Two months after the campaign managers for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney helped launch an effort to assist campaigns in preventing future cyberattacks, four secretaries of state have signed on to work on their project. Republicans Mac Warner of West Virginia and Tom Schedler of Louisiana, and Democrats Denise Merrill of Connecticut and Nellie Gorbea of Rhode Island, are now participating in the effort to create a non-partisan playbook for campaigns. The project is in part fueled by the presidential campaign experiences of Robby Mook and Matt Rhoades, both of whom managed campaigns that fell victim to hacking by foreign entities. Mook and Rhoades have been in touch with a number of campaigns this year but won’t identify them because of the sensitivity of the issue.
When Kris Kobach was first running for office in Kansas in 2010, he claimed he’d found evidence that thousands of Kansans were assuming the identities of dead voters and casting fraudulent ballots – a technique once known as ghost voting. Kobach even offered a name, Albert K Brewer of Wichita, who he said had voted from beyond the grave in the primaries that year. But then it emerged that Albert K Brewer, aged 78, was still very much alive, a registered Republican like Kobach, and more than a little stunned to be told he’d moved on to the great hereafter. No evidence emerged that anyone had ghost voted in Kansas that year. Seven years on, as Donald Trump’s point man on reforming the US electoral system, Kobach has not backed away from those same scare tactics – no matter that he is frequently called a fraud and a liar, and his allegations entirely baseless. On the contrary. Backed by a president who, days after assuming office, claimed that 3 to 5 million fraudulent ballots had been cast for Hillary Clinton, Kobach is enthusiastically spreading stories of voter impersonation on a massive scale, of out-of-state students voting twice, and of non-citizens casting illegal ballots.
President Trump’s voter fraud commission met in New Hampshire on Tuesday to discuss what members characterized as declining confidence in elections. But the most telling discussions of the session addressed declining confidence in the commission itself. As protesters outside the meeting accused the panel of promoting voter suppression, New Hampshire Secretary of State William M. Gardner, a Democrat on the commission, warned that “the specter of extreme political partisanship” threatened to undermine whatever work it was doing. And Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, another Democrat on the commission, dressed down the commission’s Republican vice chairman for what he called reckless statements about supposed voter fraud in New Hampshire.
President Trump’s “election integrity” commission, a source of roiling controversy since its inception, convened here Tuesday amid fresh discord over an unfounded assertion by its vice chairman that the result of New Hampshire’s Senate election last year “likely” changed because of voter fraud. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) largely defended an article published Friday in which he pointed to statistics showing that more than 6,000 people had voted in a close election here using out-of-state driver’s licenses to prove their identity. He suggested that was evidence of people taking advantage of New Hampshire’s same-day registration and heading to the Granite State to cast fraudulent votes. New Hampshire only requires voters to state their “domicile,” a looser standard than residency, and college students and others routinely vote without state-issued driver’s licenses.
The vice chairman of President Donald Trump’s commission on election fraud on Tuesday dismissed criticism that the panel is bent on voter suppression, saying there is a “high possibility” it will make no recommendations when it finishes its work — and even if it does, it can’t force states to adopt them. Trump, a Republican, created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in May to investigate his unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. Democrats have blasted the commission as a biased panel determined to curtail voting rights, and they ramped up their criticism ahead of and during the group’s daylong meeting in New Hampshire. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said some voters have canceled their registrations or been hesitant to register since learning the group has asked state governments to provide data on individual voters. “Their voting suppression impact has already begun,” he said on a press call organized by the Democratic National Committee.
A member of President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was pushing fake news before its second meeting was even able to kick off on Tuesday afternoon. In an op-ed published by Breitbart just ahead of the meeting, Kris Kobach, the commission’s vice chairman, again asserted a debunked claim that more than 5,000 people in New Hampshire cast illegal votes during last year’s election. His suggestion that there was rampant voter fraud in the region was swiftly rebuked by the state’s secretary of state, Bill Gardner, who said New Hampshire’s election results were “real and valid.” By the end of the day, though, it became clear that several of the group’s members have a common goal: to publicize every known case of voter fraud from before and during the 2016 election and to clamp down on anything that made them possible ahead of the 2020 vote.
President Donald Trump is nominating Trey Trainor, an Austin lawyer well-known in Texas politics, to serve on the Federal Election Commission. The White House announced Trainor’s appointment late Tuesday night. He must be confirmed by the Senate. Trainor is a longtime attorney specializing in election law, campaign finance and ethics. He has served as the lawyer for the conservative nonprofit Empower Texans, defending it during its long-running battles with the Texas Ethics Commission over whether it should have to disclose its donors. Trainor originally supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the 2016 presidential primary, but once Cruz dropped out, Trainor helped pave the way for Trump’s nomination at the Republican National Convention. Trainor served as general counsel to the RNC platform committee, a job that put him on the front lines of the party’s efforts to quell an anti-Trump uprising on the floor.
A new set of voluntary guidelines for security and reliability of elections systems was approved on Sept. 12 by a key committee of the Elections Assistance Commission. The vote took place at a meeting of the EAC that was chaired by Kent Rochford, acting director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The new document represents a refresh of voting system guidelines that were developed in 2005 and last updated in 2015. The EAC vote comes as cybersecurity experts warn that election systems are vulnerable to hacking, and almost a year after the Department of Homeland Security added election systems to its list of critical U.S. infrastructure.
Citing security concerns, the Virginia Board of Elections announced last Friday that it will stop using electronic voting machines in the state. The board’s action is the latest sign that state and local election agencies are trying to address growing concerns that the nation’s election infrastructure is vulnerable to hacking. During the 2016 presidential election, Russia targeted voting systems in 21 states, according to U.S. officials. Though U.S. security officials say the cyberbreach did not impact vote-counting, they have warned of future, and more intrusive, attacks. Some states — including Virginia and Georgia, which recently announced a pilot program to use paper ballots — hope eliminating the use of electronic ballots will reduce the threat of cyberattacks.
“Election Fraud is rampant!! California has 11 Counties that have MORE VOTERS than registered voters!!” reads one of the most recent public comments submitted to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. “I have personally witnessed voter fraud in California,” reads another comment. An earlier comment claims that “many [voters] were deceased and many were not citizens.” Yet another post is from a former San Diego poll watcher who claims to have witnessed attempted voter fraud and was told by an elections official: “if someone wants to vote I am not about to stop them. This is America, not China!” Over 500 comments were submitted online during the run-up to the second meeting of the commission on Tuesday, which was led by its vice-chair Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Many of those comments were in the same vein as those from the San Diego poll watcher, containing anecdotes or hearsay about egregious incidents of voter fraud or alleging massive levels of fraud on a national level. While those public comments weren’t directly addressed during the proceedings of the meeting, they did help set its tone, as Kobach and his fellow commissioners grappled with the gap between rhetoric on voter fraud—backed by ample anecdote—and data on in-person voter fraud, which are scant.
Last week, much of official Washington rejoiced after President Trump made a deal with senior congressional Democrats to forestall a government shutdown, provide aid to hurricane victims, and raise the debt ceiling until December. The deal, some observers claimed, marked Trump’s long-awaited pivot to conventional Presidential leadership and a bipartisan style of governing. Some praised this maneuver as statesmanlike, while others denounced it as a betrayal of the President’s fellow-Republicans, but there was something close to consensus that Trump had jettisoned the hard-right politics expressed at the beginning of his term in office and begun a new and different chapter. This is, to put it charitably, nonsense. Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer, the top Democrats in Congress, understandably accepted a modest political gift from the President; Trump, by agreeing to just a three-month extension of the deadlines, gave the opposition party somewhat more leverage when the next negotiation takes place, before the end of the year. But, notwithstanding the developments of last week, which mostly amount to inside baseball, the course of the Trump Presidency is set, and conservatives are still very much in charge.
What was already expected to be a contentious second meeting for President Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, on Tuesday in Manchester, N.H., is likely to get a whole lot more contentious thanks to a column written by the panel’s co-chair. Although the chairman, Vice President Pence, said in that first meeting that the commission has “no preconceived notions or pre-ordained results,” the panel’s co-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, seemed to contradict him in Breitbart News last week. Kobach claimed that “now there’s proof” of voter fraud in last year’s election, enough to have likely changed the outcome of a key Senate race. He cited a report that more than 5,000 New Hampshire voters used out-of-state drivers’ licences as identification and have yet to update those licenses, even though new residents are required to do so within 60 days of moving to the state. “It is highly likely that voting by nonresidents changed the result,” wrote Kobach, one of the few election officials in the country who hasn’t dismissed Trump’s unfounded claim that up to 5 million ballots were cast illegally last year. What Kobach didn’t say in the Breitbart column is that there are other possible explanations for all the out-of-state voter IDs. The most likely is that many were used by out-of-state college students, who are still eligible to vote.
With the wide variety of voting systems technology and uneven security requirements in local jurisdictions across the country, the best defense against election hacking may involve less technology, experts said. “I don’t have a lot of confidence” in the security of election equipment, said Alex Halderman, who is director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society and researches voting machine security. “The machines have vulnerabilities that could allow someone to hack in and alter the software that’s running on them,” he said at a Sept. 8 Brookings Institution discussion. “You don’t even need physical access to the machines.”
National: Data breaches like Equifax could make it cheap, easy to alter voter registrations | Philadelphia Inquirer
How convenient for voters: Pennsylvania and New Jersey allow them to change registration information online, including address and party affiliation. How convenient for wannabe attackers, too: With more personal information available online, it could be cheap and easy to falsely submit thousands of changes online to voter registrations, making some legitimate voters ineligible to cast ballots. A new study found that it would have cost as little as $1,934 last year to falsely submit online changes to 10 percent of registrations in Pennsylvania, a political battleground state that was pivotal to the 2016 presidential election. A similar attack on 10 percent of New Jersey voters’ registrations would have cost just $1,069, the researchers found. “It’s clear that impostors can definitely launch these attacks, and it’s not particularly expensive to launch these attacks against these websites,” said Latanya Sweeney, a government professor at Harvard University and one of the study’s authors.
National: Trump fraud commission will review proposal for background checks for voters | The Kansas City Star
President Donald Trump’s controversial voting commission will weigh a proposal Tuesday about requiring a background check before a person can register to vote — similar to buying a gun. John Lott, the president of the Pennsylvania-based Crime Prevention Research Center, will present the concept when the commission holds its second meeting of the year in New Hampshire. Lott’s PowerPoint, which was posted on the White House’s website in advance of the meeting, includes a slide titled “How to check if the right people are voting.” He notes that Republicans worry that ineligible people are voting, while Democrats contend “that Republicans are just imagining things.” Lott proposes applying the federal background check system for gun purchases, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, to voter registrations.
A commission created by President Donald Trump to investigate his allegations of voter fraud is coming to New Hampshire a week after its vice chairman angered state leaders by claiming out-of-state voters in November helped elect a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. The vice chairman, Republican Kris Kobach, who also is Kansas’ secretary of state, said last week that newly released data showed more than 6,500 people registered to vote last year using out-of-state driver’s licenses but only 15 percent had acquired New Hampshire licenses. That was proof, he said, that fraud likely led to then-Gov. Maggie Hassan’s victory over Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte in the Senate race. But state law allows someone — like a college student or military personnel on active duty — to be domiciled in New Hampshire for voting purposes and be a resident of another state for driver’s licensing purposes. Kobach’s comments prompted all four members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation to demand the state’s representative on the commission, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, step down. Gardner, a Democrat, said he could not condone Kobach’s claims but would remain on the commission because he wants to understand why Americans are losing trust in the election process.
National: Top Russian Politician Boasts Russia ‘Stole’ 2016 Election For Donald Trump While U.S. Intelligence ‘Slept’ | Inquistr
Vyacheslav Nikonov, a top Russian lawmaker and leading member of the United Russia Party led by President Vladimir Putin, made a startling boast in a television broadcast seen nationwide in Russia on Sunday night — admitting outright that Russia “stole” the 2016 United States presidential election for Donald Trump. Nikonov, 61, a member of the Russian Duma (parliament) since 2011 and grandson of legendary Soviet Union-era political figure Vyacheslav Molotov — who gave his name to the “Molotov cocktail” improvised explosive device — also mocked U.S. intelligence services for, he said, sleeping on the job as the Russians stole the election right in front of them, the political news site Axios reported. Nikonov’s brazen admission marks the second time in a week that a Russian politician has openly bragged about Russian interference in the U.S. political process on live, national television. Last Monday Nikita Isayev, director of Russia’s Institute of Contemporary Economics and head of the “New Russia Movement,” stated that his country’s intelligence agencies possess compromising information on Trump, and called for the Russian government to “hit” Trump with the “kompromat” material as payback for recently increased U.S. sanctions on Russia.
National: Congressional redistricting less contentious when resolved using computer algorithm | phys.org
Concerns that the process of U.S. congressional redistricting may be politically biased have fueled many debates, but a team of University of Illinois computer scientists and engineers has developed a new computer algorithm that may make the task easier for state legislatures and fairer for their constituents. “United States congressional district maps are redrawn every 10 years in response to national census data, and this process empowers every state legislature to decide how they will carve up each of their congressional districts,” said Illinois professor of computer science Sheldon H. Jacobson. “One of the problems is that this can lead to oddly shaped and dispersed districts that favor one political agenda over another.” The researchers’ study, performed in collaboration with Douglas M. King, a lecturer of industrial and enterprise systems engineering, proposes a new, geographically based and data-driven algorithm that allows a user to specify the goal that guides the creation of the districts, then creates the districts computationally while enforcing other requirements, such as each district being a contiguous area. Their algorithm speeds up computations by gleaning insight from the geography of the state.
President Trump’s commission on voter fraud, which has ricocheted between controversies since its creation in May, is scheduled to hold its second public meeting on Tuesday in New Hampshire. Already, the commission’s de facto leader has warmed up for the session by suggesting that the election in November of Senator Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat, was rigged. The accusation led the state’s entire congressional delegation to demand that William M. Gardner, the New Hampshire secretary of state, resign from the commission. Mr. Gardner, a Democrat and the host of the meeting on Tuesday, refused to do so, and said the state’s two senators and two representatives were being hypocritical. Uproar has become standard practice for the fraud panel, officially called the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Critics say the commission is a pretext for Republican efforts to make it harder to register and to vote, and that it will reach a predetermined conclusion, that tough new rules are needed to prevent fraud. Studies have repeatedly shown that illegal voting is very rare, and that voter impersonation — perhaps the main danger suggested by advocates of tighter election rules — is next to nonexistent.
Some experts say that given uneven IT security requirements for voting systems, the best protection against election hacking may be less technology. “Based on my experience, I don’t have a lot of confidence” in the security of election equipment, said Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society, at a Sept. 8 Brookings Institution discussion. “Our election systems are known to be vulnerable,” he said, adding that even if they were not manipulated by a foreign government in 2016, “I think it’s a matter of time… [attacks] will only be more sophisticated going forward.” Halderman’s research includes information security testing on the exact machines used by states during federal elections.
National: I Ran Digital For A 2016 Presidential Campaign. Here’s What Russia Might Have Got For $100,000 | Buzzfeed
One common response to the news that a Kremlin-linked online operation in Russia bought $100,000 worth of Facebook ads during the 2016 election campaign has been that the money is a drop in the bucket relative to the more than $1 billion spent on ads during the cycle, or the $27 billion in revenue earned by Facebook last year. But as one of a handful of Americans who managed the digital operations of a 2016 presidential campaign, I think $100,000 smartly spent on Facebook could have a much larger reach than you may realize. And more importantly, nobody — not the political pros, or the advertising gurus — truly knows how far a message spreads when Facebook is paid to promote it. The social network still contains many mysteries, even to those pouring millions into it. What I do know, from managing the digital operations for Gov. John Kasich’s campaign, is how the game was played in 2016. So how much impact would $100,000 of advertising have on Facebook during the cycle? The short answer is…that completely depends on how large the targeted audience was, and how long the campaigns were running.
A Democratic member of President Donald Trump’s commission to investigate voter fraud issued some of the strongest criticism yet from within the panel on efforts to make it more difficult to vote. In a lengthy statement to the commission, Alan King, a Democratic probate judge in Alabama, criticized overzealous efforts to purge people from the voter rolls. In his statement, King wrote that while there may be some people who voted twice, there were thousands more who were removed from the rolls for no reason or had their vote suppressed. King won’t be attending the panel’s Tuesday meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire, because of a scheduling conflict, he told commission organizers. “The reality is that the less affluent in our society are more prone to move and more prone to have a diminished economic position in life, just to survive. But that does not mean that officials in government should ‘game the system’ to deprive the less affluent from voting, simply because they may have moved from one election to another only to be stricken from the active voter list,” he wrote.
House Republicans are backing several provisions that could reshape campaign-finance rules ahead of next year’s midterm elections as spending negotiations continue this fall. The measures are included in a GOP package of spending bills being debated in the House. While the House package is unlikely to advance in the Senate, its provisions could become bargaining chips in the negotiations leading up to the next government-funding deadline, now Dec. 8. Under one deregulatory measure in the spending package, churches may be able to contribute to candidates without fear of losing their tax-exempt status, furthering President Donald Trump’s promise to “get rid of and totally destroy” a law that forbids such activity. Corporations also would be able to ask their employees to donate to unlimited numbers of trade associations’ political-action groups instead of limiting employee solicitations to one group per year.
The U.S. needs hundreds of millions of dollars to protect future elections from hackers — but neither the states nor Congress is rushing to fill the gap. Instead, a nation still squabbling over the role Russian cyberattacks played in the 2016 presidential campaign is fractured about how to pay for the steps needed to prevent repeats in 2018 and 2020, according to interviews with dozens of state election officials, federal lawmakers, current and former Department of Homeland Security staffers and leading election security experts. These people agree that digital meddlers threaten the public’s confidence in America’s democratic process. And nearly everyone believes that the danger calls for collective action — from replacing the voting equipment at tens of thousands of polling places to strengthening state voter databases, training election workers and systematically conducting post-election audits. But those steps would require major spending, and only a handful of states’ legislatures are boosting their election security budgets, according to a POLITICO survey of state election agencies. And leaders in Congress are showing no eagerness to help them out.
National: Study points to potential vulnerability in online voter registration systems | Harvard Gazette
For as little as a few thousand dollars, online attackers can purchase enough personal information to perhaps alter voter registration information in as many as 35 states and the District of Columbia, according to a new Harvard study. Dubbed “voter identity theft” by study authors Latanya Sweeney, professor of government and technology in residence, research analyst Ji Su Yoo, and graduate student Jinyan Zang, the vulnerability could be exploited by internet attackers attempting to disenfranchise many voters where registration information can be changed online. Armed with personal information obtained through legitimate or illegitimate sources, hackers could learn enough to impersonate voters and change key information using the online registration systems. One tactic, researchers said, would be to simply change voters’ addresses, making it appear — to poll workers at least — as though they were voting at the wrong locations. Those voters might be forced to cast provisional ballots, which in many circumstances are not counted. The study is described in a Sept. 6 paper published in the Journal of Technology Science.
Sometimes an international offensive begins with a few shots that draw little notice. So it was last year when Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pa., a friendly-looking American with a backward baseball cap and a young daughter, posted on Facebook a link to a brand-new website. “These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US,” he wrote on June 8, 2016. “Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!” Mr. Redick turned out to be a remarkably elusive character. No Melvin Redick appears in Pennsylvania records, and his photos seem to be borrowed from an unsuspecting Brazilian. But this fictional concoction has earned a small spot in history: The Redick posts that morning were among the first public signs of an unprecedented foreign intervention in American democracy. The DCLeaks site had gone live a few days earlier, posting the first samples of material, stolen from prominent Americans by Russian hackers, that would reverberate through the presidential election campaign and into the Trump presidency. The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.
Facebook is facing intense political fallout and thorny legal questions a day after confirming that Russian funds paid for advertising on the social media platform aimed at influencing voters during last year’s presidential election. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday he hopes to call executives from Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to testify publicly about what role their companies may have played, however unwittingly, in the wider Kremlin effort to manipulate the 2016 White House race. “I think we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg,” the Virginia Democrat told reporters in response to Facebook’s Wednesday disclosure that apparent Russian-tied accounts spent some $150,000 on more than 5,200 political ads last year. Warner said Facebook’s disclosure was based only on a “fairly narrow search” for suspicious ad-buying accounts.
The news that Facebook ran tens of thousands of dollars worth of ads from a Putin-linked Russian troll farm is the latest evidence that the Kremlin has proved adept at turning those features of the American system it most detests into advantages for itself. Although Putin is an apostle of illiberalism, he has picked up on U.S. freedom of the press as a useful tool for Russian messages. In this case, propagandists for the nationalist Russian state are working to turn America’s diversity against it, using potent wedge issues to create and widen social fissures. Foreigners are prohibited from spending to influence an election, so there could be a violation of law and Federal Election Commission guidelines, but it’s not like Russia is going to extradite anyone to the U.S. to face campaign-finance charges. The ads could only be further evidence of Russian attempts to interfere in the election, which at this point is acknowledged by nearly everyone save the president. But if, as Senator Mark Warner and others have implied, the Russians might have received guidance on who to target with the ads, it might point closer to the elusive smoking gun proving collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. There’s also no way to know whether the estimated $100,000 buy, a relative pittance by campaign-spending standards, is the end of the splurge or just the start.
A long list of prominent Republicans is urging the Supreme Court to find that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, saying the practice of drawing electoral lines to benefit one party or another is detrimental to democracy. It puts those Republicans on opposing sides from groups such as the Republican National Committee and the party’s congressional campaign committee, which are supporting Wisconsin’s GOP-led legislature in a major high court case to be heard next month. A lower court found lawmakers drew maps that so favored Republican candidates that they violated the constitutional right of equal protection.
Breaking ranks with many of their fellow Republicans, a group of prominent politicians filed briefs on Tuesday urging the Supreme Court to rule that extreme political gerrymandering — the drawing of voting districts to give lopsided advantages to the party in power — violates the Constitution. The briefs were signed by Republicans including Senator John McCain of Arizona; Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio; Bob Dole, the former Republican Senate leader from Kansas and the party’s 1996 presidential nominee; the former senators John C. Danforth of Missouri, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming; and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former governor of California. “Partisan gerrymandering has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process,” reads a brief filed by Mr. McCain and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161, on Oct. 3.