Between outdated technology, Russian hacking threats, tight budgets, the president’s promises to investigate voter fraud and incomplete information about federal assistance for securing voting systems, local elections officials have their hands full. In Bexar County, Texas, which is saddled with the oldest elections technology in the state, officials scour eBay for Zip disks, the storage media the county’s system uses to help merge results.”I’d be dead in the water without our technical support people looking online to buy the pieces and parts to keep us going,” Jacque Callanen, the county’s elections administrator told the Associated Press. Similarly outdated systems are common across the country, but municipalities probably will not be able to foot the bill for new systems without help from their state legislatures, which are also strapped for cash.
Editorials: 3 Reforms for America’s Vulnerable Democracy in Light of the 2016 Election | Robert Schlesinger/US News
The end is near. All remaining political disputes – recounts, in this case – must be wrapped up by Tuesday, six days before Dec. 19 when the members of the Electoral College meet in their respective states and ratify Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. The last procedural twitches of controversy from the 2016 election, in other words, are drawing to their inevitable close. But the book closing on the 2016 elections is a good time to take stock and consider reforms that this year has made painfully clear the system needs. After all, this election has inarguably highlighted serious vulnerabilities in the political system that need to be remedied because they are not unique to this year. I’ve got three common-sense ideas on that score. The first two reforms we ought to undertake are interrelated and have to do with ensuring the security, and thus the legitimacy, of the vote, whether from error – manmade or mechanical – or malicious attacks.
Despite concerns about possible attempts to hack or otherwise tamper with the U.S. election, voting appears to have gone smoothly, with no attacks or intrusions. The Department of Homeland Security said it had no reports of election-related cyber breaches. … “All the discussions this year about security gave states another measure of protection,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for elections accuracy. That work also helped minimize the effects caused by breakdowns of voting machines or crashes of registration databases. In Smith’s experience, the resiliency of the voting system after something goes wrong is what keeps small problems small. For example in Colorado, the state’s electronic voter registration system went down for 29 minutes, from 2:47 p.m. to 3:16 p.m. local time, according to Secretary of State’s spokeswoman Lynn Bartels. Voting continued during the outage, though while the registration system was out, clerks were not be able to process mail-in ballots and in-person voters had to use provisional ballots. Once the system was back up and running normal voting resumed. “It’s very possible that things like what happened in Colorado could have been worse had there not been this emphasis on checking these systems. Instead of it being 29 minutes it could have been much longer,” Verified Voting’s Smith said.
North Carolina: With broken voting machines, a North Carolina city is doing ‘everything by hand’ | Cleveland Plain Dealer
Technology to check in voters was not working working properly in Durham, North Carolina, this morning, forcing elections officials to handle check-in by hand. This is just one of a handful of areas with machines or technology breaking down, and problems have been reported in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, too, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and the Verified Voting Foundation. At this early point, the problems should not interfere with the ability to get accurate vote counts, authorities said. “We have a high degree of confidence that the ballots will be able to be counted” by the end of the day, Verified Voting president Pamela Smith told cleveland.com during a conference call with reporters and a coalition of voting rights groups.
Whatever the outcome Tuesday, there’s one thing that could very well happen: Accusations that the election has been rigged and the results falsified. This is extremely unlikely — voter fraud is more rare than being struck by lightning, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. But the 2016 presidential race has been riddled with leaks perpetrated by hackers who wormed their way into servers to try to undermine the election. And though there’s little precedent, the truth is that interference by hackers tomorrow is totally possible. That doesn’t mean hackers are necessarily able to alter the election results, but they could sow fear and mayhem that lead to claims of rigging after Election Day. Here’s how. “Most voting systems are not designed to be connected to the internet for their operation, and because of that there’s no easy remote way in,” said Pamela Smith of VerifiedVoting.org, a nonpartisan group that promotes accuracy and transparency at the polls. Officials like to point out that this is a security feature. But, Smith says, that doesn’t rule out concern for an insider threat.
A hacker armed with a $25 PCMCIA card can, within a few minutes, change the vote totals on an aging electronic voting machine that is now in limited use in 13 U.S. states, a cybersecurity vendor has demonstrated. The hack by security vendor Cylance — which released a video of it Friday — caught the attention of noted National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, but other critics of e-voting security dismissed the vulnerability as nothing new. The Cylance hack demonstrated a theoretical vulnerability described in research going back a decade, the company noted. The hack is “not surprising,” Pamela Smith, president of elections security advocacy group Verified Voting, said by email. “The timing of the release is a little odd.” … The Cylance demonstration was “not new and badly timed,” said Joe Kiniry, a security researcher and CEO at Free and Fair, an election technology developer. “This kind of attack has been demonstrated on almost all of the widely deployed machines used today.”
When New Jersey voters go to the polls Tuesday, they’ll cast their votes on 20-year-old voting machines with no verifiable paper trail. Some voting rights advocates tell Kane In Your Corner that’s a combination that could leave the state powerless to conduct an effective audit if something goes wrong. “I think what’s really important is to prove not only to the winners that they won, but to the losers that they lost,” says Pamela Smith, president of the nonprofit group Verified Voting. The group favors optically scanned paper ballots, now used in several states, including New York. The ballots can be scanned by machines, but hand-inspected if questions arise. … New Jersey election director Robert Giles, however, insists the state’s current voting machines, primarily comprised of AVC Advantage machines introduced in 1996, have proven to be reliable. “To this date, there’s been no evidence of the machines malfunctioning to the extent that there’s been an election questioned,” Giles says. Smith questions how the state can be so certain. Without paper copies to audit, she says “you can run the numbers again, but there’s no way to be sure the equipment is working correctly.”
National: ‘We don’t want voters to be terrified’: Officials seek to allay fears of a ‘rigged’ election | The Washington Post
In an election one side claims is “rigged” as the other was apparently targeted by Russian hackers and Wikileaks, voters may be concerned that some entity will alter the results on Nov. 8. It’s possible, according to some experts, although the likelihood of a significant attack on ballot boxes is exceedingly low. “Everything is hackable,” said Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI International, a nonprofit California-based think tank. “Everything could have bugs in it.” Can you rig a U.S. presidential election? Experts say it’s basically impossible. On one hand, the U.S. election system is hard to sabotage. Anyone trying to swing the electoral college would have to meddle with voting machines in jurisdictions from Alaska to Maine — or at least about a dozen swing states. “You’d have to be pretty good at microtargeting,” said Jamil N. Jaffer, director of the Homeland and National Security Law Program at George Mason University. “To have an impact, you would have to know where it’s going to be close.” And different voting technology means different weaknesses. The District, Maryland and many counties in Virginia use paper ballots — a gold standard for election-watchers. These ballots are scanned and counted electronically, leaving behind a hard copy of each voter’s preferences. “It seems old-school, but if you have good security practices and a good ballot chain of custody . . . it’s more indelible than bits and bytes in the ether,” said Pamela Smith, president of the nonpartisan Verified Voting, a nonprofit that works for fair elections.
Panelists at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum discussed the vulnerability of U.S. election systems to cyber threats Thursday. … Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a non-partisan NGO that promotes the transparency and accuracy of elections, opened the forum with an overview of technology in U.S. elections. According to Smith, technology used in elections, such as voting machines or electronic paper ballot scanners, is vulnerable to hackers. … Smith also described two hacker breaches in the voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois, which showed that the attacks were not limited to foreign countries. According to Smith, while a foreign power altering vote counts to the point of changing the winner remains improbable, the vote count could still be altered. “This is not so much theoretical at this point. This is happening,” Smith said.
As we move forward, online voting seems shimmeringly imminent, particularly because virtually everything we do, we already do online. But voting is far different than banking, shopping, and communicating. It’s trickier and more complex. However precariously, voting in the United States is hoisted up as an essential part of the political system. In theory, casting ballots gives ordinary citizens a means of control—change is always just one election away. It’s crucial for voters to believe that the mechanisms through which their views are delivered are legitimate, and if those mechanisms are tinkered with or updated, that trust should be preserved. As it stands, there are legitimate concerns involved with current and near-future voting technology. There’s still a long way to go, and with something as vital as voting, there is an infinitely small margin for error. … “You need physical security for your ballots,” Pamela Smith, Verified Voting’s president, says. “Let’s say you return a ballot by email. You’ll have a printed record, but it might not match, if something happened with it in transit.”