For the head of Libya’s national election commission, the method by which Americans vote is startling in that it depends so much on trust and the good faith of election officials and voters alike. “It’s an incredible system,” said Nuri K. Elabbar, who traveled to the United States along with election officials from more than 60 countries to observe today’s presidential elections as part of a program run by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). Your humble Cable guy visited polling places with some of the international officials this morning. Most of them agreed that in their countries, such an open voting system simply would not work.
U.S. President Barack Obama won re-election Tuesday night, topping 270 electoral votes to defeat Republican challenger Mitt Romney just after 11 p.m. yesterday. Romney held a small lead in the battleground state of Virginia, but most election observers said he had to win both Florida and Ohio, as well as Virginia, to beat Obama. Just after 11 p.m., Ohio was called for Obama and those electoral votes effectively sealed the election’s outcome. Obama also held a slim lead in Florida. The Republican Party was projected to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to CNN and other news reports, but it appeared that Democrats will remain a slim majority in the Senate.
Long lines and glitches greeted voters at several places from Florida to Virginia as technologically advanced America began voting Tuesday to choose between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney. In scenes rarely witnessed back home in India, voters waited hours on end as lines stretched out the door of polling sites in Central Florida Tuesday, according to Orlando Sentinel. Long lines and some glitches were also reported at precincts in Virginia with power breakdowns briefly disrupting voting in at least three polling places in Eastern Henrico,
In anticipation of the 2012 election, the Rockaway Youth Task Force proudly registered about 350 18- to 24-year-olds from the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. But Milan Taylor, the group’s 23-year-old founder and president, doubts any of those newly registered voters will cast a ballot Tuesday. For those entering their second week stranded in the devastated Rockaways without heat or electricity, figuring out where the polling stations have been relocated to isn’t at the top of any to-do list. “We’re trying to convince people to get out and vote. We’ve printed out fliers with the new poll sites,” Taylor said. “But in reality, if you’re trying to figure out how to keep your family warm, voting might be the least of your priorities.”
On this election day, I’ll be looking at a map. Not of swing states that could go red or blue, but a map measuring states’ voting technology, and which have the best and the worst chances of messing up the count. For instance, Wisconsin: Good. Georgia: Not so good at making sure votes are recorded in a way that can be audited or recounted if needed. David Dill is a computer science professor at Stanford, and he’s been paying close attention to electronic voting issues and security for years. Dill’s been watching a few states in particular.
Voting rights advocates described the election in New Jersey on Tuesday as a “catastrophe,” and said significant problems were also cropping up in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, among other places, although it was not possible to immediately verify all of those reports.In New Jersey, problems stemming from super storm Sandy caused election computers to crash and some polling places were not able to open by late morning, according to Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She also said some poll workers were demanding identification from voters, in violation of state law.
Proud voters are already posting photos of their ballots on Instagram—sometimes with the names of their chosen candidates filled in. But before you snap a shot of your vote, you might want to check your state laws. As the Citizen Media Law Project points out as part of their guide to documenting the 2012 election, showing your marked ballot to other people is actually illegal in many states. Laws against displaying your ballot are motivated by concerns about vote buying, since voters being bribed might need to be prove they voted a certain way. While laws vary from state to state, the penalties for showing your ballot can be stiff.
On Tuesday, like lots of other folks, I’ll be heading to the polls to vote. I live in Massachusetts, where voting is done by paper ballot. You get a ballot on heavy stock paper, indicate your vote by filling in the appropriate ovals with a marker and the ballot gets read and counted by an optical scanner. Every time I vote, I’m taken back to my elementary school days in late 1970s in Pittsburgh: filling out my ballot is just like it was filling out a standardized test form 35 years ago. Why is that, in a time when I can pay for my morning coffee using my phone, we still use this old school approach to voting? Surely, using a more up-to-date technology would be a better way to go, right? Turns out, not necessarily and, in fact, it’s hard to beat a good old paper ballot.
In 2008, when reports surfaced of voters waiting in line for two, three, and, in one remarkable case in Georgia, 12 hours to vote, at Facing South we wrote about why this is a voting rights issue. Here we go again. Over the last two weeks, reports have flooded in of voters waiting for hours at early voting sites to cast their ballots. Florida has again dominated the headlines, with accounts of voters standing in line for up to six hours. In South Florida, Democrats sued after Gov. Rick Scott opted against extending early voting hours, as his Republican predecessor had in 2008. (Scott insisted voting was running smoothly.)
The Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory looks at a wide variety of security devices– locks, seals, tags, access control, biometrics, cargo security, nuclear safeguards–to try to find vulnerabilities and locate potential fixes. Unfortunately, there’s not much funding available in this country to study election security. So we did this as a Saturday afternoon type of project. It’s called a man-in-the-middle attack. It’s a classic attack on security devices. You implant a microprocessor or some other electronic device into the voting machine, and that lets you control the voting and turn cheating on and off. We’re basically interfering with transmitting the voter’s intent. We used a logic analyzer. Digital communication is a series of zeros and ones. The voltage goes higher, the voltage goes lower. A logic analyzer collects the oscillating voltages between high and low and then will display for you the digital data in a variety of formats. But there all kinds of way to do it. You can use a logic analyzer, you can use a microprocessor, you can use a computer–basically, anything that lets you see the information that’s being exchanged and then lets you know what to do to mimic the information.
Sloppy signatures on mail-in ballots might prove to be the hanging chads of the 2012 election. As Republicans and Democrats raise alarms about potential voter fraud and voter suppression, mail-in ballots have boomed as an uncontroversial form of convenient, inexpensive voting. In the critical swing states of Ohio and Florida, more than a fifth of voters chose the mail-in option 2010. In Colorado, another battleground, the number was nearly two-thirds. But there may be controversy to come. For a variety of reasons, mail-in ballots are much more likely to be rejected than conventional, in-person votes.
Only days before millions of Americans cast their ballots, a climate of suspicion hangs over Tuesday’s national elections. Accusations of partisan dirty tricks and concerns about long voter lines, voting equipment failures and computer errors are rampant, particularly in key battleground states such as Ohio and Colorado, where absentee and provisional ballots could decide a close election. “Those will be the states that are the most prone to confusion and chaos and contesting if the election is close or within what some people call the ‘margin of litigation,’ ” said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Few want to even think about it, but the 2012 US election result could be clouded by problems with voting machines … again. Twelve years after the Florida punch card debacle in which thousands of votes went uncounted in the crucial state, some experts cite similar concerns about voting technology. “I’m not sure we’ve made forward progress since 2000,” said Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer scientist and co-author of a book published this year, “Broken Ballots.” “We’ve put a tremendous effort into changing the voting systems, but in many cases we’ve discarded systems too quickly and replaced them with systems that we haven’t examined enough.”
In an era when shadowy hackers can snatch secret government files and humble big businesses with seeming ease, it’s an unavoidable question as Election Day approaches: When we go to the polls, could our very votes be at risk? According to voting-security experts, the answer can be boiled down to a bit of campaign-speak: There are reasons for concern and there is work to be done but, by and large, we’re better off now than we were four years ago. “In general terms, the nation as a whole is moving toward more resilient, more recountable, evidence-based voting systems and that’s a good thing,” said Pamela Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation. “We’re better off than we were a couple of election cycles ago by a long shot and we’re better off than we were in the last election, too. “We’re seeing improvement, but we’re still seeing immense challenges.”
Perhaps it’s because the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee Americans the right to vote. Perhaps it’s because election officials believe (or hope) that the public has forgotten what democracy means or what fair elections are all about. Perhaps both parties opportunistically seek an advantage through fraud. Perhaps people are simply stupid. Nevertheless, it remains an almost inconceivable screw-up: in many states, including critical swing states, government officials have not guaranteed that votes can be counted, either, in some cases, counted accurately or, in others, counted at all. The mechanics of U.S. voting systems, by international standards, languish at the level of a dismal third world failure.
National: Fundamental Security Problems Plague Proposed Internet Voting Systems | MIT Technology Review
A decade and a half into the Web revolution, we do much of our banking and shopping online. So why can’t we vote over the Internet? The answer is that voting presents specific kinds of very hard problems. Even though some countries do it and there have been trial runs in some precincts in the United States, computer security experts at a Princeton symposium last week made clear that online voting cannot be verifiably secure, and invites disaster in a close, contentious race. “Vendors may come and they may say they’ve solved the Internet voting problem for you, but I think that, by and large, they are misleading you, and misleading themselves as well,” Ron Rivest, the MIT computer scientist and cryptography pioneer, said at the symposium. “If they’ve really solved the Internet security and cybersecurity problem, what are they doing implementing voting systems? They should be working with the Department of Defense or financial industry. These are not solved problems there.”
Though early American elections involved shouting out your vote to the county clerk, oh, how the times have changed. Thirty-one states now use electronic voting machines; the remaining 19 rely on paper ballots or punch cards. The technological march from voices to touchscreens took hundreds of years, but widespread adoption of e-voting began in earnest a decade ago, shortly after the 2000 presidential election revealed the myriad ways in which outdated punch card and lever voting systems could throw the country into a tailspin. But now new fears have arisen: Both paper ballots and electronic systems are vulnerable to fraud, as electronic votes often leave no paper record (depending on the jurisdiction). Without paper trails, fraud is easier to perpetrate and harder to detect. Many experts say the march toward e-voting, and even the specter of Internet voting, should be slowed until we figure out a way to craft a better system and defend it from attack.
Scare-mongering ads, voter registration forms dumped in the trash and misleading statements on the stump: the list of dirty tricks sullying the US presidential election is seemingly endless. With the high-stakes race culminating with voting on Tuesday, experts warn that the unfortunately typical attempts to keep a rival’s supporters from the polls or sway voters with flat out lies could end up deciding the outcome. “If an election is close those kinds of things can matter,” said Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “We’ve had the chastening experience of 2000. And 2004 was close as well.”
As Republicans and Democrats raise alarms about potential voter fraud and voter suppression, mail-in ballots have boomed as an uncontroversial form of convenient, inexpensive voting. In the critical swing states of Ohio and Florida, more than a fifth of voters chose the mail-in option 2010. In Colorado, another battleground, the number was nearly two-thirds. But there may be controversy to come. For a variety of reasons, mail-in ballots are much more likely to be rejected than conventional, in-person votes.
On Tuesday, voters will go to the polls in what is expected to be a nail-bitingly close presidential election. Indeed, we may wake up Wednesday morning, as voters did in 2000 and 2004, not knowing who won. If we are extremely unlucky, the election will be so close that it will go to a recount and possibly to the courts. The state whose votes are pivotal to the election outcome – Ohio, Florida, who knows? – will see its election process go under a microscope with full dissection in real time over Twitter and Facebook. It would get very ugly very quickly.
Imagine going to vote for your presidential candidate and pushing the button on a touch-screen voting machine — but the “X” marks his opponent instead. That is what some voters in Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and Ohio have reported. Fox News has received several complaints from voters who say they voted on touch-screen voting machines — only when they tried to select Mitt Romney, the machine indicated they had chosen President Obama. The voters in question realized the error and were able to cast ballots for their actual choice. “I don’t know if it happened to anybody else or not, but this is the first time in all the years that we voted that this has ever happened to me,” said Marion, Ohio, voter Joan Stevens.
Battalions of lawyers are readying for legal challenges in battleground states after Tuesday’s election, fearing a replay of the nightmare, razor-close 2000 contest in Florida between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W Bush, who emerged victorious as President only after a Supreme Court decision. With the 2012 election again too close to call, the Democratic and Republican parties have dispatched legal advisers to polling stations across the country with a particular focus on the politically polarised states of Ohio (where Democrats are understood to have deployed more than 2,000 legal experts), Florida, Wisconsin and Virginia, whose votes could decide the election outcome.
National: Use of e-voting machines unaltered despite power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy | Computerworld
Plans to use electronic voting machines in Tuesday’s presidential election appear to be largely unaltered in states that were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Despite widespread power outages and other hurricane related damage, election officials in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware remained confident that their electronic voting machines would be up and running on Election Day.
Thousands of lawyers from both presidential campaigns will enter polling places next Tuesday with one central goal: tracking their opponents and, if need be, initiating legal action. It will be a kind of Spy vs. Spy. The lawyers will note how poll workers behave, where voters are directed, if intimidation appears to be occurring, whether lines are long. And they will report up a chain of command where decisions over court action will be made at headquarters in Chicago and Boston. This will go on in every battleground state — including Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, even Pennsylvania — but it will be most focused in Ohio and especially in Greater Cleveland, which is heavily Democratic and where many people believe history teaches a simple lesson: the more votes cast here, the likelier President Obama is to win.
National: Some Jurisdictions Switch to Lower-Tech Voting Systems After Experiencing Problems, See Value in Paper Trail | TheBlaze.com
In a digital age, you might be surprised to learn that many states once using electronic voting are actually switching back to paper — some after disastrous elections that resulted from the lack of a paper trail. Florida, New Mexico, Michigan and Washington state are a few that in recent years made the move to require use of paper ballots instead of electronic voting systems, according to Verified Voting President Pamela Smith. But they’re not shying away from technology altogether, these and some other states using paper ballots employ specialized scanners to count the ballots.
Hurricane Sandy spurred Maryland to suspend its early voting program for a second day on Tuesday and forced the closing of some early voting sites in battleground states like North Carolina and Virginia. But the bigger question that many state and county elections officials in storm-battered states were asking themselves was how to get ready for Election Day next week. The obstacles are formidable. More than 8.2 million households were without power by midday Tuesday, with more than a fifth of them in swing states — a potential problem in an age when the voting process, which once consisted of stuffing paper ballots into boxes, has been electrified. Roads were impassable in some states, and mass transportation was hobbled in others. And Postal Service disruptions threatened to slow the delivery of absentee ballots to election boards.
National: Poll watchers could bring “chaos” in Ohio and elsewhere, national expert says | Dispatch Politics
Forget all that concern about provisional ballots, improperly denied absentee ballot applications and the like. What is really the biggest wild card for next week’s presidential election in Ohio and elsewhere? Citizen poll watchers. So says Doug Chapin of the University of Minnesota, a widely acclaimed expert in how elections are conducted. “I think the biggest thing to watch next Tuesday is the impact of citizen poll watchers, including but not limited to those affiliated with Houston-based True the Vote,” he said yesterday on his Election Academy blog.
Democratic claims that a large number of Americans could be prevented from voting because of photo identification laws are probably overstated based on evidence from Georgia and Indiana, the two states where the laws have been in place for multiple elections, Reuters found. Data and numerous interviews by Reuters reporters also suggest there is little evidence to bolster Republican assertions that ID laws are needed to combat rampant voter fraud.
National: EAC: The Phantom Commission – Agency Formed to Restore Confidence in Elections Is in Disarray | Roll Call
A federal agency created to restore confidence in the election process in the wake of Bush v. Gore sits all but leaderless as the country approaches Election Day. As local election officials scramble to sort out last-minute issues — Palm Beach County, Fla., for example, recently hired dozens of workers to hand copy about 27,000 misprinted absentee ballots — the U.S. Election Assistance Commission operates, on its 10th anniversary, as a shell of what Congress designed it to be. Its four commissioner spots are vacant. The executive director resigned last year. Its general counsel left in May. It has lacked a quorum to conduct official business for almost two years. Congressional gamesmanship has hamstrung the commission by neither giving it necessary resources nor eliminating it outright. “It’s a national embarrassment that this agency, whose only mission is to provide information, doesn’t have a single commissioner,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.
As one of the world’s biggest electoral showdowns nears its conclusion over in the US, fears are growing in IT security that hackers may soon be able to affect the outcome of such a contest by breaching online voter databases. With governing bodies continuing to utilise Internet platforms for voter registration, and hacking collectives growing in sophistication, some experts believe a serious breach of electoral data is inevitable. While Barack Obama and Mitt Romney jostle for power in America, states including Maryland, Washington, Arizona and California have either implemented online voter registration systems already, or have passed bills proposing the move.