If the security of voting systems in the next election will be a function of the amount of legislation on the topic now pending in Congress, we’ve got nothing to worry about in November 2020. There is a growing pile of bills in both the House and Senate, most featuring several to dozens of cosponsors—sometimes even from both parties—accompanied by press releases with made-to-order endorsements from congressional leaders, advocacy groups and cybersecurity experts. They all call for securing U.S. elections and “protecting our democracy.” But, of course, the number of bills doesn’t matter. It’s about quality, not quantity. The things that do matter are what gets enacted into law and whether its mandates get done or get watered down. And that, as the predictable cliché goes, remains to be seen.
National: Who’s behind voting-machine makers? Money of unclear origins | Emery P. Dalesio/Associated Press
The voting-machine makers that aim to sell their systems in North Carolina are largely owned by private equity firms that don’t disclose their investors. The companies didn’t want the public to know even that much. North Carolina’s statewide elections board demanded the machine-makers’ ownership information last month after special counsel Robert Mueller’s April report into Russian efforts to sway the 2016 presidential election. Their concerns about potential foreign interference have grown since Maryland officials learned last year that a company maintaining that state’s election infrastructure did not disclose its financing by a venture fund whose largest investor is a Russian oligarch. The private-equity backers of the three voting systems vendors seeking approval to sell to county elections boards in North Carolina told The Associated Press they’re controlled by U.S. citizens. They claimed they have no ties to foreign oligarchs or other nefarious persons facing financial sanctions by Washington. But they didn’t provide information about the sources of the money they invest. And they asked the board not to share what they did disclose with the public. The elections board released the companies’ responses — as required by law — under a public records request from The AP. Election security watchdogs remain frustrated.
National: Thousands of election systems running software that will soon be outdated: report | Tal Axelrod/The Hill
The vast majority of the nation’s 10,000 election jurisdictions are using an operating system that will soon be outdated, according to an Associated Press analysis. Those jurisdictions using Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts will reach its “end of life” on Jan. 14 — meaning Microsoft will no longer provide technical support or produce “patches” to deal with vulnerabilities that hackers could possibly exploit. Microsoft told the AP in a statement Friday that it would offer continued Windows 7 security updates for a fee through 2023. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. Critics told the AP that the obsolescence was an example of what happens when private companies determine the security level of election systems without federal guidelines. Vendors defended themselves, saying they’ve been making consistent improvements on security, but state officials said they were wary of federal involvement in state and local races.
National: Voting Machine Makers Claim The Names Of The Entities That Own Them Are Trade Secrets | Tim Cushing/Techdirt
Recently, the North Carolina State Board of Elections asked suppliers of electronic voting machines a simple question: who owns you? (h/t Annemarie Bridy) On June 14, 2019, the State Board of Elections requested that your companies disclose any owners or shareholders with a 5% or greater interest or share in each of the vendor’s company, any subsidiary company, of the vendor, and the vendor’s parent company. This seems like very basic information — information the Board should know and should be able to pass on to the general public. After all, these are the makers of devices used by the public while electing their representatives. They should know who’s running these companies and who their majority stakeholders are. If something goes wrong (and something always does), they should know who’s ultimately responsible for the latest debacle. It’s not like the state was asking the manufacturers to cough up code and machine schematics. All it wanted to know is the people behind the company nameplates. But the responses the board received indicate voting system manufacturers believe releasing any info about their companies’ compositions will somehow compromise their market advantage. Hart Intercivic said letting the public know that the company is owned by H.I.G. Hart, LLC and Gregg L. Burt is a fact that would devalue the company if it were made public. Hart InterCivic, a corporation that derives independent actual value from this information not being generally known or readily ascertainable and makes reasonable efforts to maintain the secrecy of this information, requests that it be designated as a trade secret pursuant to G.S. § 132-1.2(1)d. and G.S. § 66-152(3).
After months of debating options, the Miami County Board of Elections voted 3-1 Tuesday to buy a paper ballot and scanning voting system to replace the touch-screen system in use since 2006. The new system could be in use by the May election. The vote came during a meeting to discuss the November election when 6,288 early voting ballots went uncounted. The board fired Director Beverly Kendall on Tuesday and said it would investigate. The Ohio Secretary of State said Tuesday night he was launching an investigation. Frank LaRose said the “failure by the Miami County Board of Elections is unacceptable.”
National: Election Equipment Vendors Play a Key, and Underexamined, Role in U.S. Democracy | Take Care
Every vote in the United States — for city council, state representative, or president — is cast using materials and equipment manufactured by third party vendors. There are vendors large and small, but the American election equipment industry is dominated by three vendors: ES&S, Hart, and Dominion. These vendors manufacture the machines that approximately 92% of eligible voters use on election day — and they wield extraordinary power with significant implications for our democracy. Because of this, it’s critical that elected officials and advocates pay attention to the role vendors play in the security and transparency of American election systems. Perhaps most concerning are vendor efforts to keep secret the technology upon which American elections rely while at the same time feteing state and local election officials with expensive trips and meals. Vendors have actively and increasingly pushed back on efforts to study and analyze the equipment that forms the basic foundation of our democratic processes.
Boston-based Clear Ballot Group Inc. on Tuesday unveiled a new digital voting machine that could come in handy the next time election officials need to hold a recount. Unlike other machines that merely count the ink marks on paper ballots, the ClearCast voting machine scans and saves digital images of every ballot. These images can be inspected by officials to make sure votes were correctly counted. The system will also help election inspectors tally votes from improperly marked ballots. For example, a careless voter might circle a candidate’s name, instead of filling in the oval next to his name. With ClearCast, vote inspectors won’t have to physically inspect thousands of paper ballots to spot the blunder.