Pamela Smith

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Texas: Harris County, Texas, Officials Won’t Say Whether Election Systems Were Targeted | Government Technology

Despite widespread alarm over the breadth of Russian cyber attacks on state and local election systems last year, including revelations of Dallas County being targeted, Harris County officials are refusing to say whether hackers similarly took aim at the nation’s third-largest county. Releasing information on whether Harris County election systems saw attacks from Russian hackers would threaten the county’s cyber security by emboldening hackers to further target local systems, county officials said this week.  The county’s argument was dismissed by experts, who said the secrecy is unnecessary, and could actually downplay the seriousness of the threat and the resources needed to combat it. “There’s this concept in security called ‘security through obscurity,’ sort of, if they don’t know about it they won’t come after it,” said Pamela Smith, a consultant at Verified Voting, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes voting integrity. “But to really have robust security, you want people to be able to know that it’s there … I think what the public wants to know is that you’re aware of the threat and you’re taking steps to mitigate.” Read More

Voting Blogs: Exit Interview: Verified Voting’s Pam Smith | electionlineWeekly

This interview with Pam Smith was posted electionlineWeekly. on July 6, 2017.

In recent weeks we’ve said good-bye to some leaders in the elections field and this week completes our unfortunate trifecta of departing “election geeks”. Pam Smith has stepped down as the president of Verified Voting. Smith joined Verified Voting in 2004, and served as its president for 10 years. She was an outspoken advocate for the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on accuracy, transparency and verifiability of elections. If you had a question about election technology or audits, Smith was the go-to source. Good luck Pam. We will miss your willingness to go on the record and talk about voting technology.

You are leaving the field at an interesting time, to say the least, why now?

Why, is something going on? Just kidding. Actually, I hope I’m not leaving altogether. I started out as an advocate before I came to Verified Voting, and I’ll likely stay one. And as anyone knows who works in elections, once it’s in you, you can’t ever really let it go!

But your point is a good one. Enormous progress has been made in moving toward getting the tools in place that enable officials around the country to demonstrate the correctness of election outcomes.

The work isn’t done yet. But what’s different today from when I started is that on major networks, in op-ed columns, in legislatures and around the coffee table, there’s awareness that we need to take steps to ensure our election systems are reliable. People are saying it out loud. It feels like the effort has a full head of steam now, and that was always one of my goals. Read More

National: Hacking US Voting Machines Is Child’s Play | CleanTechnica

… J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan, and Ph.D. student Matt Bernhard have assembled a number of reasons that they say render US voting machines susceptible to outside interference that could affect the accuracy of their tallies. In 2002, after the chaotic presidential election two years before, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act. The legislation provided funding for several private electronic voting machine manufacturers, including Diebold. Voting machines today fall predominantly into two categories. Optical scanners can be small, like the ones used at local polls or huge, or like the ones used at central voting centers to read absentee ballots. Direct Recording Electronic machines are touch screen devices that may or may not have a printer attached that makes a hard copy of the votes cast so they can be verified. According to Verified Voting, more than 20% of the DREs in use in the United States lack printers, making it impossible to detect fraudulent activity. “These machines are just so poorly engineered, the only real way to secure them is to destroy them and start over,” says the University of Michigan’s Matt Bernhard. In fact, their operating systems are often based on obsolete platforms such as Windows 98 or Vista.

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National: Experts say Trump’s voter fraud commission is a solution in need of a problem | Sinclair Broadcast Group

On Thursday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to create a new commission to investigate his claims of widespread voter fraud, reigniting the storm of skepticism that has surrounded his past allegations of election interference and rigging. … Fact-checkers, state election authorities and lawmakers from both political parties have largely dismissed Trump’s claims that of election fraud since November 8. Immediately after the announcement of the new commission, some suggested that the administration will be using taxpayer resources to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. Other critics suspect even more nefarious motives, suggesting that the panel’s leadership and its mission may actually be an effort to justify stricter voting laws that could suppress the vote. Read More

National: The Coming Voting Rights Battle: Access vs. Accountability | WhoWhatWhy

For many years, the voting integrity community has grappled with the question of how to accommodate voters with disabilities without making elections less secure. There might finally be a solution on the horizon. One-sixth of the American electorate — over 35 million eligible voters — is disabled. For many of them, simple tasks that many of us take for granted — say, putting pen to paper — is, at best, terribly inconvenient, and, at worst, impossible. This is why the disabled prefer direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs), which advertise handicap-friendly features like touchscreens and audio-enabled ballots. But these machines often do not leave a paper trail, and are therefore considered less reliable by the voting-integrity community. This debate has created a rift among the advocates, forcing each side to think long and hard about how exactly to define a “fair election.” For many advocates, auditability — the degree to which an election outcome can be verified (audited) independent of the original vote-tabulating system — is the most important standard. According to this point of view, the only way to assure voters that elections have not been compromised (by incidental code hiccups or intentional tampering) is to create total system transparency — which means physical ballots and the paper trails they make possible. This is considered the ultimate safeguard against election tampering. Read More

National: Election systems security under increasing scrutiny | GCN

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. Read More

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. Read More

National: Fears of hacked election ebb in quiet, watchful night | USA Today

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. Read More

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. Read More

National: Here’s how hackers can wreak havoc on Election Day | Recode

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. Read More