President Donald Trump’s election commission led by voter suppression advocates won’t be able to operate in the dark if a new lawsuit is successful. Trump in May signed an executive order creating the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kris Kobach, who as Kansas’ secretary of state was routinely accused of advancing voter suppression efforts. The commission’s stated purpose is to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the 2016 election. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and the Protect Democracy Project filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in New York to compel the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Management and Budget to answer requests and disclose public information related to the commission.
The 2016 U.S. presidential election failed to interest many military voters, a recently released federal study has found. Voting rates dropped from 58 percent in 2012 to just 46 percent in 2016 among servicemembers, says the Federal Voting Assistance Program report, released earlier this month. “A striking finding from our analyses is the reported drop in participation rate among military personnel in the 2016 election as compared to the general population,” FVAP program director David Beirne said in a report to Congress. “The data shows that more military members cited motivation-related reasons for not voting and were less interested in the election in 2016 than in 2012,” he added.
The co-founder of a Washington opposition research firm that produced a dossier of salacious allegations involving President Donald Trump has met for hours with congressional investigators in a closed-door appearance that stretched into the evening. Glenn Simpson’s lawyer, Josh Levy, emerged from the day-long private appearance with the Senate judiciary committee and said his client had “told Congress the truth and cleared the record on many matters of interest”. “Following up on comments from certain Senate judiciary committee members who have noted Mr Simpson’s cooperation with this investigation,” Levy said, “I would like to add that he is the first and only witness to participate in an interview with the committee as it probes Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
National: Brennan Center and Protect Democracy File Suit to Make “Voter Fraud” Commission Records Public | eNews Park Forest
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Protect Democracy filed a lawsuit today in federal court in New York to compel the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Management and Budget to disclose information to which the public is entitled pertaining to the president’s “Election Integrity” Commission. The organizations filed suit after their requests to the agencies for information under the Freedom of Information Act went unanswered. The Commission has had its motives and work questioned since it was launched in May, after the president made unfounded claims that voter fraud and noncitizen voting were rampant in the 2016 election. It is co-chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has a long history of supporting — and implementing — anti-voter policies.
Federal money set aside to help states upgrade their voting equipment is running out, at a time when many states are seeking to replace aging machines and further fortify against cyberattacks. While federal funding has gradually diminished, the 2016 fiscal year marked a new low. As of September 2016, states had collectively spent more than the approximately $3.2 billion, distributed over several years, that Congress provided under the 2002 Help America Vote Act, according to a report from the independent Election Assistance Commission released Wednesday. Several states now rely mostly on any interest accrued from federal grants or on other sources for election-related efforts, such as replacing equipment that is in some cases a decade old.
National: US Commission on Civil Rights: Trump’s reversal on voter case could lead to ‘disenfranchisement’ | Washington Examiner
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights argued Friday that the Trump administration’s decision to support the way Ohio removes people from its voter rolls could lead to the disenfranchisement of more voters. Last year, the Obama administration filed an amicus brief in favor of civil rights groups who were challenging the way Ohio purges its voter rolls. But under the Trump administration, the Justice Department switched sides, and in August it filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the state of Ohio.
National: Trump Election Commissioners Are Resisting Efforts to Protect Elections From Hacking | Mother Jones
The intelligence community fears that Russia’s meddling in US elections did not end in November 2016, and that when the Kremlin tries to intervene again, state and local voting systems will be a prime target. “They will be back,” former FBI Director James Comey warned in June. Many election systems would prove an easy target. Last month, hackers at the annual DEF Con conference demonstrated this vulnerability when they easily breached multiple voting machines. A 16-year-old hacked a machine in 45 minutes. In response to this threat, the Department of Homeland Security has taken a major step to protect elections by prioritizing the cybersecurity of state and local voting systems. Yet several members of President Donald Trump’s controversial election commission oppose DHS’s move, and two of them have dismissed the threat entirely as a ploy for the federal government to intrude on states’ rights. Their opposition is a signal that the commission, tasked with finding vulnerabilities in the country’s election system, is not likely to take cybersecurity seriously. On January 6, the same day that the intelligence community released a declassified report alleging Russian meddling in the election, DHS announced that it would make additional cybersecurity assistance available to states that request it. This was done by classifying election infrastructure as “critical infrastructure,” a designation that already brings heightened security measures to critical infrastructure such as dams and the electrical grid. The move means that DHS will provide risk assessments, system scanning, and other cybersecurity services to states that request them. But several election officials and experts who sit on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity quickly condemned the designation.
Hackers rocked the voting machines this summer. On July 28, at the first DefCon “village” dedicated to exposing weaknesses in electronic voting machines—and the first coordinated, research-based assault on EVMs in the United States since 2007—it took visitors just 80 minutes to hack the first machine. The hackers proceeded to find and penetrate multiple security vulnerabilities in each of the village’s 20 machines, representing five voting machine models, calling into question how secure machine-assisted elections are. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), two of Congress’ senior cybersecurity experts, visited the village and later told hackers that they were “surprised” by how easy it was to hack voting machines. Langevin promised during the first on-stage appearance of sitting Congressmen at DefCon that when they return to Washington, D.C., “this is going to be a primary topic of conversation.”
The Department of Homeland Security continues to work with state and local governments to protect election systems as critical infrastructure. At an Aug. 16 public meeting of the federal Election Assistance Commission, however, officials made clear that risks still remain. EAC Vice-Chairman Thomas Hicks pointed to a recent planning exercise in Albany, N.Y., as an example. That exercise, conducted in July, resulted in some surprising results that remain classified. “I found the meeting very informative, enlightening and frightening,” Hicks said. “I would encourage every state to hold a similar meeting with election officials, emergency management folks and IT officials.”
National: In Ukraine, a Malware Expert Who Could Blow the Whistle on Russian Hacking | The New York Times
The hacker, known only by his online alias “Profexer,” kept a low profile. He wrote computer code alone in an apartment and quietly sold his handiwork on the anonymous portion of the internet known as the Dark Web. Last winter, he suddenly went dark entirely. Profexer’s posts, already accessible only to a small band of fellow hackers and cybercriminals looking for software tips, blinked out in January — just days after American intelligence agencies publicly identified a program he had written as one tool used in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. But while Profexer’s online persona vanished, a flesh-and-blood person has emerged: a fearful man who the Ukrainian police said turned himself in early this year, and has now become a witness for the F.B.I. “I don’t know what will happen,” he wrote in one of his last messages posted on a restricted-access website before going to the police. “It won’t be pleasant. But I’m still alive.” It is the first known instance of a living witness emerging from the arid mass of technical detail that has so far shaped the investigation into the D.N.C. hack and the heated debate it has stirred. The Ukrainian police declined to divulge the man’s name or other details, other than that he is living in Ukraine and has not been arrested. There is no evidence that Profexer worked, at least knowingly, for Russia’s intelligence services, but his malware apparently did.
Hackers around the world see weaknesses in U.S. voting systems, electric grids and other pillars of American society. Russia’s alleged election meddling and other high-profile breaches have created a heightened sense of vulnerability even as new gee-whiz technologies to keep hackers at bay flood the market. To deter future attacks, experts warn, the United States needs to shore up its defenses and upend the perception that its systems are easy prey. “I guarantee the North Koreans and the Iranians saw what the Russians did and they’re going to try things in 2018 and 2020,” said former Pentagon cybersecurity policy chief Eric Rosenbach. “We have to change the perception that they’re going to get away with that,” he said at an industry conference last month.
National: America’s dubious tradition of gerrymandering: Out of Line – Impact 2017 and Beyond | Cleveland Plain Dealer
Credit a clever cartoonist in Massachusetts for coining the term gerrymander in 1812, though the practice of drawing district maps to create political advantages was common practice long before then. The cartoon published by the pro-Federalist Boston Gazettecriticized legislative maps orchestrated by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry for the benefit of his Democratic-Republican Party over the Federalists. One district resembled the shape of a salamander. The cartoon depicted the district as a monster, labeling it “The Gerry-mander.” Merriam-Webster now definises gerrymander this way: “to divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.”
Some of the brightest minds in math arrived at Tufts University last week to tackle an issue lawyers and political scientists have been struggling with for decades. They came from colleges across the country for a weeklong conference on gerrymandering, the practice of crafting voting districts in a way that favors voters from a certain political party or demographic. It’s a topic of growing interest among many math and data experts who say their scholarly fields can provide new tools to help courts identify voting maps that are drawn unfairly. Among those working to bridge the classroom and the courtroom is Moon Duchin, a math professor at Tufts who orchestrated the gathering at her Boston-area campus. The workshop was the first in a series being organized at campuses nationwide to unite academics and to harness cutting-edge mathematics to address gerrymandering.
Voting systems must be accurate, usable, accessible and secure to be successful, according to a new paper from a voting behavior expert at Rice University. “Improving Voting Systems’ User-Friendliness, Reliability and Security” will appear in Behavioral Science and Policy and summarizes voting systems in the United States used throughout the past decade and outlines lessons about how to improve them. In the paper, author Mike Byrne, a professor of psychology and computer science at Rice, summarizes previous voting research that supports his argument that the following four factors are critical to the success of voting systems. In his previous research on voting accuracy, Byrne found that voting machines fail to capture voter intent up to 4 percent of the time. He found a 1-2 percent error rate for paper ballots, a 1.5 percent error rate for direct recording electronic – DRE – machines and a 3-4 percent error rate for punch cards and lever machines. He said this is clear evidence that this issue must be addressed. Voting error rates were measured by comparing each voter’s intent with the actual vote that was cast.
With President Trump’s poll numbers slipping, a group of the president’s former campaign aides is beginning an effort to encourage new voters in parts of the country that supported him in the election, and to stop what they contend are illegal votes in Democratic areas. The former aides are starting a group called Look Ahead America to identify “disaffected” rural and working-class Americans who either do not vote or are not on the voter rolls, in order to register and mobilize them ahead of future elections, according to a prospectus being distributed to possible donors. Look Ahead America also seeks to discourage or invalidate “fraudulent” votes by deploying poll watchers with cameras, and through what it called a forensic voter fraud investigation to identify “votes cast in the names of the deceased, by illegal immigrants or non-citizens,” according to the prospectus, which was shared with The New York Times.
Vice President Mike Pence, leader of President Trump’s shady “Elections Integrity” commission kicked off its first meeting last month with a promise that it would have “no preconceived notions or preordained results.” But like many of its other members, commissioner J. Christian Adams has done little to hide what has been his end-game: bullying state and local election officials into aggressive voter registration purges that civil rights groups worry will end in eligible voters getting kicked off the rolls. Now he will be joining on the commission several other figures known for their efforts to make it harder — not easier – to vote in an endeavor that many in the voting rights community believe will be used to justify tougher voting laws, including measures that will prompt sloppy voter purges. For more than half a decade, Adams has been on his own private sector crusade to pressure election officials to agree to voter purge protocols beyond what are required by law.
The Obama administration received multiple warnings from national security officials between 2014 and 2016 that the Kremlin was ramping up its intelligence operations and building disinformation networks it could use to disrupt the U.S. political system, according to more than half a dozen current and former officials. As early as 2014, the administration received a report that quoted a well-connected Russian source as saying that the Kremlin was building a disinformation arm that could be used to interfere in Western democracies. The report, according to an official familiar with it, included a quote from the Russian source telling U.S. officials in Moscow, “You have no idea how extensive these networks are in Europe … and in the U.S., Russia has penetrated media organizations, lobbying firms, political parties, governments and militaries in all of these places.”
A forensic report claiming to show that a Democratic National Committee insider, not Russia, stole files from the DNC is full of holes, say cybersecurity experts. “In short, the theory is flawed,” said FireEye’s John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a firm that provides forensic analysis and other cybersecurity services. “The author of the report didn’t consider a number of scenarios and breezed right past others. It completely ignores all the evidence that contradicts its claims.” The theory behind the report is that it would have been impossible for information from the DNC to have been hacked due to upload and download speeds. The claims have slowly trickled through the media, finding backers at the right -wing site Breitbart in early June. Last week, the left-wing magazine The Nation published a 4,500-word story on the allegations. The claims are based on metadata from the leaked files, which were published on WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election.
In a sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will remain a continuing distraction for the White House, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is in talks with the West Wing about interviewing current and former senior administration officials, including the recently ousted White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, according to three people briefed on the discussions. Mr. Mueller has asked the White House about specific meetings, who attended them and whether there are any notes, transcripts or documents about them, two of the people said. Among the matters Mr. Mueller wants to ask the officials about is President Trump’s decision in May to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, the two people said. That line of questioning will be important as Mr. Mueller continues to investigate whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the dismissal of Mr. Comey.
Jason Kander might have fallen a bit short in his bid to become a U.S. senator last fall, but when he put out a call for summer help in Manassas, some of his 194,000 Twitter followers didn’t hesitate to answer. In the days since President Donald Trump’s election (and Kander’s own 3-point loss to Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.), the former Missouri Secretary of State has been crafting a new kind of political organization: “Let America Vote,” a group Kander says is designed to “create political consequences for politicians who’ve made voting more difficult or failed to stand up for voting rights.” But with the 2018 midterm elections still a long way out, the Democrat turned his eye toward the statewide races in Virginia as a good place to start. His team of organizers, largely culled from the staff of his Senate bid, saw an opportunity to make an impact in Northern Virginia and made plans to open the group’s first field office in Prince William County.
It’s been called a faulty, error-prone failure. But that might not stop this system for rooting out vote fraud from getting a national debut. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chair of President Donald Trump’s vote fraud commission, is looking to expand the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program” that he’s developed in his state to sweep possible illegal voters off the rolls. Crosscheck is a computer system designed to detect fraud by finding matches in voter registration lists shared by dozens of states and thereby detecting suspected double voters.
When people in several North Carolina precincts showed up to vote last November, weird things started to happen with the electronic systems used to check them in. “Voters were going in and being told that they had already voted — and they hadn’t,” recalls Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The electronic systems — known as poll books — also indicated that some voters had to show identification, even though they did not. Investigators later discovered the company that provided those poll books had been the target of a Russian cyberattack. There is no evidence the two incidents are linked, but the episode has revealed serious gaps in U.S. efforts to secure elections. Nine months later, officials are still trying to sort out the details. … At first, the county decided to switch to paper poll books in just those precincts to be safe. But Bowens says the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement got involved “and determined that it would be better to have uniformity across all of our 57 precincts and we went paper poll books across the county.”
On a late-spring evening in Boston, just as the sun was beginning to set, a group of mathematicians lingered over the remains of the dinner they had just shared. While some cleared plates from the table, others started transforming skewers and hunks of raw potato into wobbly geodesic forms. Justin Solomon, an assistant professor at M.I.T., lunged forward to keep his structure from collapsing. “That’s five years of Pixar right there,” he joked. (Solomon worked at the animation studio before moving to academia.) He and his collaborators were unwinding after a long day making preparations for a new program at Tufts University—a summer school at which mathematicians, along with data analysts, legal scholars, schoolteachers, and political scientists, will learn to use their expertise to combat gerrymandering.
Increased use of open source software could fortify U.S. election system security, according to an op-ed published last week in The New York Times.Former CIA head R. James Woolsey and Bash creator Brian J. Fox made their case for open source elections software after security researchers demonstrated how easy it was to crack some election machines in the Voting Machine Hacking Village staged at the recent DefCon hacking conference in Las Vegas. … “They confirmed what we already knew,” said James Scott, a senior fellow at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology. “These are extremely vulnerable machines.” “Think of what a voting machine is,” he told LinuxInsider. “It’s a 1980s PC with zero endpoint security in a black box where the code is proprietary and can’t be analyzed.” Although the researchers at DefCon impressed the press when they physically hacked the voting machines in the village, there are more effective ways to crack an election system. “The easiest way to hack an election machine is to poison the update on the update server at the manufacturer level before the election,” Scott explained. “Then the manufacturer distributes your payload to all its machines for you.”
The news coming out of last month’s DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas was not good for voting machine manufacturers — and unsettling for election officials. A “voting village” was set up where hackers tested the security of about a dozen voting machines. They made their way into every single one. Eric Hodge, director of consulting at CyberScout, helped plan the event. There had been plenty of discussion about the security of these machines, he said. American intelligence officials concluded last year that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election, but many state election officials argued that their voting machines were secure because they were not connected to the internet. The DefCon voting village was set up to actually test the physical machines, which Hodge said never experience much penetration testing. In their testing debut, they didn’t fare too well. … Within minutes, some of the machines were hacked. “These guys are good,” Hodge said. “But, you know, so are the Russians.”
Officials from both parties had a consistent answer last year when asked about the security of voting systems: U.S. elections are so decentralized that it would be impossible for hackers to manipulate ballot counts or voter rolls on a wide scale. But the voter fraud commission established by President Donald Trump could take away that one bit of security. The commission has requested information on voters from every state and recently won a federal court challenge to push ahead with the collection, keeping it in one place. By compiling a national list of registered voters, the federal government could provide one-stop shopping for hackers and hostile foreign governments seeking to wreak havoc with elections. “Coordinating a national voter registration system located in the White House is akin to handing a zip drive to Russia,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat who has refused to send data to the commission.
Even with the widespread attention and federal protections provided to election systems, state and federal officials alike have concerns that U.S. election systems remain vulnerable to digital meddling. In the final days of the Obama administration, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson formally designated state election assets as U.S. critical infrastructure in response to digital floods of misinformation, as well as Russian cyber espionage on an election software vendor and spear-phishing attempts against local election officials during the lead-up to the November 2016 presidential election. The move allowed state governments to ask DHS for help on a voluntary basis in securing their election infrastructure, but was met with resistance from many state officials and some members of Congress. Amid this resistance — and the current shuffle in DHS leadership — Johnson expressed fear on CBS’s Face the Nation Aug. 6 that voting systems remain vulnerable to digital meddling. “I’m concerned that we are almost as vulnerable, perhaps, now as we were six, nine months ago,” he said.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, his son Donald Trump Jr. and former campaign manager Paul Manafort have started turning over documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the panel’s expanded investigation of Russian election-meddling. The Trump campaign turned over about 20,000 pages of documents on Aug. 2, committee spokesman George Hartmann said Tuesday. Manafort provided about 400 pages on Aug. 2, including his foreign-advocacy filing, while Trump Jr. gave about 250 pages on Aug. 4, Hartmann said. The committee had asked them last month to start producing the documents by Aug. 2. A company the Judiciary panel says has been linked to a salacious “dossier” on Trump, Fusion GPS, and its chief executive officer, Glenn Simpson, have yet to turn over any requested documents, Hartmann said.
Calls for paper-based voting to replace computer-based systems at the DEF CON hacker conference have intensified in the wake of a wave of voting machine hacks earlier this month. … “It’s undeniably true that systems that depend on software running in a touchscreen voting machine can’t be relied on,” Voting Village organizer Matt Blaze said in a Facebook Live feed hosted by US congressmen Will Hurd (R-Texas) and James Langevin (D-R.I.), in the aftermath of the DEF CON hacks. “We need to switch to systems that don’t depend on software,” said Blaze, a renowned security expert who is a computer science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Blaze recommends OCR-based systems using paper ballots that provide an audit trail for counting and confirming votes. … “We know that computers can be hacked. What surprised me is that they did it so quickly” with the voting machines at DEF CON, says computer scientist Barbara Simons, president of Verified Voting. “One of the things that 2016 made quite clear is that we have very vulnerable voting systems and we don’t do a good job” of protecting them, Simons says. “So we exposed ourselves, and we haven’t taken the necessary steps to protect ourselves.”
he designation of the nation’s election systems as critical infrastructure will not infringe upon state and local authority to run elections. In a recent memo to Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Members, Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., relayed communications from the Department of Homeland Security that reiterated that fact. “This designation does not allow for technical access by the Federal Government into the systems and assets of election infrastructure, without voluntary legal agreements made with the owners and operators of these systems,” DHS told McCaskill, also confirming that there is no intention to change that critical infrastructure designation. “This dynamic is consistent with engagements between the Federal Government and other previously established critical infrastructure sectors and subsectors.”