Hoping to counter waves of Russian Twitter bots, fake social media accounts, and hacking attacks aimed at undermining American democracy, state election officials around the country are seizing on an old-school strategy: paper ballots. In Virginia, election officials have gone back to a paper ballot system, as a way to prevent any foreign interference. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe this month ordered county officials to ensure new election equipment produces a paper record. Georgia lawmakers are considering legislation to replace a touch-screen voting system with paper.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday touted the department’s effort to engage with state and local officials on guarding U.S. voting infrastructure from cyber threats, stressing that public trust in vote counts “relies on secure election infrastructure.” Nielsen issued the statement highlighting the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) recent meetings with state and local election officials, which included classified briefings from U.S. intelligence officials on cyber threats to U.S. voting infrastructure. “The American public’s confidence that their vote counts — and is counted correctly — relies on secure election infrastructure,” Nielsen said Tuesday.
State election officials in the nation’s capital for a conference received classified briefings on the cybersecurity of election systems from officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community and law enforcement, according to official readouts of the meetings. A DHS account of the briefings for members of the National Association for Secretaries of State (NASS) and the National Association of State Election Directors stated they “focused on increasing awareness of foreign adversary intent and capabilities against the states’ election infrastructure, as well as a discussion of threat mitigation efforts.” Not only did DHS talk with secretaries from all 50 states, the agency briefed the newly formed, private-sector, industry-centered Sector Coordinating Council for the Election Infrastructure Subsector.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment detailing the Russian social media campaign to aid Donald Trump, undermine Hillary Clinton and sow distrust in American politics describes behavior that aides to Bernie Sanders witnessed firsthand in the waning weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, the senator said Tuesday. In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Sanders described how an aide handling his social media accounts noticed an uptick in “horrific and ugly things” directed at Clinton beginning around September 2016 — long after the Democratic nomination had been decided, and while Sanders himself was traveling the country campaigning on her behalf. “In many respects, what Mueller’s report tells us is not new to us,” Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, said. “We knew that they were trying to sow division within the American people. In my case, it was to tell Bernie supporters that Hillary Clinton is a criminal, that Hillary Clinton is crazy, that Hillary Clinton is sick — terrible, terrible ugly stuff — and to have Bernie Sanders supporters either vote for Trump or Jill Stein or not vote at all.”
Top election officials from across the country grappled with a delicate question this weekend: How do you tackle the threat of election interference, and be transparent in doing so, without further eroding the public’s trust in the voting process? “I’m always trying to straddle the line between sounding the alarm on this issue and being alarmist,” said Steve Simon, Minnesota’s Secretary of State. The four-day annual meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, which featured a new classified briefing from national intelligence officials, came at the end of an extraordinary week. On Tuesday, the nation’s top intelligence officials told Congress to expect Russian interference in the upcoming midterm elections and beyond. Three days later, the Justice Department’s Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, filed an indictment against 13 Russians, which laid out in granular detail the size, scope, and complexity of a covert Russian disinformation campaign in 2016.
Ten months before the United States votes in its first major election since the 2016 presidential contest, U.S. state election officials huddled in Washington this weekend to swap strategies on dealing with an uninvited guest: Russia. A pair of conferences usually devoted to staid topics about election administration were instead packed with sessions dedicated to fending off election cyber attacks from Russia or others, as federal authorities tried to portray confidence while pleading with some states to take the threat more seriously. “Everyone in this room understands that what we are facing from foreign adversaries, particularly Russia, is real,” Chris Krebs, a senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told an audience of secretaries of state, who in many states oversee elections. Russia, he added, is “using a range of tools against us.”
More than 15 months after a general election that was stained by covert Russian interference, the chief election officials of some states say they are still not getting the information they need to safeguard the vote. They say the federal government is not sharing specifics about threats to registered voter databases, voting machines, communication networks and other systems that could be vulnerable to hacking and manipulation. In some cases, the election officials say they have no legal access to the information: After a year of effort, only 21 of them have received clearance to review classified federal information on election threats. Top federal officials have promised to do better. Still, some leaders worry that there will not be enough time to protect the integrity of the midterm election season, which will kick off in some states in the next few weeks. “It’s not about 2020, it’s not about November 2018 — it’s about primaries that are upon us now,” said Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state.
National: States move to protect voting systems from Russia with little help from Congress | USA Today
With the first congressional primary less than three weeks away, state election officials are ramping up efforts to protect their voting systems from cyber attacks as the nation’s intelligence officials warn that Russia will once again try to meddle in U.S. elections. Some states are moving to protect election data by encrypting their systems to thwart hackers, while others are asking the Department of Homeland Security to check their systems for vulnerabilities. Their actions come in the wake of revelations by homeland security officials last year that Russian hackers tried to break into the election systems of 21 states in 2016. Although no actual votes were changed, hackers did breach Illinois’ voter registration database.
State elections officials said Saturday that they want more information from federal officials to ensure they are protected from cybersecurity threats in light of evidence that foreign operatives plan to try to interfere in the midterm elections. At a conference of state secretaries of state in Washington, several officials said the government was slow to share information about specific threats faced by states during the 2016 election. According to the Department of Homeland Security, Russian government hackers tried to gain access to voter registration files or public election sites in 21 states. Although the hackers are not believed to have manipulated or removed data from state systems, experts worry that the attackers might be more successful this year. And state officials say reticence on the part of Homeland Security to share sensitive information about the incidents could hamper efforts to prepare for the midterms.
National: Election Officials Convene in D.C. Amid Continued Friction Over Voting Security, Russian Propaganda Concerns | Washington Free Beacon
Top election officials from around the country will be meeting in Washington, D.C., this weekend amid a flurry of news reports and political debates over the last two weeks about election security. Because administering elections is a function of the states and not the federal government, state and federal officials have appeared in tension as hearings on Capitol Hill continue to suggest the federal government wants a greater role in providing security and oversight. With the intense public scrutiny on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections, many of the secretaries of state say they have found themselves in a constant battle of dispelling myths about voting security and rebutting media reports, while walking a delicate balance accepting federal help on issues such as cybersecurity while also preserving the autonomy given to states by the Constitution.
National: National security adviser sees proof of Russian hacking as ‘incontrovertible,’ prompting rebuke from Trump | The Washington Post
U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster acknowledged Saturday that evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is “incontrovertible” but said Moscow’s campaign to divide the West through subterfuge was failing. “It’s just not working,” he said. The comments, a day after the Justice Department indicted 13 Russians on charges of interference in the election that catapulted Donald Trump to the White House, follow months of efforts by the president to cast doubt on assertions of Moscow’s interference .
National: Amidst Election Security Worries, Suddenly Paper Ballots Are Making a Comeback | The Intercept
The nations Secretaries of state gathered for a multi-day National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) conference in Washington, D.C., this weekend, with cybersecurity on the mind. Panels and lectures centered around the integrity of America’s election process, with the federal probe into alleged Russian government attempts to penetrate voting systems a frequent topic of…
National: US wants to add citizenship query to census, but group of states and DC protest | Associated Press
It’s been nearly 70 years since census-takers last asked all residents in the nation whether they were U.S. citizens. Now the Trump administration’s Justice Department wants to reinstate the citizenship question for the 2020 census and says doing so would improve voting-rights enforcement. But California, other Democratic-majority states and immigrant advocates see a more sinister purpose: to reduce census participation by intimidating undocumented immigrants and their families, and thereby lowering population counts that are the basis for determining the number of a state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Thirteen Russians have been criminally charged for interfering in the 2016 US election to help Donald Trump, the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, announced on Friday. Mueller’s office said 13 Russians and three Russian entities, including the notorious state-backed “troll farm” the Internet Research Agency, had been indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington DC. A 37-page indictment alleged that the Russians’ operations “included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” his Democratic opponent. Mueller alleged that Russian operatives “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign”, but the indictment did not address the question of whether anyone else in Trump’s team had knowingly colluded. … The Russians allegedly posed as Americans to operate bogus social media accounts, buy advertisements and stage political rallies. They stole the identities of real people in the US to post online and built computer systems in the US to hide the Russian origin of their activity, according prosecutors.
National: As foreign hackers plot next attack, Washington struggles to shore up vulnerable voting systems | Los Angeles Times
Even as it is consumed by political fallout from Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Washington is still struggling to respond to what many officials see as an imminent national security threat: a network of voting systems alarmingly vulnerable to foreign attack. As hackers abroad plot increasingly brazen and sophisticated assaults, the United States’ creaky polling stations and outdated voter registration technology are not up to the task of fighting them off, according to elections officials and independent experts. Senior national security officials have repeatedly said that the United States should prepare for more foreign efforts to interfere with elections. On Tuesday, President Trump’s top intelligence advisor warned a Senate committee that Russia is moving to build on its earlier efforts to interfere with U.S. elections, which included a sustained campaign of propaganda and the unleashing of cyberoperatives.
There’s a Catch-22 when it comes to whether Congress will address the issue of voting security in time for this year’s elections. On the one hand, the threat posed by Russian hackers has brought significant attention to the issue, leading to the introduction of several pieces of bipartisan legislation to boost the nation’s cybersecurity. But some congressional Republicans worry that raising the Russian threat could call into question the legitimacy of President Trump’s election, so they don’t want to touch it. … Academic researchers and hackers at last year’s DefCon hacking conference showed that voting machines can be penetrated easily, often within minutes. The exercise drew considerable attention, but Lawson emphasizes that the experiment’s results wouldn’t be replicated in real-world conditions. Most of the machines at the conference weren’t certified for use in the U.S., she says, while poll workers would have to be napping for hackers to open them up.
With the threat of Russian interference continuing to loom over American elections, U.S. intelligence authorities are arming state officials with classified updates on risks to their electoral systems ahead of this year’s midterm races. Election officials from all 50 states will receive classified briefings on Friday and Sunday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement on Thursday. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will join in the sessions. The meetings follow a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, where Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers that this year’s elections were a “potential target” for Russian interference. But he acknowledged under questioning that “there’s no single agency in charge” of blocking such meddling even after Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The admission by President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer that he sent $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, who once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, has raised potential legal questions ranging from breach of contract to ethics violations. The lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, told The New York Times on Tuesday that he had used his own funds to facilitate the payment to the actress, Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, adding that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign had reimbursed him for the payment. He insisted that the payment was legal. The Wall Street Journal first reported last month that Mr. Cohen had arranged the payment soon before the 2016 election, as Ms. Clifford was considering speaking publicly about the purported affair.
National: Democratic Task Force Outlines Voting Security Plan, With First Primary Just Weeks Away | WIRED
In recent weeks, intelligence officials have said clearly that Russia will likely meddle again in the 2018 midterm election season—which begins in Texas in less than three weeks. United States election systems, though, have not yet adequately improved defenses since the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, House Democrats outlined a last-ditch effort to step up security while there’s still some time. The Congressional Task Force on Election Security—which counts not a single Republican among its members—announced a findings report and new bill outlining a comprehensive plan for funding and enforcing minimum security standards for all US election systems. Three other election security bills have already been introduced, but neither the Senate nor the House has held an election security hearing so far. President Donald Trump’s continuing skepticism that Russia interfered in the 2016 election process has also slowed momentum.
A Democratic congressional task force convened to study U.S. election security on Wednesday unveiled new legislation to help protect voting infrastructure from foreign interference. The legislation would authorize more than $1 billion in federal grants to help states replace outdated voting technology, train employees in cybersecurity and conduct audits of elections to ensure the accuracy of their result. It represents the latest push in Congress to address Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election through legislation and follows bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate to address election vulnerabilities and deter future foreign meddling.
National: State and local election infrastructure vulnerable to attacks ahead of midterm elections, Democrats warn in new report | ABC
State and local election systems remain vulnerable to outside attacks ahead of the upcoming midterm elections, House Democrats warned in a new report obtained by ABC News. The final report issued by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security, a Democratic working group formed last summer by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calls for increased federal resources to protect local and state election systems and replace aging infrastructure and new regulations to help election technology vendors to improve security. The House Democratic effort is being released after the nation’s top intelligence officials Tuesday warned in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that Russia is actively working to interfere in the 2018 elections.
National: Russia Sees Midterm Elections as Chance to Sow Fresh Discord, Intelligence Chiefs Warn | The New York Times
Russia is already meddling in the midterm elections this year, the top American intelligence officials said on Tuesday, warning that Moscow is using a digital strategy to worsen the country’s political and social divisions. Russia is using fake accounts on social media — many of them bots — to spread disinformation, the officials said. European elections are being targeted, too, and the attacks were not likely to end this year, they warned. “We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee at its annual hearing on worldwide threats.
In Pennsylvania, a Republican lawmaker unhappy with a State Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering wants to impeach the Democratic justices who authored it. In Iowa, a running dispute over allowing firearms in courthouses has prompted bills by Republican sponsors to slash judges’ pay and require them to personally pay rent for courtrooms that are gun-free. In North Carolina, the Republican Party is working on sweeping changes to rein in state courts that have repeatedly undercut or blocked laws passed by the legislature. Rather than simply fighting judicial rulings, elected officials in some states across the country — largely Republicans, but Democrats as well — are increasingly seeking to punish or restrain judges who hand down unfavorable decisions, accusing them of making law instead of interpreting it.
America’s adversaries are circling like coyotes just beyond the light from the campfire, top intelligence officials warn — but that’s not the scariest thing to some members of the Senate intelligence committee. What bothers them is the need to convince people the coyotes are there. “My problem is, I talk to people in Maine who say, ‘the whole thing is a witch hunt and it’s a hoax,’ because that’s what the president told me,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. The leaders of the U.S. intelligence community gave bleak evidence on Tuesday about the ongoing threat Russia poses to Western democracies — among many other threats around the world. King contrasted that with the frequent denials and equivocations about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by President Trump and the White House, which King said have led to a major disparity in belief around the country.
With the first primaries of the 2018 elections less than a month away, you might expect federal officials to be wrapping up efforts to safeguard the vote against expected Russian interference. You’d be wrong. Federal efforts to help states button down elections systems have crawled, hamstrung in part by wariness of federal meddling. Just 14 states and three local election agencies have so far asked for detailed vulnerability assessments offered by the Department of Homeland Security — and only five of the two-week examinations are complete. Illinois, for instance —one of two states where voter registration databases were breached in 2016 — requested an assessment in January and is still waiting. Primary voters go to the polls there March 20; state officials can’t say whether the assessment will happen beforehand. DHS says the assessments should be finished by mid-April.
National: As foreign hackers plot next attack, Washington struggles to shore up voting systems | Tribune News Service
Even as it is consumed by political fallout from Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Washington is still struggling to respond to what many officials see as an imminent national security threat: a network of voting systems alarmingly vulnerable to foreign attack. As hackers abroad plot increasingly brazen and sophisticated assaults, the United States’ creaky polling stations and outdated voter registration technology are not up to the task of fighting them off, according to elections officials and independent experts. Senior national security officials have repeatedly said that the U.S. should prepare for more foreign efforts to interfere with elections. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s top intelligence adviser warned a Senate committee that Russia is moving to build on its earlier efforts to interfere with U.S. elections, which included a sustained campaign of propaganda and the unleashing of cyberoperatives.
Three of the nation’s top intelligence officials said Tuesday that the U.S. has seen Russian activity aimed at meddling in the upcoming midterm elections. “We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Senate intelligence committee. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, agreed. They didn’t describe the activity, other than to say it was related to information warfare. They told Congress that they would provide more details in a classified session later in the day. The intelligence officials said the information will be shared with state and local governments and state election officials.
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday said President Trump hasn’t directed him to stop Russian efforts to interfere in this year’s midterm elections. “We’re taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt Russian efforts,” Wray said when Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked if he’d been directed by Trump to do so. “As directed by the president?” Reed interjected. “Not as specifically directed by the president,” Wray responded.
As the Census Bureau finalizes the questions for the 2020 census, key voices in the Trump administration are pressing for surveyors to ask one critical question: Are you a United States citizen? Advocates of the so-called citizenship question say it is merely clerical, an effort to ascertain how many noncitizens reside in the United States. But the question would have broad ramifications, not only for the politics of redistricting that will emerge from the census but for an issue that goes beyond partisanship: public health. The fear is that immigrants — even ones in the country legally — will not participate in any government-sponsored questionnaire that could expose them, their family members or friends to deportation. But low response rates from any demographic group would undermine the validity of the next decade of health statistics and programs, health experts warn. Scientists use census data to understand the distribution of health conditions across the United States population. In turn, officials use the data to target interventions and distribute federal funding.
National: State Voting Systems Remain Vulnerable to Hackers Ahead of Midterm Elections, Report Reveals | Associated Press
With less than nine months until midterm elections, states still have a long way to go to protect their voting systems from security threats, according to a new report released Monday by the Center for American Progress. Following the nation’s 2016 elections, in which hackers targeted 21 states and breached Illinois’ voter registration system, states are racing against the clock to improve their election infrastructure. In 2017, Colorado became the first state to require risk-limiting post-election audits. Weeks ahead of its November elections, Virginia quickly switched from electronic voting machines to a paper ballot voting system. And many states are working hand in hand on the issue with the Department of Homeland Security or the National Guard. Still, no state received an A in Monday’s report, which evaluates how efficiently states (and D.C.) are protecting their elections from hacking and machine malfunction. Eleven states – including Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and New York– received a B, 23 states received a C and 17 states received a D or an F.