If anyone knows how easily voting can be disrupted, it’s a county election supervisor in the state of Florida. That’s one reason several dozen of them gathered in Orlando recently to discuss ways to protect against the most recent threat — cyberattacks by Russia or others intent on disrupting U.S. elections. Marion County elections supervisor Wesley Wilcox said he realizes the threat has evolved far beyond the butterfly ballots and hanging chads that upended the 2000 presidential race. And even beyond the lone hacker. “It’s no longer the teenager in his basement eating Cheetos that’s trying to get into my system,” said Wilcox. “There are now nation states that are, in a coordinated effort, trying to do something.” CIA Director Mike Pompeo is the latest intelligence official to warn the Russians will likely try to interfere in this year’s elections, as they did in 2016. And Florida was among at least 21 states that intelligence agencies say had their election systems probed by Russian hackers during the last election cycle.
House Democrats on Thursday urged the Judiciary Committee to hold “immediate hearings” on the cyber threats facing America’s electoral system. The gatherings are necessary because the Justice Department “appears to have taken little — if any — action to secure our election systems” in the wake of a 2016 digital meddling campaign that intelligence officials have pinned on Russia, said Democrats on the panel in a letter sent to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). The request is the latest in a string of Democratic actions meant to pressure Republicans on Moscow’s election meddling.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to issue a report on vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system — the first such product of the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the intelligence committee is working on the report and hopes to complete it by March. Even after it’s completed, however, the report will still need to be vetted to ensure that it does not put classified information at risk. Still, the committee hopes to release the document ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Journal that the report will “hopefully” be released before the primaries begin.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sounded an alarm this week: The Russians are already meddling in the 2018 midterm elections. “The point is that if their intention is to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that,” Tillerson told Fox News. “I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia, look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it, and you need to stop.” A new poll shows that a clear majority of Americans believe Russia will try to meddle in the next U.S. election. But Tillerson also noted that Russia’s tactics for interfering in U.S. politics are constantly changing. A bipartisan effort is shedding new light on how Russian methods evolve.
A U.S. cybersecurity official said Wednesday that Russia “successfully penetrated” the voter rolls in a small number of states in 2016. Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told NBC News that Russia targeted 21 states and “an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” DHS previously notified the 21 states that Russia had attempted to hack their elections systems before the 2016 election. It was Manfra who first revealed to the Senate Intelligence Committee last June that the states had their systems targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the election.
Lee Goodman, a Republican appointee to the Federal Election Commission, announced his resignation Wednesday, leaving the deeply divided panel with a bare quorum to conduct business. Goodman, who has pushed for less regulation of money in politics during his four years on the panel, will rejoin the Washington-based law firm Wiley Rein, which specializes in election law and government ethics. His last day at the FEC will be Feb. 16. With Goodman’s departure, the FEC has a bare-minimum quorum of four members — two Republicans, one Democrat and one independent — whose unanimous votes are now required to take official action.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that Russia is already trying to meddle in this year’s midterm elections in the U.S. “If it’s their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. We can take steps we can take but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to preempt it,” Tillerson told Fox News. Tillerson said it’s important for the U.S. to confront Russia about interfering in American elections instead of turning a blind eye.
National: Air Force streamlines voting program to help optimize Airmen’s core missions | U.S. Air Force
Air Force officials recently released guidance that streamlines the organizational structure and functions of the Air Force Voting Assistance Program. A November 2017 Air Force guidance memorandum realigned the program under installation Airman and Family Readiness Centers, thereby eliminating voting assistance officers as an additional duty at Air Force units. The move is part of an Air Force-wide effort to reduce Airmen’s additional duties so they can more effectively focus on their core missions.
Three years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., 13 black members of Congress formed a group to tackle issues affecting their districts and constituents. Today, the Congressional Black Caucus has a record 48 members. Many say they’re fighting some of the same battles that the group’s founders fought nearly five decades ago. “There has been some progress. I don’t think that any of us would have thought … that in 2008 this country could elect an African-American president,” says Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat from Alabama. “But I think that we have to be ever vigilant fighting for jobs and justice. Those issues are still very much at the forefront today.” “I do believe that Martin Luther King’s life, and his legacy, was not in vain.”
Congressional lawmakers, mayors and civil rights activists are ramping up efforts to urge federal officials to reject a request to include a controversial question about citizenship in the upcoming Census. With only weeks before the deadline to submit questions for the 2020 Census, the groups are calling on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to turn down a request from the Justice Department to ask respondents if they are citizens. “This is not the time to parachute in and try to throw something in at the last minute, particularly something so incendiary that is likely to impact people’s willingness to participate,” said Terry Ao Minnis, director of Census and Voting Programs at Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Monday to make public a classified Democratic memorandum rebutting Republican claims that the F.B.I. and the Justice Department had abused their powers to wiretap a former Trump campaign official, setting up a possible clash with President Trump. The vote gives Mr. Trump five days to review the Democratic memo and determine whether he will try to block its release. A decision to stop it could lead to an ugly standoff between the president, his top law enforcement and intelligence advisers and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump vocally supported the release of the Republicans’ memo last week, declassifying its contents on Friday over the objections of Democrats and his own F.B.I., which issued a rare public statement to warn that it had “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy. On Saturday, he claimed, incorrectly, that the memo “totally vindicates” him in the continuing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
A fierce partisan battle over the Justice Department and its role in the Russia investigation moves into its second week Monday as Democrats try to persuade the House Intelligence Committee to release a 10-page rebuttal to a controversial Republican memo alleging surveillance abuse. The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), is expected to offer a motion to release his party’s response to the Republican document during a committee meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday. It was not immediately clear whether Republicans would join Democrats in voting for the document’s release, as some members of the GOP have expressed concerns about its contents. Speaking Sunday on ABC News, Schiff called the GOP memo a “political hit job on the FBI in service of the president.”
The United States is gearing up to conduct its next population census in 2020 but a thorny question on citizenship has ignited controversy even before it has begun. When the decennial national headcount gets under way, census takers may have to ask respondents if they are US citizens, which observers say would discourage some ethnic minorities from participating and undermine the accuracy of the data. Arturo Vargas, head of the NALEO Educational Fund, said surveys have shown as recently as September that test respondents are now experiencing “unprecedented fear of the US government.”
If you thought 2016 was bad, just wait for the sequel. Russian election interference seeped into nearly every aspect of the political landscape two years ago, but many experts are wondering whether upcoming U.S. elections could be worse. “If we do nothing, if we let the mechanics of voting continue to deteriorate, then I am 100 percent sure that we are going to be attacked again in the fullness of time,” said J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan. “And it’s going to make 2016 look quaint by comparison.” … The actual nuts and bolts of how Americans vote are vulnerable for a number of reasons. Older computerized voting machines run older software, which makes them more exposed to potential vulnerabilities. In the case of many states that either use a completely digital or partially digital voting system, they’re ripe for hacking.
With cybersecurity, disinformation and foreign interference all having played a part in the 2016 elections, the clock is ticking for government to shore up security by Election Day 2018. But there are some efforts to better secure the digital aspects of elections underway from the Federal Election Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and on Capitol Hill, even as primary election dates draw near. … Katie Harbath, Facebook’s U.S. politics and government outreach manager, said that “regardless of legislation,” the social media site would be taking some “small steps” to make advertising more transparent, including making advertiser verify their identities, as well as labeling political ads and archiving them for four years. Meanwhile, Candice Hoke, who co-directs the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law’s Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection, said that election systems themselves are at risk of digital interference.
For decades, Kathy Hoell has struggled to vote. Poll workers have told the 62-year-old Nebraskan, who uses a powered wheelchair and has a brain injury that causes her to speak in a strained and raspy voice, that she isn’t smart enough to cast a ballot. They have led her to stairs she couldn’t climb and prevented her from using an accessible voting machine because they hadn’t powered it on. “Basically,” Hoell said, “I’m a second-class citizen.” The barriers Hoell has faced are not unusual for the more than 35 million voting-age Americans with disabilities. As many jurisdictions return to paper ballots to address cybersecurity concerns — nearly half of Americans now vote on paper ballots, counted digitally or by optical scanners — such obstacles are likely to get worse.
National: U.S. ‘taking steps’ to prevent future Russian election interference, Haley says | The Washington Post
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, renewed her attacks on Russia in a speech delivered Thursday to Republican lawmakers as the investigation into President Trump’s campaign reached a new level of intensity. Haley directly acknowledged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, calling it “outrageous” and saying the Trump administration is “taking steps” to prevent a repetition. She also said the Trump administration has been “tougher on Russia than any American administration since Ronald Reagan,” even after the White House took a pass this week on imposing additional sanctions that Congress had requested. “I have no idea what Russia expected from the American elections, but I gotta tell you, they are not happy with what they ended up with,” she said. “And that’s the way it should be, until Russia starts to act like a responsible country.”
Groups wanting to flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives—or keep it in Republican hands—largely won’t benefit immediately from redistricting court decisions ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, election law scholars told Bloomberg Law. Partisan gerrymandering challenges—that is, challenges over how much a state can consider politics in drawing districts—have had historic success recently. Still, it will take several months or longer to sort out the flurry of cases moving through the courts, including the Supreme Court, and even longer to implement any changes. One big exception could be Pennsylvania following a surprise state-court ruling there that could benefit Democrats handsomely next fall if allowed to stand. But time is drawing short for states to redraw districts in other redistricting challenges.
President Trump’s re-election campaign raised $15.2 million in the last three months of last year, and spent $1.2 million on legal fees — with much of the cash going to law firms responding to investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election — according to campaign finance reports. The reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday evening, indicate that Mr. Trump’s campaign and two fund-raising committees it formed with the Republican National Committee — Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again — entered this year with $32.3 million in the bank. That is an unusually large nest egg for a president at this point in a first term, reflecting an earlier and more aggressive start to re-election fund-raising that began almost immediately after Mr. Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in a campaign in which she drastically outspent him. Mr. Trump and his team seem determined not to repeat that.
Last year, Defcon’s Voting Village made headlines for uncovering massive security issues in America’s electronic voting machines. Unsurprisingly, voting-machine makers are working to prevent a repeat performance at this year’s show. According to Voting Village organizers, they’re having a tough time getting their hands on machines for white-hat hackers to test at the next Defcon event in Las Vegas (held in August). That’s because voting-machine makers are scrambling to get the machines off eBay and keep them out of the hands of the “good guy” hackers. Village co-organizer Harri Hursti told attendees at the Shmoocon hacking conference this month they were having a hard time preparing for this year’s show, in part because voting machine manufacturers sent threatening letters to eBay resellers. The intimidating missives told auctioneers that selling the machines is illegal — which is false.
Despite the attention that’s been paid to apparent Russian interference with the 2016 presidential vote, U.S. elections are still vulnerable to foreign interference, warns a new report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. The report comes as Twitter on Wednesday more than doubled the number of users it says interacted with Kremlin-tied accounts during last year’s election, from about 678,000 to approximately 1.4 million. “There is every reason to believe that the experience of 2016 will be repeated in elections to come,” the Campaign Legal Center warns. “The desire for foreign actors to influence or disrupt U.S. elections is not going away. The question now is what we are going to do to stop them.”
National: Zombie Campaigns: The campaign is over. The candidate might be dead. But the spending never stops. | Tampa Bay Times
It’s been more than a decade since South Florida Rep. Mark Foley was forced out of Congress for sending sexual text messages to teenage boys. But Foley tapped his congressional campaign fund to dine on the Palm Beach social circuit four times in early 2017, ending with a $450 luncheon at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches. Then there’s baseball-star-turned-senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky. He paid his daughter $94,800 from campaign money in the four years after he left office, only stopping when he’d bled his fund dry. And over the past 17 months, political advisor Dylan Beesley paid his firm more than $100,000 from the campaign account of Hawaii Congressman Mark Takai for “consulting services.” It’s hard to imagine what Beesley advised. Takai was dead that whole time.
National: Intensified Cyber Security Will Inevitably Lead to Greater Federal Involvement in US Electoral Process | Intelligencer Post
The last US presidential election brought the vulnerabilities of election grids to the fore. During the elections and after the race had ended, reports began to flood Western media revealing the attempts by Russian government-connected actors to influence the US electoral system. This included hacking suppliers of software used in digital voting machines, along with organizing the infamous troll armies that conducted social engineering operations in the hopes of swaying voters. Signs of threat actors targeting election-related assets has persisted. In mid-December, local US media reported that personal details of over 19 million California voters ended up in the hands of hackers after being stolen from an insecure cloud server. Hackers who had penetrated the cloud had deleted all of the content and left a message on the account demanding ransom money in Bitcoin for its return. The database contained personal details of these individuals, including contact and voting precinct information. The technology used in elections has also been shown to contain serious vulnerabilities. At a recent DEF CON hackers conference in Las Vegas, participants were able to pull off a number of hacks on several commonly used voting machines, including gaining remote access.
Time is running out for state and local officials to secure their voting systems before the mid-term elections, but they may be getting some help from Capitol Hill, the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Homeland Security. FEC Vice Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said her agency unanimously voted to update the 2006 rules governing political ad disclosure in time for the 2018 elections. “I believe we are going to be able to move this rulemaking forward in this election cycle,” she said at the 2018 State of the Net conference on Jan. 29. “We should be able to move quickly enough to get the new rules in place to at least require the information available about where the … ads are coming from.”
As the FBI and Congress work to unravel Russia’s hacking of the 2016 presidential election and learn whether anyone in Donald Trump’s campaign supported the effort, one thing has become clear: U.S. elections are far more vulnerable to manipulation than was thought. A U.S. Department of Homeland Security warning and offer last year to help state election officials protect voter registration rolls, voting machines, and software from tampering was coolly received, perhaps out of skepticism or innate distrust of federal interference in a domain historically controlled by the states. Now, as federal and state officials are partnering to examine voting and election security, a new initiative at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) is working to shore up another at-risk component of the U.S. election system: political campaigns.
Members of the U.S. Congress, who passed new sanctions on Russia nearly unanimously last summer, criticized President Donald Trump on Tuesday for not imposing them, accusing him of being soft on his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The Trump administration said on Monday it would not announce sanctions for now under the new law, intended to punish Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia denies interfering in the campaign. Democrats blasted the decision, accusing Trump of failing to do everything possible to deter any future foreign election interference. Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow, opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress and signed it reluctantly in August. Twenty Senate Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday saying the failure to impose sanctions was “unacceptable.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Russia will target U.S. mid-term elections later this year as part of the Kremlin’s attempt to influence domestic politics across the West, and warned the world had to do more to push back against Chinese meddling. Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the allegations, which Moscow denies, and whether there was any collusion involving President Donald Trump’s associates. In an interview with the BBC aired on Tuesday, U.S. intelligence chief Pompeo said Russia had a long history of information campaigns and said its threat would not go away.
National: Democrats press Gowdy to subpoena Homeland Security for election hacking documents | The Hill
Democratic lawmakers are pressing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to subpoena the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for documents related to Russia’s efforts to target state systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election. In a letter sent to Gowdy on Monday, the Democrats on the committee accused the Trump administration of withholding “critical information” from Congress on the targeting. Homeland Security said last year that Russian hackers tried to probe election-related systems in 21 states. Most of the activity amounted to only preparations for hacking, such as scanning for vulnerabilities, though both Illinois and Arizona witnessed breaches of state voter registration databases. None of the systems targeted were involved in vote tallying, officials say.
National: Like Abstract Expressionists, They Draw the Free-Form Political Maps Now Under Scrutiny | The New York Times
In a big partisan gerrymandering case that will come before the Supreme Court in March, lawyers, and judges have already devoted thousands of words to the question of why some of Maryland’s eight congressional districts are so, ah, creatively drawn. But the best answer by far comes from the man who drew them. In 2011, Eric Hawkins lugged a laptop loaded with demographic data and a program called Maptitude to Capitol Hill and the offices of the state’s six Democratic House members. Over a series of meetings of which there apparently are no written records, Mr. Hawkins not only crafted new districts for those members, but rerouted the district of 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett to make it substantially more challenging for a Republican. In the first election after the new maps were drawn, Mr. Bartlett failed to muster even 38 percent of the vote. And Maryland Democrats added another House seat to the six they already boasted. Asked in a deposition last year why the state’s Democratic House members met with him, Mr. Hawkins was refreshingly forthcoming. “They wanted to get re-elected,” he said.
With the 2016 presidential election bringing voting cybersecurity to the fore, many states and localities have been looking at innovative, technology-driven approaches to shore up voting machine security. There are growing concerns about the integrity of ballots nationwide following reports that hackers attempted to infiltrate voting machines in 21 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Those concerns are not unfounded, according to a 2017 report published by DEF CON, which unveiled the vulnerabilities of commonly used voting machines in the U.S. To address these weaknesses, several states are taking action to upgrade systems and ensure voting integrity for citizens everywhere. Rhode Island, for example, upgraded its systems to use a cellular connection with a double-encrypted signal that better protects against remote hacking. With worries of election hacking growing, more states are expected to follow suit to make cybersafety a priority at the polls.