraud had fallen apart. It was an object lesson into how Trumpists will twist, cook and distort facts about voting to manufacture numbers that sound ominous but vanish into the ether as soon as they’re examined.
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have the same problem, they have squandered their credibility. They both appear clever because by chance they have spent a lifetime getting away with things that have brought down others long ago, and they lied about them. They get away with it because the audacity catches everyone off guard. However, the lesson of Trump’s first months in office is that, once most people catch on, it is harder to pull off the next audacious stunt. Trump’s agenda from health care to that wall is stalled. Putin has had a longer run in public office but is having trouble with his agenda, too — from lifting oil prices to lifting sanctions. Now that everyone has caught on to Russia’s election interference and propaganda, Putin’s audacious stunts, despite much hand wringing by his victims, are harder to pull off without a substantial reaction in response. Local elections held in Russia on Sept. 10 fit the pattern and spell possible trouble for next year’s presidential election that Putin is currently expected to win handedly. On Sept. 10, Putin’s United Russia party swept local elections in the 16 Regions where elections took place, including in Sevastopol in Crimea seized by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. However, opposition candidates in Moscow made surprising gains.
Editorials: Our elections are facing more threats online. Our laws must catch up. | Ellen L. Weintraub/The Washington Post
Would you click on that political ad if you knew it had been generated by a Russian troll farm? Probably not. But without knowing that? Well, you might. Indeed, we now know that millions of people did just that during the 2016 election. How can we prevent a repeat in 2018 and beyond? For our democracy to work, the American people need to know that the ads they see on their computer screens and in their social media feeds aren’t paid for by Russia or other foreign countries. There’s only one federal agency with the power to stem the flow of foreign money into political ads online: the Federal Election Commission, where I serve as a commissioner. On Thursday, we took a small step forward in that quest, but the news suggests we have much more work to do.
Editorials: Redistricting in North Carolina should be fair and nonpartisan | Eva M. Clayton/News & Observer
North Carolina’s redistricting process continues to be disappointing – quite simply, the process has failed to meet the test of openness and transparency in our democracy. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that North Carolina’s district maps were unconstitutional on the grounds that race was considered in drawing the maps. In response, the N.C. General Assembly recently released its new redistricting map for state House and Senate districts. Public hearings were held two days later with statistical information selectively provided a day before the hearing. Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, the state made limited modifications to the 12th and the 1st Congressional districts, maintaining the state’s 10-3 Republican congressional delegation majority. The Supreme Court ruled that this revised Congressional map was unconstitutional.
Editorials: Votes for corporations and extra votes for property owners: why Australian local council elections are undemocratic | Ryan Goss/The Conversation
Imagine, for a minute, an undemocratic political system. Imagine a voting system in which someone has more votes than you because they own property. Or a voting system in which corporations have a vote – and maybe even more votes than regular people. A voting system in which, as a result, the power of your vote could be diluted by votes cast on behalf of corporations. This voting system isn’t something from Britain during the Industrial Revolution, or America’s Deep South in the 1950s. Instead, as my recent paper outlines, this way of voting is a reality at local council elections in five of Australia’s six states. It’s time for this to change.
Technology threatens to fundamentally change the nature of elections and democratic governance. New media forms, including social media, are fueling political polarization as people communicate with general audiences and narrowly focused groups, without the deliberation typical of traditional forms of communication. Hacking, misinformation, “fake news” and cybersecurity threats are expanding the power of a few while undermining public confidence in the accuracy of mass media and information. Politicians are using detailed voter information to play to their bases, allowing them to ignore the rest of their constituents. Democratization, which had advanced steadily for decades, is now threatened by the rise of authoritarian governments and the closing of the political space to civil society, journalists and others.
I’ve been asked about a number of ideas lately involving voting systems and blockchains. This blog piece talks about all the security properties that a voting system needs to have, where blockchains help, and where they don’t. Let’s start off a decade ago, when Daniel Sandler and I first wrote a paper saying blockchains would be useful for voting systems. We observed that voting machines running on modern computers have overwhelming amounts of CPU and storage, so let’s use it in a serious way. Let’s place a copy of every vote on every machine and let’s use timeline entanglement (Maniatis and Baker 2002), so every machine’s history is protected by hashes stored on other machines. We even built a prototype voting system called VoteBox that used all of this, and many of the same ideas now appear in a design called STAR-Vote, which we hope could someday be used by real voters in real elections.
What is a blockchain good for? Fundamentally, it’s about having a tamper-evident history of events. In the context of a voting system, this means that a blockchain is a great place to store ballots to protect their integrity. STAR-Vote and many other “end-to-end” voting systems have a concept of a “public bulletin board” where encrypted votes go, and a blockchain is the obvious way to implement the public bulletin board. Every STAR-Vote voter leaves the polling place with a “receipt” which is really just the hash of their encrypted ballot, which in turn has the hash of the previous ballot. In other words, STAR-Vote voters all leave the polling place with a pointer into the blockchain which can be independently verified. … Achieving a “cast as intended” property requires a variety of mechanisms ranging from paper ballots and spot challenges of machines. The blockchain protects the integrity of the recorded vote, but has nothing to say about its fidelity to the intent of the voter.
The Supreme Court has long kept a distance from arguments over gerrymandering, that most American practice of redrawing the lines of legislative districts in order to tip elections toward the party in power. But early next month, the justices will hear a challenge to the 2011 redrawing of Wisconsin’s state legislative map by Republican lawmakers — a demonstration of how increasingly powerful technology allows partisan mapmakers to distort representation with ever-greater precision. Using computer modeling, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature produced districts so unbalanced that, in 2012, Republicans won a supermajority in the state assembly even after losing the popular vote. And the state GOP continued to entrench that hold in 2014 and 2016, even after winning only slim majorities of the vote.
Editorials: Lawsuits, Falsehoods, and a Lot of White Men: Trump’s Election Commission Meets Amid Growing Controversy | Ari Berman & Pema Levy/Mother Jones
A few days before President Donald Trump’s “election integrity” commission meets in New Hampshire on Tuesday, its vice chair, Kris Kobach, published a column in Breitbart claiming “proof” that voter fraud in the state tipped the election against Trump and Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte. Kobach cited numbers released by the state’s Republican House speaker showing that 6,540 people voted in New Hampshire on Election Day using out-of-state driver’s licenses as ID. “It seems that they never were bona fide residents of the State,” Kobach concluded. (This claim echoed one made in February by Trump, who told senators, with no evidence, that “thousands” were “brought in on buses” from Massachusetts to “illegally” vote in New Hampshire.)
On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that hundreds of Russia-based accounts had run anti-Hillary Clinton ads precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda. It will take time to prove whether the account owners had any relationship with the Russian government, but one thing is clear: Facebook has contributed to, and profited from, the erosion of democratic norms in the United States and elsewhere. The audacity of a hostile foreign power trying to influence American voters rightly troubles us. But it should trouble us more that Facebook makes such manipulation so easy, and renders political ads exempt from the basic accountability and transparency that healthy democracy demands. The majority of the Facebook ads did not directly mention a presidential candidate, according to Alex Stamos, head of security at Facebook, but “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from L.G.B.T. matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
American voters received yet another rude awakening last month. Chicago’s Board of Elections reported that names, addresses, birth dates and other sensitive information about the city’s 1.8 million registered voters had been exposed on an Amazon cloud server for an unknown period. Worse, it appears hackers might have gained access to employees’ personal accounts at Election Systems & Software, a major election technology vendor—info that could be used to hack a future U.S. election. Earlier, the Department of Homeland Security reported that foreign agents targeted voting systems in 21 states in the 2016 election, and Bloomberg News reported that hackers had successfully compromised various election-technology companies.
We applaud the Colorado’s League of Women Voters for its effort to curtail gerrymandering ahead of the 2020 census, and wish the non-partisan group luck in its endeavor. While we will withhold judgment of the organization’s proposal until we see the final language and whether it qualifies for the ballot this year, we’re encouraged that someone is stepping up to make this system of drawing districts more fair to voters of all political views. For too long the redistricting of Colorado’s congressional districts and state legislative districts have fallen victim to the underhanded strategies of both Republicans and Democrats who are trying to get the upper hand in the next decade’s elections.
Ask most Maryland Democratic leaders about partisan gerrymandering, and they’ll tell you it’s a horrible problem. They’ll say that is contrary to the principles of democracy, that it lets politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around and that it contributes to hyper-partisanship in Congress and state legislatures. Ask them to do something about it — as numerous good-government advocacy groups, editorial boards and Gov. Larry Hogan have done — and you’ll hear a different story. Taking the task of drawing congressional and legislative district lines out of the self-interested hands of Democrats in Maryland would amount to unilateral surrender, they say, and they have no interest in that unless Republicans start doing the same in the states where they have controlled the process for their own gain.
To stop cyberattacks on voting, America should follow the state’s lead on paper ballots
There’s no evidence that hacking impacted the 2016 elections. But there’s growing evidence that elections in 2018 and 2020 could be at risk. The threat could come from North Korea, Iran, or any of a host of foreign adversaries. The challenges are getting clearer. In August, Chicago’s Board of Elections reported that sensitive information about the city’s 1.8 million registered voters was left exposed online for an unknown period. Earlier in the summer, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that foreign agents targeted voting systems in 21 states in the last election. Other news reports found that hackers successfully compromised election technology vendors who program voting systems. In the fight to secure America’s voting systems, Alabama is already employing the most crucial defensive weapon: paper ballots. The transparency and simplicity of the state’s system is tough to hack and relatively easy to verify. To guard against a foreign attack on our nation’s election systems, we need action to ensure others follow Alabama’s example.
Over the past few months, a steady stream of information has surfaced about Russian efforts to hack the 2016 presidential election. The attacks were specifically focused on voter databases and voting software, with attempts to alter or delete voter information in Illinois and Arizona and intrusions into campaign databases. Experts believe that the goal was to change the outcome of the election. In the past, the voting process wasn’t seen as a target for hackers. Most cyber criminals go after credit card data or Social Security numbers in order to steal peoples’ identities for financial gain. The 2016 presidential elections revealed a new way of thinking. Election hacking wasn’t driven by the desire to make money, but by an effort to meddle with election results, directly by targeting voter data and indirectly through leaks of confidential information to the media.
Editorials: Trump’s voter suppression efforts must be defeated. Here’s one thing we can do | Russ Feingold/The Guardian
So much news in the US recently has been upsetting, and rarely uplifting; but the champions of voting rights have reasons to be both aghast at recent headlines and encouraged by them. On the one hand, the Trump-Pence “election integrity” commission’s every move continues to underscore concerns that it is driving at 90mph towards national voter suppression. Then there is the sudden decision by Donald Trump and attorney general Jeff Session’s Department of Justice to support purging voter rolls in Ohio. It’s enough to make voters feel like they have targets on their backs. On the other hand, Rhode Island recently became the ninth state to enact AVR – automatic voter registration – and on 28 August Illinois became the 10th when its Republican governor signed the bill into law. While the federal government perpetuates myths and conspiracies in an effort to justify taking the vote away from citizens, more and more states are taking local action to strengthen and protect this most fundamental democratic right.
Editorials: In Election Interference, It’s What Reporters Didn’t Find That Matters | Nicole Perlroth/The New York Times
The story started, as many do, with our own confusion. The most unusual of presidential elections — one marred by Russian trolls, a digital Watergate-style break-in and the winning candidate’s dire warnings of a “rigged election” — was followed by the most unusual period of acceptance. In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, government officials, the Clinton campaign, intelligence analysts, and civic and legal groups all appeared to calmly accept claims that votes had not been hacked. I had been on the cyber beat for six years and had grown accustomed to deep, often lengthy digital forensics analyses of cyberattacks against a wide range of targets: Silicon Valley start-ups, multinational conglomerates, government agencies and our own Times breach by Chinese government hackers. In the vast majority of cases, it takes investigators months or years to discover that hackers had indeed been lurking undetected on victims’ machines.
Editorials: Can America handle the truth of the tarnished 2016 election? | Will Bunch/Philadelphia Inquirer
Something smelled wrong about the election from the very start. In the weeks before the presidential balloting took place, millions of voters were bombarded with “fake news” about the candidates on Facebook and other social media sites. And when the vote tallies were announced, the nation was shocked by the results. There was scattered unrest, even violence — and loud whispers that the election had somehow been stolen. Some wondered about the role of Cambridge Analytica, the firm founded by a billionaire backer of Donald Trump. Then, something remarkable — unprecedented, really — took place. The nation’s highest court decided to launch a thorough investigation of what really happened on Election Day. What the justices eventually uncovered was shocking — a scheme to change results from the actual polling places when they were tallied electronically. What happened next was perhaps more surprising: The Supreme Court justices ordered a new national election. Yes, this scenario actually just played out. In Kenya.
The Kenyan Supreme Court’s courageous decision to nullify the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta is a critical first for Kenya and Africa, demonstrating that democratic institutions are capable of acting independently and resolving disputes that in the past have often spilled over into violence. The ruling was also a rebuke to international monitors and diplomats — and to this page — who were too quick to dismiss charges of irregularities, largely out of relief that the Aug. 8 voting had been mainly peaceful and in the hope that disappointment with the results would not lead to the sort of violence that erupted after the disputed 2007 election, in which hundreds of people were killed.
Editorials: What’s ‘Proportional Voting,’ and Why Is It Making a Comeback? | Alan Greenblatt/Governing
It’s a sign of popular disillusionment with the current course of American democracy that the past couple of years have produced a flurry of reform ideas aimed at changing the way elections are conducted. The newer proposals allow voters to rank several candidates in order of preference, or create nonpartisan primaries in which the top-two finishers are nominated, regardless of party. One older idea that’s being talked about again is proportional voting. Proportional elections are conducted in other countries, and in many of those places, the rules are pretty simple. If a party wins 30 percent of the national vote, it wins 30 percent of the legislative seats. That’s not the way it’s generally been tried in the United States.
Editorials: Get these math nerds fitted for heroes’ capes in Texas voting rights fight | Dallas Morning News
Here’s a genius idea: Mathematicians are putting their heads together to untangle the knotty national gerrymandering mess. A math professor at Boston-area Tufts University, Moon Duchin, deserves a big share of the credit for organizing this big-brain powered movement. She’s orchestrating workshops at campuses across America to devise and disseminate cutting-edge numbers tools to help courts identify voting maps that are drawn unfairly. Drawing amoeba-shaped districts in order to clump voters from disparate areas together to benefit a particular party or demographic has so polarized Congress that most elected officials fear a primary challenge more than losing in a general election. This eviscerates any incentive to compromise or to work on bipartisan solutions. Redistricting reform is designed to make lawmakers accountable to real people than to the extremes of each party. Simply put, gerrymandering is the scourge of American politics.
In the face of America’s abysmal voter participation rates, lawmakers have two choices: They can make voting easier, or they can make it harder. Illinois made the right choice this week, becoming the 10th state, along with the District of Columbia, to enact automatic voter registration. The bill, which could add as many as one million voters to the state’s rolls, was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican who had vetoed similar legislation last year. Under the new law, all eligible voters will be registered to vote when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles or other state agencies. If they do not want to be registered, they may opt out.
Editorials: The Civil Rights Division has a proud legacy. Eric Dreiband is unfit to lead it | Mary Frances Berry/The Guardian
Over half a century ago, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 in what was a watershed moment for the US. In spite of intense opposition, including Strom Thurmond carrying out the longest spoken filibuster in the history of our country, Congress enacted the first significant African American civil rights measure since the Reconstruction era. The legislation established the US Commission on Civil Rights, on which I was honoured to serve for five presidential administrations, and it created a specific division within the Department of Justice dedicated solely to protecting civil rights. Sixty years later, we are witnessing a painful unravelling of a civil rights legacy that many people devoted their careers to – or even gave their lives for.
On August 8, millions of Kenyans formed long, orderly lines outside polling stations across the country to vote in presidential and local elections. Kenya is notorious for corruption, and virtually all prior elections had been marred by rigging. This time, however, the US and Kenya’s other donors had invested $24 million in an electronic vote-tallying system designed to prevent interference. When Kenya’s electoral commission announced on August 11 that President Uhuru Kenyatta had won another five-year term with over 54 percent of the vote, observer teams from the African Union, the European Union, and the highly respected US-based Carter Center, led by former Secretary of State John Kerry, commended the electoral process and said they’d seen no evidence of significant fraud. Congratulations poured in from around the world and Donald Trump praised the elections as fair and transparent.