Americans voting in this year’s midterm elections face a range of obstacles, from long lines to concerns over voter suppression. Some US citizens are also dealing with more unexpected challenges around exercising their right to vote—for instance, the weather. Across Georgia, heavy rain is an added hurdle for voters, though it’s not altogether deterring them. And humidity—a far less visible weather issue—is having an even larger impact. North Carolina’s State Board of Election (SBOE) reports that some precincts in Wake County are having trouble feeding ballots through the voting machines. “Initial reports from county elections offices indicate this issue is caused by high humidity levels,” North Carolina’s SBOE said in a release. Why is a little extra water vapor in the air making such a big difference? Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist with the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and an election technology and cybersecurity expert, explains that ballots are made of a thick stock paper, the specifics of which are determined by voting machine vendors. There are three main makers of voting machines in the US. Local election officials have to work with paper vendors to get paper supplies that will function correctly with the machines and have safety requirements such as watermarks.
Verified Voting in the News
After Russia’s misinformation campaign rattled the 2016 United States election season, scrutiny over this year’s midterms has been intense. And while foreign cybersecurity threats have so far been relatively muted, an unclassified government report obtained by The Boston Globe this week indicates more than 160 suspected election-related incidents since the beginning of August, ranging from suspicious login attempts to compromised municipal networks. Officials haven’t attributed most of it to an actor yet, but the situations include suspicious attempted logins on election systems like voter databases and municipal network compromises. Even in July, Microsoft said it had spotted four incidents of attempted campaign phishing. … The government won’t go it alone. Verified Voting, a group that promotes election system best practices, is part of the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition, which offers a hotline for voter information and issues. Verified Voting particularly specializes in fielding questions about technology issues related to voting. Some of those have already come up; in Texas and Georgia, outdated software and poor design features on paperless voting machines have caused a small but jarring number of incidents in which votes appear to be switched from a voter’s selection.
It’s been two years since international interference sabotaged the United States’ election security, and still the vulnerability of our voting infrastructure remains a major problem. This past May, during Tennessee’s primary election, the Knox County election website fell prey to a DDoS attack. And just days ago, Texas voters experienced “ominous irregularities” from voting machines. In the lead up to the midterm elections, Radware surveyed Facebook users on the safety of U.S. elections, and the results paint a gloomy picture. The overwhelming majority (93.4 percent) of respondents believe that our election system is vulnerable to targeting and hacking—and they’re correct. What’s more, respondents were unable to suggest long-term tenable solutions when asked how the U.S. can improve its election safety (which is understandable, given the complexity of the issue). It is alarmingly quick and easy to hack into U.S. voting systems; just ask the 11-year-old boy who earlier this year demonstrated how he could hack into a replica of the Florida state election website and change voting results in under 10 minutes.
It’s been 18 years and several thousand lifetimes since the contested Bush-Gore presidential elections of 2000. Yet “hanging chads” are still haunting us — but not in the way you might think. Since states began introducing electronic voting machines and other technology in the voting process, digitizing various aspects of voting has been a boon for democracy in many ways. Online voter registration has supercharged get-out-the-vote efforts. ID scanning at check-ins helps reduce lines. And, of course, ballots submitted digitally allow for near instantaneous returns. But on Tuesday, there were reports in states across the country that problems with electronic voting machines were causing massive delays. “There are about a dozen states in which problems have been reported, specifically with electronic voting systems,” said Marian Schneider, president of the elections integrity organization Verified Voting. “The problems we’re seeing are diffuse. They don’t seem to be systemic. But in the localities that they’re happening, they’re impactful.” … “Our election administration is woefully underfunded,” said Schneider. “When we have problems on election day, you can trace it right back to resources.”
As key midterm elections approach, U.S. authorities are taking measures to make sure the balloting is secure and free of foreign influence. For years, a number of polling places have gone more high-tech with electronic voting machines. Fears about vulnerabilities in the systems, however, are turning eyes to a strikingly low-tech option — paper ballots. The United States largely moved away from paper ballots after the 2004 Help America Vote Act replaced lever and punch-card voting machines with Direct Recording Electronic, or DRE, systems. The reform was a direct result of the notoriously contested 2000 presidential election, which triggered weeks of recounts and multiple complaints about paper ballots in Florida. … The committee said many of the electronic voting systems are now outdated, and recommended all states go back to paper ballots — or, at least mandate that electronic machines produce a paper hard copy that can be audited.
National: Complaints Allege Cruz, Kemp Benefitting from Faulty Voting Machines That Change Dem Ballots to GOP | Law & Crime
Early voters submitting ballots for hotly contested races in Texas and Georgia claim that their states’ paperless voting machines are changing their votes for Democratic candidates to Republican, or deleting them altogether. According to Politico, individuals, as well as civil rights groups, have filed complaints alleging that glitches are resulting in votes for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) instead of his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. There have also been complaints that votes have gone to Georgia’s Republican candidate for governor, Brian Kemp, instead of his Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams. Voting technology experts have said that this is not the result of foul play, but outdated, faulty systems that don’t even leave a paper trail of what happened. Kemp, who is currently the Georgia Secretary of State, has resisted past calls for the state to change voting systems. His state has used the same system since 2002. Texas only uses electronic machines in some counties, but there have been reports of ballots that were intended to be “straight ticket” votes for one party were changed to the other party.
There is a voting machine in J. Alex Halderman’s office, not a particularly large one, just an oversize computer tablet set into a plastic frame balanced on tubular legs. But Halderman’s office isn’t especially large, either, so the machine takes up an inordinate, almost clumsy, amount of space. The machine is a Diebold AccuVote-TSX. In the jargon of election machinery, it is a DRE, which is short for direct recording electronic: Voters touch the screen to make their choices, which are then logged in the AccuVote’s memory. This is not exotic technology. DREs have been used in American elections for three decades, and the AccuVote and similar machines are being used in some 30 states this fall, when voters are determining, among other things, which party will control one or both houses of the United States Congress and whether there will be any reasonable checks on the current administration. Halderman got his AccuVote-TSX on eBay. It cost him $94.90 from a seller in North Canton, Ohio, who by last spring had sold at least 40 other used AccuVote-TSXs and had at least 10 more for sale (by the last week of October, he either had sold out or gone out of business, as his listing was gone). Because Halderman is a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, he programmed his AccuVote to tally a two-candidate election for “greatest university” between Michigan and, of course, Ohio State.
With Election Day just hours away, we are seeing reports across the country that electronic voting machines are already inaccurately recording votes and questions are being raised about potential foreign interference after 2016. While the responsibility to deal with these issues falls to state election officials, here is a quick guide for how to respond to some issues on Election Day, along with a handy resource from our friends at Verified Voting indicating what equipment is used in each polling place across the nation. 866-OUR-VOTE: If you experience voter machine glitches, see voters being turned away from the poll, or run into other issues, report them to the nonpartisan Election Protection network. This is the only way that we can spot patterns, put pressure on election officials to respond and, in the long run, make the case for paper ballots and risk limiting audits. Since the first electronic voting machines were introduced, security experts have warned that they pose a risk of interference or simple malfunction that cannot be easily detected or corrected. If someone hacks the machines, they hack the vote. If the machines fail, the vote is wrong. The fix is clear: all elections must include paper backups and a settled-on process for real risk limiting audits. If voting machines are down, you should ask for an emergency paper ballot. Do not simply accept that you cannot vote—broken machines should not result in disenfranchisement.
National: File-Sharing Software on State Election Servers Could Expose Them to Intruders | ProPublica
As recently as Monday, computer servers that powered Kentucky’s online voter registration and Wisconsin’s reporting of election results ran software that could potentially expose information to hackers or enable access to sensitive files without a password. The insecure service run by Wisconsin could be reached from internet addresses based in Russia, which has become notorious for seeking to influence U.S. elections. Kentucky’s was accessible from other Eastern European countries. The service, known as FTP, provides public access to files — sometimes anonymously and without encryption. As a result, security experts say, it could act as a gateway for hackers to acquire key details of a server’s operating system and exploit its vulnerabilities. Some corporations and other institutions have dropped FTP in favor of more secure alternatives. Officials in both states said that voter-registration data has not been compromised and that their states’ infrastructure was protected against infiltration. Still, Wisconsin said it turned off its FTP service following ProPublica’s inquiries. Kentucky left its password-free service running and said ProPublica didn’t understand its approach to security.
The scenario would go like this. On Tuesday, November 6, Americans tune to television sets and radio broadcasts, unlock their phones and keep an eye on their desktop screens, all waiting for the same thing: A definitive account of who has won what in the midterm elections. Throughout the night, election numbers shoot across their screens—live, preliminary return data pumped in from congressional and Senate races across the country, and key gubernatorial races, too. Then, around 10 PM EST, CNN anchors announce the network’s call: The Democrats have taken control of the House, winning 31 of the necessary 24 seats to successfully wrest control from Republicans. On camera, Van Jones and Anderson Cooper waste no time as they begin discussing the implications of the victory and how the midterm results have placed the Trump presidency in a new chapter of turmoil. But there’s a problem. Fox News analysts have just announced the opposite result: In an extraordinary turn of events, Republicans have managed to hang on to their majority by a single seat, retaining control of the House. It’s a major political upset, says Bret Baier, and a replay of Trump’s surprise victory in 2016. And yet for clients of the newswire Reuters, the results are simply opaque—with political analysts there reporting that control of the House, and several nail-biter gubernatorial and Senate races, still remain too close to call.