Hackers could influence the outcomes of November’s elections, a computer science professor who has demonstrated security weaknesses in voting machines told lawmakers on Wednesday. “It’s possible,” said Andrew Appel, a professor at Princeton University, at a House Oversight IT subcommittee hearing focused on election cybersecurity. But Appel, who has hacked voting machines used in many states, was the only one to reply affirmatively when subpanel Chairman Will Hurd (R-Texas) asked for a “yes” or “no” answer to the question, “Can a cyberattack change the outcome of our national elections?” The four other people testifying — including a secretary of state, the chairman of the federal agency that assists with elections, a top Department of Homeland Security cyber official and the head of a public policy firm’s division focused on voting rights — all essentially answered “no.
A congressional subcommittee on information technology gathered on Wednesday, inviting high-ranking officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the US Election Assistance Commission, as well as cybersecurity experts to testify on how hackers could hijack the 2016 presidential elections. All five witnesses agreed that a cyberattack would not affect the outcome of the presidential election this November. The electronic voting system’s best line of defense against cyberattacks is that the machines aren’t connected to the internet, meaning hackers would have to show up in person to hijack the election.
The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials. The FBI warning, contained in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, comes amid heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about the possibility of cyberintrusions, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers, aimed at disrupting the November elections. Those concerns prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials on Aug. 15, in which he offered his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure, including providing federal cyber security experts to scan for vulnerabilities, according to a “readout” of the call released by the department.
Over the weekend, I received a link to a new Youtube video by Princeton undergraduate Kyle Dhillon, who created a 4-minute presentation on the topic of Internet voting as part of his coursework in a class taught by Princeton’s Andrew Appel. He also produced a paper, which is available here. Kyle starts out by saying how much he dislikes standing in line to vote – he waited over two hours in the last election – and so he was interested in the feasibility of casting votes over the Internet. After reading the literature and talking to experts, however, he concluded that the current threats to the process are so great that we are not yet at the point where Internet voting is ready for use in American elections.
The state’s voting machines are so vulnerable to tampering and error that it’s impossible to tell whether ballots are counted properly, a coalition of civil rights groups told an appellate panel Tuesday in a long-running case that has drawn national attention from computer security experts and voting officials. The three judges must decide whether to order the state to replace tens of thousands of electronic voting machines with newer technology designed to be more secure. The problem, advocates say, isn’t just theoretical: Voting machine irregularities caused a Superior Court judge to throw out a South Jersey election in 2011. Critics say it’s impossible to determine whether that was an isolated incident.
New Jersey residents displaced by last week’s superstorm can vote by e-mail like overseas residents – but with a crucial difference that has drawn objections from voting security experts. Like 30 other states, New Jersey allows overseas voters and military voters to return their ballots electronically via e-mail. But only New Jersey also requires voters to mail in a paper version. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno announced Saturday that New Jersey residents could vote by e-mail under the state’s overseas voter law – but didn’t say they must send in paper backup.
The county and the courts had already expressed it but the voters of Fairfield Township made it official — again. Democratic County Committee candidates Cindy and Ernie Zirkle were elected Tuesday over competitors Mark and Vivian Henry, according to unofficial online results from the county Board of Elections.
Mail-in ballots had not been recorded by 10:30 p.m. but the Zirkles took 33 percent of the vote over the Henrys’ 17 percent. “We don’t trust the system,” said Cindy Zirkle, so a substantial number of absentee ballots were distributed.
“It’s a shame,” Zirkle began late Tuesday night, that certain opposition parties “refused to accept the Board of Elections’ admission.” That admission being Board Director Lizbeth Hernandez stating she inadvertently mismatched the names on the ballots and the results declared in June were the exact opposite.
New Jersey: What happens when the printed ballot face doesn’t match the electronic ballot definition? | Freedom to Tinker
The Sequoia AVC Advantage is an old-technology direct-recording electronic voting machine. It doesn’t have a video display; the candidate names are printed on a large sheet of paper, and voters indicate their choices by pressing buttons that are underneath the paper. A “ballot definition” file in an electronic cartridge associates candidate names with the button positions.
Clearly, it had better be the case that the candidate names on the printed paper match the candidate names in the ballot-definition file in the cartridge! Otherwise, voters will press the button for (e.g.,) Cynthia Zirkle, but the computer will record a vote for Vivian Henry,as happened in a recent election in New Jersey.
How do we know that this is what happened? As I reported to the Court in Zirkle v. Henry, the AVC Advantage prints the names of candidates, and how many votes each received, on a Results Report printout on a roll of cash-register tape.
Voters here will again head to the polls and select their township representatives for county Democratic Committee. A second election one week from Tuesday comes per the request of Superior Court Judge David Krell. The results from the June election were first disputed by candidates and later ruled on by Krell earlier this month.
He also ordered the case be turned over to the Division of Criminal Justice, which is under the state Attorney General’s office, for consideration of a full investigation. It is still unclear where that investigation stands. A response from the Division of Criminal Justice was not received as of press time.
Attorney Samuel Serata, who represents candidates Ernie and Cindy Zirkle, said Monday he believed Krell signed his court order last week and the criminal justice division would have likely just received it. “It will be at least a month before any report comes out,” said Serata.
Cumberland County recently replaced computer chips in all its voting machines and completed background checks on five technicians who service them as a safeguard against tampering and inaccuracy.
But those upgrades, which are part of a statewide initiative, don’t sufficiently address flaws in the system used to cast votes, according to a woman who says an electronic machine cheated her and her husband in a recent election in Fairfield.
The recent upgrades to county voting machines were not related to the Fairfield case. Activists say, however, the Fairfield case just adds ammunition to their argument that New Jersey needs a paper record of election results.
On its face, the voting irregularities stemming from Primary Election day in Fairfield Township looked like a simple switch-up. Democratic Executive Committee candidates Ernest and Cynthia Zirkle questioned the total votes they received. Upon research, it became clear they weren’t alone in doubting touch-screen Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines.
Superior Court Judge David E. Krell ruled Monday the Cumberland County Board of Elections must make available a number of documents tied to the voting machine used on June 7.
“The voting machine isn’t going to tell you anything,” said Krell of inspecting the Sequoia machine used at the polling place. However, the associated documentation produced by the machine during the programming process was of interest to him.