When Mostafa Zamanian voted last week in Shorewood Hills, Wis., he got lucky: He was in the short line. “Of 19 in hallway, only two of us were N-Z and didn’t have to wait to vote,” he tweeted. Like other places, Mr. Zamanian’s precinct split up voters based on their last names. Those beginning with A to M were steered one way, while those beginning with N to Z were directed elsewhere. Intuitively, that makes sense: It’s the midpoint of the alphabet—so you end up with two equal queues, right? Wrong. In the U.S., surnames are not evenly distributed, and in most places, it’s not even close.
It used to be you would sign on the bottom line, whether it was a check or a credit card receipt or even a love letter. But the art of the signature has become less important and less practiced, and that has meant less certainty for elections officials in several states who are still counting votes from the Nov. 6 midterm elections. Those officials are trying verify that the signatures required on mail-in, provisional, absentee and military ballots match the signature that voters have on file with the board of elections. But signatures change over time — a problem especially for younger voters, says Daniel Smith, a professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Florida. “Let’s say you’re a civically engaged 16-year-old and you preregister to vote in Florida, which you are allowed to do,” Smith tells NPR. “You might have a signature that has a nice heart over the ‘i’ in your name as a 16-year-old, but you come to the University of Florida, you become a sophisticated Gator, and your signature now looks very different.”
County officials in Maryland miscalculated how many ballots they would need on Election Day — and quickly ran out in more than a dozen precincts. In New York City, voters were given a two-sheet ballot that jammed machines and caused delays and long lines. And in Georgia, some voters failed to provide details like a birth year, leading officials to reject hundreds of absentee ballots for “insufficient oath information” before federal judges intervened. Nearly two decades after voting problems in a handful of Florida counties paralyzed the nation, America’s election grid this month remained a crazy patchwork of inconveniences, confusion and errors, both human-made and mechanical. The lumbering system, combined with claims of voter suppression and skewed maps from redistricting, once again tested confidence in the integrity of the vote. As in 2000, no evidence emerged of widespread fraud or political interference. But just finding enough qualified poll workers to make Election Day happen was once again a challenge, as voters navigated more than 100,000 polling places, staffed by 900,000 mostly volunteer workers and administered by some 10,000 local jurisdictions. (After the 2016 election, nearly two-thirds of local elections officials nationwide reported difficulties in recruiting workers.) As in 2000, no evidence emerged of widespread fraud or political interference. But just finding enough qualified poll workers to make Election Day happen was once again a challenge, as voters navigated more than 100,000 polling places, staffed by 900,000 mostly volunteer workers and administered by some 10,000 local jurisdictions. (After the 2016 election, nearly two-thirds of local elections officials nationwide reported difficulties in recruiting workers.) The unevenness of the system across the country — in 22 states, elections at the local level were overseen by just one person — made it a political process open to accusations of manipulation.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments early next year on lawsuits challenging the addition of a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, acting with unusual speed in a politically charged case. The justices will consider the Trump administration’s bid to limit the evidence that can be used in the challenge, which has been the subject of a trial in federal court in New York. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 19. Advocacy organizations and a New York-led group of a dozen states, cities and counties are suing, saying the citizenship question discriminates against immigrants and will reduce accuracy by lessening participation. A census undercount in areas with large numbers of non-citizens could shift congressional districts and federal dollars away from those communities.
Facebook is being hit with fresh criticism from Capitol Hill as lawmakers reacted harshly Thursday to a New York Times investigation that detailed the company’s efforts to wield influence in Washington after becoming aware of Russia-linked activity on its platform during the 2016 presidential campaign. The explosive article laid out how Facebook’s leadership was reluctant to confront the Russian efforts on its platform and was unprepared for the subsequent firestorm and fallout, which involved the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Specifically, the Times reported that the tech giant used a Republican opposition research firm called Definers Public Affairs to accuse liberal financier George Soros of funding some of the groups that were speaking out against Facebook as it faced public scrutiny over its handling of both the Russian disinformation campaigns and the Cambridge Analytica debacle. On Thursday, a group of Senate Democrats — Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Chris Coons (Del.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) — requested that the Justice Department “expand any investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to include whether Facebook — or any other entity affiliated with or hired by Facebook — retaliated against critics or public officials seeking to regulate the platform, or hid vital information from the public.”
More than a week after Election Day, much remains murky in Georgia and Florida. But one thing is clear: Provisional ballots, often forgotten and minimized, will determine the results. Provisional ballots are a proven fail-safe for voters across the country, but their role in the political dramas playing out this week illustrates how the little-understood tool can fall prey to political manipulation. When candidates inaccurately attack provisional ballots as perpetuating voter fraud, they take advantage of a complicated process many Americans don’t understand. And when states decline to count all the provisional ballots or discard some on questionable grounds, then the system doesn’t work for all voters. Created by a federal law in 2002, provisional ballots are supposed to be a protection against administrative and technical errors that prevent registered voters from casting a normal ballot on Election Day. In other circumstances, voters cast a provisional ballot if they go to the wrong polling place or, in some states, forget their photo ID.
In the past few days, election integrity activists got up close to the current generation of ES&S voting machines — close enough to record video of a digital scanner voting machine sending results wirelessly. The ability of the machines to communicate with the outside world has generally not been acknowledged by either the manufacturer or election officials. Yet this wireless link is at the heart of concerns that election results could be hacked or manipulated, “including attacks that could change vote totals and election results,” said Emily Levy, director of communications at the voting transparency group AUDIT-USA. Almost two decades after its starring role in the 2000 Bush v. Gore Florida voting debacle, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office is still the centerfold for election integrity issues — not just in Florida but in the country as a whole.
National: Counting change: The battle over a citizenship question on the 2020 census heats up | The Economist
Only six sentences into America’s constitution, the founders instructed Congress to conduct, within three years of its first meeting, an “actual enumeration” of people living in each state as well as additional headcounts “within every subsequent term of ten years”. But the decennial census involves much more than raw numbers. A state’s share of the national population determines how many seats in the House of Representatives—and how many electoral votes in presidential elections—it will control. It also dictates how $650bn in federal funds for services like education, road-building and disaster relief are divvied up among states and localities. Every decade, the census brings angst for states that fear they may lose congressional representation and excitement for those hoping to pick up a seat or two. But the looming 2020 census (America’s 24th) has caused particular concern, over what Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella immigrant-rights organisation, calls a “more than fishy” decision to include a new question: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
National: What Happens When Politicians Who Oversee Elections Are Also the Candidates? | The New York Times
It was only a week ago that Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida and candidate for the United States Senate, claimed on television that “rampant fraud” was perhaps imperiling his election to Congress, and that he was asking the state Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. Earlier in the day, at the Georgia State Capitol, Secretary of State Brian Kemp defended his decision to oversee an acrimonious election in which he was a candidate for governor and, by his own preliminary assessment, a victorious one. The elections in the Southeast’s two most populous states remained undecided Wednesday, more than a week after the balloting, embroiled in lawsuits and accusations. Much of the turmoil is attributable to the high-profile political prizes at stake. But some can be traced to decisions by Mr. Scott and Mr. Kemp to mix, by design or duty, their public roles with their political lives.
National: Why we’re still waiting for election results from Florida and Georgia — and why newly counted ballots favor Democrats | The Washington Post
It’s been a week since Election Day, and we’re still awaiting results from Florida and Georgia, where nationally prominent races are too close to call. Since Election Day, an additional 50,000 votes have been counted in Florida, narrowing the lead for Republican Gov. Rick Scott over Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in the Senate race, and for Republican Ron DeSantis over Democrat Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial contest. Both races are headed to a recount. In Georgia, nearly 150,000 votes have been added to the election night tally, cutting the lead of Republican Brian Kemp in half over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the contest for governor. That contest, too, may be headed for a recount. Across the country, in Arizona, a close-but-comfortable election night lead for Republican senatorial candidate Martha McSally was transformed a week later into a victory for her Democratic opponent, Kyrsten Sinema, as an additional 800,000 ballots were counted, and the results flipped.
National: What a lost Florida ballot says about how difficult it is for U.S. citizens abroad to vote | The Washington Post
With time officially running out Thursday at 8 p.m., Florida counties are in the midst of a dramatic recount to determine the winners in three statewide races. One week after the midterm elections, the outcome of several key votes is still unclear, which has triggered comparisons with the 2000 recount of Florida votes during the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. It’s likely that the uncertainty may drag on even longer than first estimated, as several counties have asked for extensions. Ballots mailed from abroad are being counted until Friday. But Amalee McCoy’s won’t be among them. The 42-year-old U.S. citizen who has lived abroad for almost three decades sent in her ballot from Thailand on Oct. 17, using registered mail. “We kept a copy of the tracking number as I was concerned about reports of voter suppression during early voting already happening in the news,” said McCoy, who lives in Bangkok but votes in Osceola County, Fla. In previous years, voting from abroad posed few challenges, she said. But this year, things went differently.
National: Key contests in Florida and Georgia remain mired in uncertainty amid expanding legal fights over ballot counts | The Washington Post
One week after Election Day, high-stakes contests in Florida and Georgia remained mired in uncertainty amid expanding legal fights and political wrangling that could further prolong the counting of ballots. In Florida, where elections officials are conducting machine recounts in the races for Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed a suit in federal court Tuesday evening seeking to extend the deadline to finish the count in all 67 counties.Separately, Nelson and the state party went to court to try to loosen the rules for a manual recount as both parties braced for the ultra-close Senate race to come down to a hand inspection of ballots.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged Florida elections officials to take as much time as they need to tally votes, even if they blow past a key deadline. He also demanded that Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is narrowly ahead of Nelson in the Senate race, recuse himself from the recount. Scott’s campaign swiftly rejected that notion, which is the subject of a suit expected to be heard in federal court this week. In Georgia, a federal judge late Monday barred the secretary of state’s office from immediately certifying the state election results there to give voters a chance to address questions about their provisional ballots — a move that further prolongs the hard-fought Georgia governor’s race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.
The U.S. intelligence community is launching a first-ever review of potential foreign influence in an election. Although DHS and other federal agencies have said they saw no sign of such interference, the step was mandated by a September executive order. “The Director of National Intelligence will provide an assessment of any foreign interference in our elections within 45 days,” Kellie Wade, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told ABC News in a story late last week. “This assessment will be fully coordinated within the intelligence community, and will be provided to the President and to relevant Cabinet members.”
National: Russian Hackers Largely Skipped the Midterms, and No One Really Knows Why | Wall Street Journal
After unleashing widespread cyberattacks and disinformation warfare on the U.S. during the 2016 presidential election, Russia’s trolls and hackers mostly appeared to have sat on the sidelines during the campaign ahead of last week’s midterm elections. No one is sure why. Federal agencies, state election officials and social-media companies spent the past two years working to bulletproof voting systems and better address online disinformation in preparation for Election Day. Voting largely came and went without major incident, according to U.S. officials and cybersecurity companies looking for evidence of Russian interference. Several factors may have reduced Moscow’s impact. Clint Watts, a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the diffuse nature of congressional and state races makes them a harder target than a single presidential election.
Amid the recounts, recriminations and allegations of voter suppression or ballot fraud, something else happened in Tuesday’s elections — a wave of actions aimed at making voting easier and fairer that is an often-overlooked strain in the nation’s voting wars. Floridians extended voting rights to 1.4 million convicted felons. Maryland, Nevada and Michigan were among states that made it easier to register and vote. Michigan, along with Colorado and Missouri, limited politicians’ ability to directly draw, and gerrymander, district lines. Utah, where votes are still being tallied, appears poised to do the same. It was as if states around the country were pulled in two directions at once — with measures aimed at broadening voter participation coming on the heels of recent laws and regulations making it harder to register and vote. Still, for all the charges and countercharges on voter suppression, most of the momentum Tuesday was on measures quite likely to broaden voter participation and limit gerrymanders.
Though an estimated 113 million US citizens got to vote in the midterms, thousands more were left out — unable to vote or even register because of laws that consider them mentally incapable of doing so. These state laws affect the thousands of adults in the US under guardianship — people who, because of a disability, have been determined legally to be incapable of performing necessary daily tasks for themselves, and therefore are in need of a guardian to help them. The status of their right to vote — much as for convicted felons — is determined by the state they live in. However, unlike the widely publicized disenfranchisement of felons, many people are unaware of the problems facing those under guardianship. “This is an issue that, for the large part, I think, flies under the radar if you are not working on it,” Michelle Bishop, voting rights specialist for the National Disability Rights network, told WhoWhatWhy. “It’s not being talked about. The average American doesn’t know this type of thing happens, that you can have your right to vote denied based on having a disability.”
Security gaps similar to, but much less porous than, those in Georgia’s voter registration system have been identified in Washington state, potentially providing bad actors ways to foul citizens’ eligibility to cast ballots in last week’s elections, cyber experts say. And states such as North Carolina, which make their voter registration data widely available, could enable someone to change voters’ data by mail, they said. Officials in both Washington and North Carolina expressed confidence they would spot any widespread tampering with voter registration records. “Voters can rest assured that Washington’s election system is secure,” says the website of its secretary of state. However, the cyber experts said Washington appears to have failed to plug all the holes after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned last year that Russian cyber operatives had downloaded voter records from Illinois’ database in advance of the 2016 presidential election and attempted to do so in 20 other states. In “a small number of states,” the Russians “were in a position to” alter or delete voter registration information, the Senate Intelligence Committee said last May.
While the midterm elections appear to have avoided any major problems with foreign interference, voters and poll monitoring groups across the country reported hours-long lines, unexpected delays in opening polling places, and technical issues with voting machines. “We received reports quite quickly on election day of a number of polling sites in Harris County, which is the home of Houston, of polling sites not only not being open at 7 a.m. but of significant delays,” says James Slattery, senior staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which won a court order keeping polls open late at locations with delayed openings. … Experts say it’s not surprising that technical problems popped up at polling places—after all, many states and local jurisdictions are still running systems purchased under the federal Help America Vote Act, a law passed by Congress in 2002 in wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Democrats will take control of the U.S. House in January with big items topping their legislative to-do list: Remove obstacles to voting, close loopholes in government ethics law and reduce the influence of political money. Party leaders say the first legislative vote in the House will come on H.R. 1, a magnum opus of provisions that Democrats believe will strengthen U.S. democratic institutions and traditions. “It’s three very basic things that I think the public wants to see,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who spearheads campaign finance and government ethics efforts for the House Democratic Caucus. He said H.R. 1 will “demonstrate that we hear that message loud and clear.” But even Sarbanes admits the quick vote is just a first step. Republicans, who control the Senate, are unlikely to pass the bill and President Trump is unlikely to sign it. “Give us the gavel in the Senate in 2020 and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” Sarbanes said. “Give us a pen in the Oval Office and we’ll sign those kinds of reforms into law.”
National: Election Day Was Filled With Frustrations, Claims of Mischief and Glimmers of Hope | ProPublica
Election Day in America brought its familiar mix of misery and allegations of mischief: Aging voting machines crashed; rain-soaked citizens stood in endless lines; laws that many regarded as attempts to suppress turnout among people of color led to both confusion at the polls and angry calls for recounts and investigations. The root causes have been at play for years. The neglect of America’s elections infrastructure, after all, has persisted, and all levels of government are responsible. And since the Supreme Court in 2013 voided a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, local governments have been emboldened in crafting hotly debated requirements for people to cast their ballots. But that is not the whole story of what happened last Tuesday. A handful of states had ballot measures aimed at making it easier for people to vote or designed to take some of the politics out of how the country’s electoral districts are drawn up. In nearly every case, Americans seized the opportunity — with what the vote totals suggest was enthusiasm.
Election experts have long warned about the nation’s aging fleet of voting equipment. This week’s elections underscored just how badly upgrades are needed. Across the country, reports poured in Tuesday amid heavy voter turnout of equipment failing or malfunctioning, triggering frustration among voters and long lines at polling places. Scanners used to record ballots broke down in New York City. Voting machines stalled or stopped working in Detroit. Electronic poll books used to check in voters failed in Georgia. Machines failed to read ballots in Wake County, North Carolina, as officials blamed humidity and lengthy ballots. Those problems followed a busy early voting period that revealed other concerns, including machines that altered voters’ choices in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.
An unprecedented federal and state collaboration to defend election systems against Russian interference ended with no obvious voting system compromises, although it’s not entirely clear why. Federal officials are wondering whether foreign agents are saving their ammunition for the 2020 presidential showdown or planning a late-stage misinformation campaign to claim Tuesday’s election had been tainted. It doesn’t change how vulnerable most states are to possible interference. “They’ve shown will, they’ve shown the capability,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said. “I certainly can’t speak to why they’re doing or not doing something. But I would just offer to put it in a broader perspective — they have a full-court press through many means … to try to affect our democracy.” In a news conference Wednesday after Democrats won control of the House, President Donald Trump said his administration worked hard to shore up elections and he’d issue a report soon on the effort.
As the country digests the results of this year’s midterm elections, the concerns that were raised about the potential risk of cybersecurity threats to our voting systems remain. This year, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 to make nearly $400 million available to the states to improve their administration of federal elections. I’ve met with secretaries of state, state IT leaders and local government officials across the country who were intensely focused on how to use this assistance to shore up election systems cybersecurity. Having served in state IT leadership for much of my career, I know how important it is to spend resources wisely and emphasize solutions that address the core issues of a challenge, versus simply applying a Band-Aid to solve it. Because our voting system is multifaceted, potential solutions to the election security challenge require a deeper focus on infrastructure. Even though the election is over, states should see election security as a year-round effort. States are the architects and supervisors of their respective election systems, and they execute this important constituent service in varying ways. Some states vote exclusively by mail, while others rely exclusively on electronic voting machines. Other states have a combination of voting options available to constituents in different localities.
Experts this week warned against entertaining the idea that blockchain could fix the voting system despite growing frustration with the long lines and malfunctioning machines that caused problems during the midterm election. “If you’re trying to convince Walmart it needs blockchains to track avocados or whatever, be our guest,” Arvind Narayanan, an associate professor of computer science at Princeton, tweeted. “But if you’re messing with critical infrastructure, you’ve crossed a line.” Blockchain is technology that uses computers to build a shared, secure and decentralized digital ledger. Blockchain is best known as the basis for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin but in recent years has attracted interest from a variety of industries that see a benefit in using the ideas behind blockchain.
The Homeland Security Department wants to surge its ability to train critical infrastructure owners and operators on cybersecurity, according to a contracting document released Wednesday. The department is seeking a video conferencing service that it can use to provide cybersecurity webinars to 5,000 or more critical infrastructure operators simultaneously, according to the contracting document. The term critical infrastructure refers to 16 sectors the government has determined are vital to the nation’s successful operation. They include hospitals, banks, energy plants, dams and transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. The department officially designated election infrastructure, such as voting machines and voter rolls, critical infrastructure in January 2017, after Russian efforts to breach those systems during the 2016 elections.
The Democrats’ top cybersecurity boss said he cannot guarantee the midterm elections earlier this week were hack-free. “Good news is we didn’t hear very much on that day,” said Raffi Krikorian, the chief technology officer of the Democratic National Committee, on Thursday. “But remember, any sophisticated attack is not something we’re going to detect today. It’s something we’re going to detect a few days from now, or a few weeks … or a few months from now, as we go through our logs and try to understand what really happened.” Krikorian made his first public remarks since the US midterms at the annual Web Summit tech event in Lisbon, Portugal. Krikorian leads a team of 35 technology and security specialists tasked with protecting the Democrats and the party’s tech infrastructure. He was previously a top executive at Uber and pioneered self-driving technology at the ride-sharing company. Prior to Uber, he worked as a top engineering executive at Twitter (TWTR).
After celebration of historic wins by diverse candidates, the other big online trend for the US mid-term election was claims of massive and deliberate vote suppression. Reddit’s top post was an unverified video of apparent errors at a ballot machine in Indiana, while reports of hours-long queues, broken ballot machines and intimidation spread on Twitter and Facebook. A Google map of live election-related searches showed spikes in interest in provisional ballots and long waiting lines across the country. And in Florida, a church that serves as a polling station was criticised after posting a sign discouraging voters to choose Democrats, reported local media. Some reported cases were simple technical errors. In Ohio, one widely-shared claim of vote rigging turned out to be caused by a temporary paper jam.
Voting rights activists are celebrating after voters in three states approved sweeping election reforms in Tuesday’s midterm elections. Voters in Florida, Michigan and Nevada all passed major reforms to their states’ election systems, which will make voting easier and extend ballot access to millions of new voters. Florida’s Amendment 4, approved by 64 percent of voters, will restore voting rights to more than 1 million residents convicted of certain felonies. About 10 percent of Florida adults will be newly eligible to vote, of which a disproportionate number are African-Americans. Meanwhile, Nevada and Michigan both passed automatic voter registration measures Tuesday, meaning residents in future elections will be added to voting rolls when they obtain or renew a driver’s license or conduct other business with the state, unless they opt out.
National: Foreign adversaries will ‘continue to push misinformation’ after Election Day, official says | The Washington Post
Election Day is over, but government officials are still watching out for potential interference in the political process after detecting online disinformation that was meant to undermine yesterday’s midterms. Foreign adversaries will “continue to push misinformation” even after the election results are fully reported, a Department of Homeland Security official told reporters in a series of briefings on election security that lasted well into the night. While DHS made clear it did not detect any breaches that would affect the casting or counting of votes, the official expressed concerns that bad actors could create the perception that the election was not secure — or “enhancing or overstating” how successful hacking attempts were. “We’re talking about propaganda machines,” the official said, “that are trying to divide the American people and undermine their confidence in election systems.”
National: Threats remain to US voting system – and voters’ perceptions of reality | The Conversation
As the 2018 midterms proceed, there are still significant risks to the integrity of the voting system – and information warfare continues to try to influence the American public’s choices when they cast their ballots. On the day of the election, there were a number of early hitches in voting at individual polling places, such as polling places opening late and vote-counting machines not plugged in. But there seem not – at least not yet – to be major problems across the country. However, not all the election-related news and information voters have been encountering in recent days and weeks is accurate, and some of it is deliberately misleading. As this election’s results come back, they will reveal whether the misinformation and propaganda campaigns conducted alongside the political ones were effective. America’s electoral process remains highly fragmented, because of the country’s cherished tradition of decentralized government and local control. While this may leave some individual communities’ voting equipment potentially vulnerable to attack, the nation’s voting process overall may be more trustworthy as a result of this fragmentation. With no unified government agency or office to provide, administer and protect election technologies, there’s not one central national element that could fail or be attacked.