Internet voting systems are inherently insecure and should not be allowed in the upcoming general elections, a noted security researcher said at the RSA Conference 2012 being held here this week. David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and chairman of the election watchdog group Verified Voting, called on election officials around the country to drop plans to allow an estimated 3.5 million voters to cast their ballots over the Internet in this year’s general elections. In an interview with Computerworld on Wednesday, Jefferson warned that the systems that enable such voting are far too insecure to be trusted and should be jettisoned altogether. Jefferson is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on the topic at the RSA conference on Thursday. Also on the panel are noted cryptographer and security guru Ron Rivest, who is the “R” in RSA, and Alex Halderman, an academic whose research on security vulnerabilities in e-voting systems prompted elections officials in Washington to drop plans to use an e-voting system in 2010. “There’s a wave of interest across the country, mostly among election officials and one agency of the [Department of Defense], to offer Internet voting” to overseas citizens and members of the military, Jefferson said. “From a security point of view, it is an insane thing to do.”
National: Voting Rights Act: Is Obama letting the civil rights law die before the Supreme Court kills it? | Slate
When Georgia’s Republican leaders redrew the state’s election-district maps last year, Democrats and minorities instantly cried foul. In an increasingly diverse state where 47 percent of voters chose Obama in 2008, the new maps looked likely to hand the GOP 10 of the state’s 14 seats in Congress. Perhaps even more significantly, they were drawn so as to give Republicans a shot at a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the state legislature, allowing them to pass constitutional amendments unilaterally. They achieved this in part by “packing” the state’s black voters (who overwhelmingly vote Democratic) into a handful of districts in order to make others more solidly white (and Republican).
Fortunately for the state’s Democrats, federal law seemed to offer a time-tested remedy. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark civil rights bill passed in 1965 to crack down on poll taxes and other discriminatory practices, requires Georgia and a number of other Southern states to get federal approval for any changes to their voting laws. Any that harmed minorities’ chances of fair representation were to be thrown out. And that’s exactly what Georgia Democrats expected Obama’s Department of Justice to do with Republicans’ new maps. Just two years earlier, it had invoked Section 5 to block two Georgia voter-verification laws. Liberals gleefully predicted the Republican gerrymanders would likewise be “DOA at the DOJ.”
Internet voting systems are inherently insecure and should not be allowed in the upcoming general elections, a noted security researcher said at the RSA Conference 2012 being held in San Francisco this week. David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and chairman of the election watchdog group Verified Voting, called on election officials around the country to drop plans to allow an estimated 3.5 million voters to cast their ballots over the Internet in this year’s general elections. In an interview with Computerworld US on Wednesday, Jefferson warned that the systems that enable such voting are far too insecure to be trusted and should be jettisoned altogether.
Jefferson is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on the topic at RSA on Thursday. Also on the panel are noted cryptographer and security guru Ron Rivest, who is the “R” in RSA, and Alex Halderman, an academic whose research on security vulnerabilities in e-voting systems prompted elections officials in Washington to drop plans to use an e-voting system in 2010. “There’s a wave of interest across the country, mostly among election officials and one agency of the [Department of Defense] to offer Internet voting,” to overseas citizens and members of the military, Jefferson said. “From a security point of view, it is an insane thing to do.”
Presidential candidates and the super PACs accepting unlimited donations to help their campaigns cannot coordinate their activity, yet they are sharing consultants, donors and even advertising footage, raising new questions about the independence of outside groups. Campaign-finance experts say there’s little federal regulators can or will do to curb the activity ahead of November’s election.
Some recent examples:
•Restore Our Future, a super PAC backing Republican Mitt Romney, came under fire from a campaign-watchdog group this week for running the same commercial Romney aired in 2007 during his earlier presidential campaign. The super PAC, run by former Romney aides, also shares a direct-mail and polling consultant with the campaign, new federal disclosures show.
While it seems like everything can be done online these days, that’s not actually the case when it comes to elections. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien explores the security, logistical and secrecy challenges of Internet voting.
… David Wagner, University of California, Berkeley: There was no way to guarantee your vote would be counted correctly, that if someone were to hack the central computer system, then someone could change votes, and there might be no way to detect that kind of election stealing. So, I don’t think any of the voting system vendors out there right now has a solution that ensures — that’s proof against hacking or that ensures that we can detect hacking.
With the widespread adoption of smartphones and the use of mobile tactics in U.S. presidential campaigns, could there come a day when Americans might vote wirelessly? That question was posed to a panel of mobile campaign experts at the Brookings Institution during a webcast Tuesday. The prevailing view was that wireless voting in the U.S. is a long way off. Considering that much voting in the U.S. is still done with paper ballots, electronic voting over a wireless device such as a smartphone is “a long ways away,” said Katie Harbath, associate manager of policy for Facebook. She noted that delegates to the Iowa Republican Caucus in February still voted with pen and paper.
Top Republicans are calling for a review of the methods used in presidential caucuses after a series of vote-counting mishaps in three early states. Maine on Tuesday became the latest state to fall victim to the caucus bug, with a local report noting that the state GOP declared Mitt Romney the winner of a close race without many localities reporting votes in the totals, including some that had submitted their results and some whose caucuses were set for later this month. It was just the latest foible in what has been a very rough year for the caucus format.
Last year, changes tightening Wisconsin voter ID laws sparked controversy among college students across the state, with some students and state officials claiming the new requirements would dissuade student participation in elections. Now, advocate groups have reacted to these concerns and sought to educate students about what they need for the polls. The Campus Vote Project, an initiative started in 2012 by the Fair Elections Legal Network, aims to mobilize students on college campuses across the country to work with college administrators and election officials to educate students about voting. According to Campus Vote Project’s website, the organization hopes to “overcome barriers students often face to voting that students often mention such as residency laws, registration deadlines, and strict voter ID requirements.” Students who contact the Campus Vote Project can receive a “tool kit,” which includes information about roadblocks to student voting and how to educate colleges about voting requirements.
February is supposed to be the lull in the craziness of this year’s GOP presidential primary, without a single contest between the Maine caucuses (which ended Saturday) and the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Feb. 28, but Super Tuesday has already begun. On Monday, early voting began for Georgia primary voters. The March 6 primary is three weeks off, but expect plenty of Georgians to vote between now and then. Of the 10 states where voting takes place on Super Tuesday, Georgia is the one with the most delegates: 76. But other states are significant, too. Ohio, another big prize, began its early-voting period last week. And Vermont’s began even earlier, a full 45 days before the primary is held. Tennessee’s begins Wednesday, and Oklahoma will have a brief period of early voting just before the primary.
National: Oscar voting by computer invites cyber attacks – Academy’s plan to allow voting by computer is an open invitation for cyber attacks and fraudulent outcome | latimes.com
It’s often been said that Oscar season reflects the broader splendors and dysfunctions of American public life. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ ideals of scrupulous fair play have been under constant challenge in recent years, on such issues as the promotional pull of A-list stars, the power of big-studio money and negative advertising campaigns designed to undermine the competition.
Now, though, the academy may be committing a blunder of its own making. It recently announced that it would be ditching its current all-mail secret ballot system, and that its more than 5,000 members would be voting through their own computers, starting next year. The academy said the software developed by the San Diego-based computer voting company Everyone Counts would incorporate “multiple layers of security” and “military-grade encryption techniques” to ensure that nothing untoward or underhanded could occur before PricewaterhouseCoopers, its accountancy firm, captured the votes from the Internet ether. Unfortunately, leading computer scientists around the world who have looked at Internet voting systems do not share the academy’s confidence. On the contrary, they say the technology is vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks — no matter how many layers of encryption there are — and risks producing a fraudulent outcome without anyone necessarily realizing it.
When it comes to super PACs, it’s getting hard to tell the difference between reality and a Comedy Central bit. Stephen Colbert made an ongoing gag last month out of lampooning the rules barring coordination between outside groups and campaigns. When he announced a plan to run for president, he made a big show of handing off his super PAC to his fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart. Stewart promised not to coordinate with Colbert — giving the camera a wink and a nod. But it was no joke last week when President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney cleared their top aides to raise cash for the super PACs supporting their campaign.
The nation’s voter registration rolls are in disarray, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States. The problems have the potential to affect the outcomes of local, state and federal elections. One in eight active registrations is invalid or inaccurate. At the same time, one in four people who are eligible to vote — at least 51 million potential voters — are not registered. The report found that there are about 1.8 million dead people listed as active voters. Some 2.8 million people have active registrations in more than one state. And 12 million registrations have errors serious enough to make it unlikely that mailings based on them will reach voters.
Rick Santorum suggested on Sunday that Mitt Romney’s campaign may have rigged a straw poll of conservative activists by paying the entrance fee for supporters. Romney beat Santorum by 7 points Saturday in a straw poll of almost 3,500 attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Santorum pointed out that Ron Paul had won the poll in both of the past two years “because he just trucks in a lot of people pays for their ticket, they come in and vote and then leave.” “I don’t try to rig straw polls,” Santorum said on CNN’s State of the Union.
The presidential caucus system is under attack after embarrassing contests in Iowa and Nevada put on national display missing ballots, endless counting delays and lots of confusion. The result is Republican activists calling for big change to the antiquated system, particularly to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. “All the candidates are out there slogging around at Christmastime and New Year’s, and then they produce a non-result result and they can’t even get the count right,” said David Norcross, a former Republican National Committee general counsel and New Jersey GOP committeeman. Norcross told POLITICO that Iowa’s Jan. 3 caucuses were “numbingly stupid.” “How foolish is it for everyone to go to Iowa the first week in January when there are no delegates selected and they can’t even get the vote right? It’s just a joke, it’s Iowa’s joke on you and all of us.”
National: States line up to challenge stringent Section 5 voting rights provision | The Washington Post
Conservative activists and Republican attorneys general have launched a series of lawsuits meant to challenge the most muscular provision of the Voting Rights Act 0f 1965 before a Supreme Court that has signaled it is suspicious of its constitutionality. Working their way to the high court are lawsuits from Arizona to North Carolina, challenging Section 5…
The Overseas Vote Foundation is launching a new domestic voter registration and absentee ballot site in this election season that aims to make it easy for voters to fill out and access state-specific election forms. OVF announced the new initiative, the U.S. Vote Foundation, at its summit at the end of January. The Overseas Vote Foundation, founded in 2005, has been dedicated to making the overseas registration process more accessible through its websites dedicated to military service members as well as the general population of Americans abroad. “We know that one of the things that election officials want the most is that voters use the forms that their state provides,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, OVF’s president and CEO. “Some states use the NVRA to send the voter yet another form.”
National: Project Seeks to Help Students Overcome Barriers to Voting | The Chronicle of Higher Education
A national advocacy organization that focuses on increasing voter registration for underrepresented groups announced on Wednesday a campaign to spur student participation in elections and to help students overcome voting barriers. The Fair Elections Legal Network kicked off its campaign, the Campus Vote Project, at George Washington University’s Law School. At the event, members of an advisory board on student voting met to talk about ways to create campuswide policies and programs that make voting more accessible for students. “Voting is a universal right,” said Victor Sánchez, president of the United States Student Association and member of the advisory board. “With help and guidance, there should be better ways to help go about increasing access to voter registration and increasing voters on campus.”
National: Oscars vote vulnerable to cyber-attack under new online system, experts warn | guardian.co.uk
Computer security experts have warned that the 2013 Oscars ballot may be vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks that could falsify the outcome but remain undetected, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences follows through on its decision to switch to internet voting for its members. The Academy announced last week that it would be ditching its current vote-by-mail system and allowing its members to fill out electronic ballots from their home or office computers to make their choices for best picture and the other big Hollywood prizes, starting in 2013. It announced a partnership with Everyone Counts, a California-based company which has developed software for internet elections from Australia to Florida, and boasted it would incorporate “multiple layers of security” and “military-grade encryption techniques” to maintain its reputation for scrupulous honesty in respecting its members’ voting preferences.
The change will be a culture shock for an Academy voting community that tends to skew older and more conservative: indeed, concerns are already surfacing whether all of the Academy voters even have email addresses. And the claims have been met with deep scepticism by a computer scientist community which has grappled for years with the problem of making online elections fully verifiable while maintaining ballot secrecy – in other words, being rigorous about auditing the voting process but still making sure nobody knows who voted for what. So far, nobody has demonstrated that such a thing is possible.
Reporting from Washington –— Determined not to be “the only chump” without a committee to collect “unlimited corporate money,” satirist Stephen Colbert went to the Federal Election Commission last summer to petition for permission to form his own “super PAC.” He won, and instantly started swiping credit cards as he delivered a knock-knock joke to the throng of fans who’d gathered to greet him.
“Knock knock?” Colbert said.
“Who’s there?” the crowd replied.
“Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions.”
“Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions who?”
“That’s the thing,” he said. “I don’t think I should have to tell you.”
Like all super PAC operators, Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s late-night faux news show “The Colbert Report,” filed forms this week that disclosed the source of the nearly $1 million his super PAC raised last year. It turns out the vast majority of it would have been legal without the much-maligned Supreme Court ruling that prompted the creation of super PACs and has been the butt of Colbert’s jokes.
Stephen Colbert continued his one-man crusade against “super PACs” on Thursday night with an ironic salute to 22 of their biggest backers. Tuesday was the deadline for presidential super PACs to disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission, and the reports underscored the increasingly influential role of money in electoral politics. “To all the worrywarts out there who said that super PACs were going to lead to a cabal of billionaires secretly buying democracy: Wrong. They are publicly buying democracy,” Colbert (sort of) joked. As he explained, approximately half of all super PAC money — some $67 million dollars — came from just 22 donors.
National: Summit addresses military and overseas voters – despite progress, challenges remain | electionlineWeekly
The Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) hosted its Sixth Annual UOCAVA Summit last week, where participants highlighted progress made and noted the challenges that still remain in ensuring that military and overseas voters can successfully cast their absentee ballots.
A new report from the Pew Center on the States noted in the past two years, 47 states and the District of Columbia enacted laws to protect the voting rights of military and overseas citizens. This year’s election will be the first presidential election since many of these changes went into effect. The report, Democracy from Afar, found that many states have implemented changes to their laws or administrative codes.
Computer security experts have warned that the 2013 Oscars ballot may be vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks that could falsify the outcome but remain undetected, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences follows through on its decision to switch to internet voting for its members. The Academy announced last week that it would be ditching its current vote-by-mail system and allowing its members to fill out electronic ballots from their home or office computers to make their choices for best picture and the other big Hollywood prizes, starting in 2013. It announced a partnership with Everyone Counts, a California-based company which has developed software for internet elections from Australia to Florida, and boasted it would incorporate “multiple layers of security” and “military-grade encryption techniques” to maintain its reputation for scrupulous honesty in respecting its members’ voting preferences. The change will be a culture shock for an Academy voting community that tends to skew older and more conservative: indeed, concerns are already surfacing whether all of the Academy voters even have email addresses. And the claims have been met with deep scepticism by a computer scientist community which has grappled for years with the problem of making online elections fully verifiable while maintaining ballot secrecy – in other words, being rigorous about auditing the voting process but still making sure nobody knows who voted for what. So far, nobody has demonstrated that such a thing is possible. “Everybody would like there to be secure internet voting, but some very smart people have looked at the problem and can’t figure out how to do it,” said David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University and founder of the election transparency group Verified Voting. “The problem arises as soon as you decouple the voter from the recorded vote. If someone casts a ballot for best actor A and the vote is recorded for best actor B, the voter has no way of knowing the ballot has been altered, and the auditor won’t be able to see it either.”
Since the 2000 recount in Florida, voting procedures have been under the microscope; in close races, painstaking legal details and arcane rules can determine the results. Among those details is the handling of ballots cast by hundreds of thousands of “invisible” overseas voters. In the swing state of Virginia this November, 10,000 votes could decide the outcome in the presidential race, or the U.S. Senate race. In 2006, Democrat Jim Webb won Virginia’s Senate seat by a margin of 9,329 out of the nearly 2.4 million votes that were cast, a mere four-tenths of one percent margin of victory. Likewise in 2008, in another battleground state, Missouri, Republican presidential candidate John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama by 3,903 votes, a one-tenth of one percent margin.
The Republican lawyer on the case that arguably helped pave the way for the creation of so-called “super PACs” told TPM this week that he hopes politicians will realize that the contribution limits on their campaigns are putting them at a huge disadvantage, and will pass legislation dashing such restrictions. An odd position for a key player in the opening of the anonymous-campaign-cash floodgates to have? James Bopp Jr. says no. “I’m very hopeful and actually expect that incumbent politicians are going to look at themselves and say we are severely handicapped” in comparison to super PACs, Bopp told TPM, arguing that political campaigns were more accountable to voters than super PACs. “It is of course possible that there would be a court decision that would effect that. But I think the more likely scenario is that members of Congress will realize they have cut their own throat,” Bopp said.
Close to 60 corporations and wealthy individuals gave checks of $100,000 or more to a “super PAC” supporting Mitt Romney in the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses, according to documents released on Tuesday, underwriting a $17 million blitz of advertising that has swamped his Republican rivals in the early primary states. President Obama reported raising some $39.9 million in the fourth quarter, not including money he raised for the Democratic National Committee or transfers to a joint fund-raising account with the party. The filings to the Federal Election Commission, the first detailed look at a crucial source of support for Mr. Romney, showed his ability to win substantial backing from a small number of his party’s most influential and wealthy patrons, each contributing to the super PAC far more than the $2,500 check each could legally write to his campaign. All told, the group, Restore Our Future, raised about $18 million from just 200 donors in the second half of 2011.
Mitt Romney’s investment background, criticized by some of his Republican presidential rivals, is helping him build a financial advantage over them.
In the fourth quarter of last year, eight of the 10 biggest donors to Romney, co-founder of Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, a private-equity firm, worked for banks and investment funds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg based on U.S. Federal Election Commission information released yesterday. Citigroup Inc. (C) employees gave $196,600. Those at JPMorgan Chase & Co. donated $180,518, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) workers contributed $106,580.
Senate Democrats decried the influx of millions in unregulated dollars in the 2012 elections, announcing Wednesday that they will hold hearings looking into the impact of super PACs. New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Democrats’ messaging chief in the Senate, announced that the Rules committee will begin hearings this month on super PACs. Joined by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN), Schumer pointed to Mitt Romney’s victory in Florida’s Republican primary as evidence of the outsize influence of super PACs. He then bashed Karl Rove-tied groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS for raising money by the millions without having to disclose all of its donors.
A new analysis shows that in the deluge of TV ads in the early voting states for the Republican presidential primaries, nearly half of the ads are coming not from the candidates but from superPACs — the new breed of political committees that raise unregulated money. Political scientists at Wesleyan University in Connecticut found that so far, there have been about the same number of GOP primary ads as there were four years ago. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Group shows that while the overall number of ads in the 2012 Republican presidential primary is similar to four years ago, the source of the ads has changed. What’s different — and different in a big way — is the role of outside money groups, mostly superPACs, says Erika Franklin Fowler, a director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “They went from about 3 percent of total ad airings in the 2008 race to almost half, about 44 percent, in 2012,” she says.
The big money outside groups best known for airing ruthless ads in the early state GOP primaries are elbowing their way onto the turf of presidential campaigns and parties — and some campaigns aren’t happy. In the last few weeks, super PACs and other outside groups supporting Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and President Barack Obama launched activities in Florida, other key states, and nationally — including phone banking, field organizing, direct mail, polling, state-of-the-race memos and even surrogate operations — that were once left mostly to the campaigns and parties.
For military and overseas voters from 47 states and D.C., casting a ballot in 2012 will be a much different — and easier — experience than ever before. Since the 2009 passage of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which called for improved election access for those living or serving abroad, 47 states and D.C. have enacted new laws and reforms to protect this group of voters, the Pew Center on the States study released Friday found. The 2012 election is the first presidential contest where these voters will cast ballots with the newly implemented legislative and administrative changes. Pew found that 38 states and D.C. now have rules meeting or exceeding the MOVE act’s requirement to send absentee ballots no later than 45 days before a federal election, and eight states also moved their primary dates to accommodate that condition.