The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for August 28 – September 3 2017

The New York Times published an extensive article focusing on problems on Election Day 2016 in Durham County North Carolina, a blue-leaning county in a swing state. The problems involved electronic poll books — tablets and laptops, loaded with check-in software, that have increasingly replaced the thick binders of paper used to verify voters’ identities and registration status. She knew that the company that provided Durham’s software, VR Systems, had been penetrated by Russian hackers months before. “It felt like tampering, or some kind of cyberattack,”Verified Voting Election Specialist Susan Greenhalgh said about the voting troubles in Durham.

In a Times companion story, researcher Nicole Perlroth describes how she and her colleagues Michael Wines, Matthew Rosenberg attempted to find out how government officials so quickly determined that, while attempts had been made to penetrate US elections systems, no actual vote totals were affected and all hacking attempts failed to influence the results. Typically a significant breach like those experienced in 2016 would be followed by deep and lengthy digital forensics analysis before any conclusions would be accepted but in this case, almost immediately, “government officials, the Clinton campaign, intelligence analysts, and civic and legal groups all appeared to calmly accept claims that votes had not been hacked.” However, as the researchers dug more deeply they discovered that “[t[he more places we looked, the worse things looked.”

In South Carolina, state officials assurance that despite millions of cyber attempts to gain access to the state voter registration system in the past year, none has succeeded has faced challenges from experts. University of South Carolina computer science professor and elections analyst Duncan Buell is not convinced by the highly-redacted report released by the state election commission. An earlier assessment revealed that every county regularly transfers election data without using secure communications channels, not encrypting information or reusing flash drives. “That’s the most damaging,” Buell said. “That’s the software that actually counts the votes at the end of the day.”

Taking Colorado’s plan for risk-limiting audits as a starting point, Madelyn Bacon at TechTarget made the case for universal routine post-election audits as essential to confidence in the accuracy of election results. She reviews some historical elections that have relied on recounts to confirm outcomes and emphasizes the importance of voter-marked paper ballots as a fundamental requirement for trustworthy elections.

Facing aging Diebold voting equipment and budget deficits, Alaska is weighing options for future elections in the State. In addition to considering various options for replacement equipment, election officials are also discussing the possibility of all mail ballot elections like those in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Georgia is also considering new voting equipment after security breaches led to lawsuits challenging the result of a closely-watched special election. Polling places in the state have exclusively used Diebold touchscreen DREs since 2002, but election officials are considering the ES&S ExpressVote/DS200 paper ballot system for the future.

The North Carolina General Assembly approved new House and Senate maps for review by the judges who struck down the current maps. With little incentive to diminish their hols on legislative power, the Republican-led effort has faced sustained criticism for voting advocates and Democrats. Rep. Deb Butler, a Democrat from Wilmington, said the new maps are so unfair to Democrats that it would be as if a baseball team had to start every game down 6-0 and forced to bat with their non-dominant hands. Meanwhile, responding to an appeal from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the US Supreme Court put a temporary hold on a unanimous lower court ruling that nine Texas legislative districts needed to be redrawn because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in drawing them.

Opposition parties in Angola have rejected provisional results from an Aug. 23 election that gave the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola a majority of votes. The official results of the election, which International observers described the election as reasonably free and fair the ruling MPLA party won just over 61 percent of the votes cast. But the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) has accused the government of manipulating the vote, for example by depriving opposition groups of media access.

After a stunning decision that found that last month’s re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta was tainted by irregularities, the Kenyan Supreme Court nullified the election and ordered a new vote to be held within 60 days. The judges said: “[The election commission] failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution.” They did not place blame on Kenyatta or his party.

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