Here’s how to keep Russian hackers from attacking the 2018 elections

By J. Alex Halderman and Justin Talbot-Zorn

Washington Post, June 21, 2017

“They’re coming after America,” former FBI director James B. Comey told the Senate intelligence committee this month. “They will be back.”

In a highly politicized hearing, this bold statement drew strikingly little partisan disagreement. Senators on both sides of the aisle have seemingly reached consensus that foreign agents did try to tamper with the 2016 election and that they are extremely likely to do so again.

The question is: What do we do about it?

While the ongoing Russia investigation has, understandably, received massive attention, there’s so far been scant public focus on the question of how we safeguard our electoral systems from outside interference in the future. Responding to the threat of election hacking isn’t exclusively a matter of diplomatic intrigue or international sanctions. It’s fundamentally a matter of computer science: how we harden our election technology through cybersecurity standards.

This week, we’re joining a group of more than 100 experts on election administration, computer science and national security in releasing a letterthat lays out an actionable plan for safeguarding the vote. The experts include tea party Republicans and progressive Democrats, academic computer scientists and corporate security officials — all united in the view that our nation’s rough patchwork of voting security measures is wholly inadequate. One of us (Halderman) will testify Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russia’s attacks last year.

Read Full Story

The Conservative Case for Election Security Reform

BY LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), OPINION CONTRIBUTOR
The Hill,  March 7, 2017

Good news: Most Americans still have at least some degree of confidence in our voting system. We have not devolved to the level of a third-world banana republic — yet.

But Americans' faith in elections has diminished considerably, and I believe justifiably. Now, only four in 10 citizens have "strong confidence" that their votes are counted as cast. Among Republicans, the proportion of people with faith in voting has fallen to just about a third.

Just the mere perception of a rigged system undermines the most basic foundations of our republic. America's incoming government has an obligation — and an opportunity — to restore the faith in our voting systems.

Report: Russia Launched Cyberattack On Voting Vendor Ahead Of Election

June 5, 2017

Heard on All Things Considered

Russia's military intelligence agency launched an attack days before Election Day on a U.S. company that provides election services and systems, including voter registration, according to a top-secret report posted Monday by The Intercept.

The news site published a report, with redactions, by the National Security Agency that described the Russian spear-phishing scheme, one it described as perpetrated by the same intelligence agency — the GRU — that the Obama administration imposed sanctions on for the 2016 cyber mischief.

Advocates Call for Paper Ballots in Georgia Amid FBI Review

By KATHLEEN FOODY, Associated Press
March 14, 2017

ATLANTA (AP) — A group of technology experts said Tuesday that Georgia's top elections officials should stop using electronic voting machines as the FBI reviews a suspected data breach.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Kennesaw State University this month confirmed a federal investigation focused on the school's Center for Election Systems. The center tests and certifies Georgia's voting machines and electronic polling books used to check in voters at polling locations. Employees also format ballots for every election held in the state.

In a letter to Kemp on Tuesday, 20 technology experts and computer science professors affiliated with the national Verified Voting organization said paper ballots will preserve voters' confidence in the results of an upcoming special election to fill Georgia's 6th District congressional seat. The letter said using equipment maintained by the center while it is the focus of a criminal investigation "can raise deep concerns."

There's No Way to Know How Compromised U.S. Elections Are

By VANN R. NEWKIRK II

Atlantic Magazine, June 16, 2017

It’s not really all that hard to hack American democracy.

That fact should be driven home by a recent article from The Intercept detailing the contents of a highly classified NSA report that found evidence of a massive Russian cyberattack on voting software and against over 100 election officials. While the NSA concluded the attack was carried out by the most sophisticated of hackers—the Russian military—their entry methods were relatively vanilla. They gained access to the credentials and documents of a voting system vendor via a spear-phishing attack, and then used those credentials and documents to launch a second spear-phishing attack on local elections officials, which if successful could have compromised election officials’ systems and whatever voter data they possessed.

The "Shocking" Truth About Election Rigging in America

Monday, 05 September 2016

By Victoria CollierTruthout | News Analysis

RICK: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
POLICE CAPTAIN RENAULT: I'm shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
CROUPIER (handing Renault a pile of money): Your winnings, sir.
CAPTAIN RENAULT: Oh, thank you, very much... Everybody out, at once!
(Scene from Casablanca.)

If there is anything positive to say about the 2016 elections, it's that they have finally forced an end to the official denial of computerized election rigging. In the past month, the fact that our voting technology is a hacker's paradise has been validated by no less than all the major TV news networks: NBCABCCBSReutersThe Washington PostThe New York TimesThe Boston GlobeThe AtlanticUSA Today,The HillThe GuardianMother JonesPolitico, and a dozen other outlets.

Of course, the corporate media and political parties are now professing "shock" at the very prospect that US elections can be manipulated, and yes, even stolen. 

Yet it has long been an open secret that game-changing races have been decided not by voters, but by insiders; from the presidential race of 1960, appropriated for John Kennedy by Democratic muscle in Chicago, to the two victories secured for George W. Bush by GOP fixers in Florida and hackers in Ohio. Among other suspect elections in recent years are key Congressional races hijacked by combinations of voter suppression, gerrymandering, dark money and the ugly little secret of American elections: rigged voting machines.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

Sadly, it took a perfect storm of events to propel this crisis into the public spotlight, bringing no small amount of chaos. Today, the internet is flooded with election-rigging conspiracy theories and frantic official responses, all under the shadow of a looming contested presidential election.

As the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton camp reel from repeated computer hacks, the Obama administration has pointed the finger at Russia, giving rise to a wave of 11th hour fears that foreign agents could hack our voting systems. Yet, Julian Assange came a wink and nod away from outing DNC staffer Seth Rich as his insider source for the email leak, stoking paranoia by heavily suggesting whistleblowing was the cause of his recent murder.

As Bernie Sanders' stunned supporters continue to sort through the wreckage of the primaries, they are overwhelmed by the mess of partisanship, voter suppression, electronic voting results that deviated widely from the polls and disastrous elections administration nationwide. Evidence suggests a bewildering mix of incompetence, party manipulation and outright fraud. Was it all enough to derail a Sanders victory? And if so, who is responsible? In our current system, these are very difficult questions to answer.

Meanwhile, back at Donald Trump's Doomsday camp, after the reckless nominee actually invited the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's computers, Trump confidant and former campaign adviser Roger Stone has threatened a rhetorical (so he says) "bloodbath" of civil disobedience to shut down the government if Trump supporters conclude that the November election was rigged against them.

In this maelstrom, the assurances of President Obama and elections officials that our voting processes are honest and secure is not likely to assuage voters from any camp, nor should they.

We don't need assurances. We need truth and ultimately, we need reform.

Elections are, to put it mildly, a wonky subject. Few Americans care to tackle their complexity, and most are eager to believe someone responsible is minding the store. While most elections officials are decent, underpaid public servants with integrity, many in positions of power are not. Over the years they have enabled -- and sometimes profited from -- deep structural security breaches that are not going to fix themselves.

To understand what's happening and what we can do about it, we need to speak some uncomfortable truths and also dispel a few persistent myths.

It's Not Voter Fraud, It's Election Rigging

Numerous studies, such as the Brennan Center's "The Truth About Voter Fraud", prove that the supposed rampant scourge of phony voting is a myth. "It is more likely that a person will be struck by lightening than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls," reads the report. However, right-wing forces have used a trumped up fear (no pun intended) to justify a glut of racist voter suppression laws that are now being challenged. Some of these have been overturned by state courts.

Donald Trump has perpetuated a common misunderstanding by conflating the terms "voter fraud" and "election rigging." Clearly, he doesn't yet know the difference, though in a recent piece for The Hill, Roger Stone seemed to be getting his sea legs on this issue (still, the article was muddled with factual errors and partisan attacks).

Trump's calls to his base to monitor the polls in November will result in nothing more than chaotic voter intimidation and possible violence. Their actions may also violate a long-standing court consent decree that bars the Republican National Committee (RNC) from engaging in certain voter fraud prevention activities, particularly if they could be racially or ethnically motivated.

To add more confusion, Trump's accusations have led to assertions that widespread election rigging is impossible. The truth is that, while widespread voter fraud is impossible, election rigging is a different matter.

Widespread election rigging is possible at the county and state levels, by elections insiders or hackers who can penetrate their systems. This can flip state, congressional and even presidential elections.

How is this possible? Because over many decades, our public elections have been privatized and outsourced to a handful of corporations and dozens of private service vendors. This is bad enough without their key players also having deep ties to political parties and religious extremists. Some have even been convicted of crimes, including bribery, bid rigging, kickback schemes, lying to voting officials and computer fraud.

In turn, these shady corporations have sold us billions in "proprietary" computerized voting systems. This includes electronic poll books, touchscreen voting machines, optical ballot scanners and central tabulators, Internet voting systems and online vote reporting networks.

Election laws have slowly been altered to facilitate this quiet transition to more "expedient" private control. In most states public oversight has been curtailed or removed entirely, including the ability to witness a full, secure public tally of paper ballots; the international gold standard of democratic elections. In jurisdictions in 14 states, ballots have been eliminated and only the secretly programmed machines remain.

Cyber security experts and "white hat" hackers, who have gained access to the machines over the years, report that every component of these electronic voting systems are ridiculously vulnerable to fraud:

  • Machines are not safeguarded and sit vulnerable for weeks leading up to an election
  • The shoddy locks and keys on the machines are easily opened and replaced
  • Machines can be breached without breaking official security seals
  • The secret software can be rigged with malicious, self-deleting code to steal elections
  • The rigged code will not be detected by standard security tests
  • Vote-rigging viruses can be spread from one computer through an entire network
  • The administrative passwords are often easily hacked or missing entirely
  • One person can access voting systems and others can enter behind them
  • Last minute "patches" to (supposedly) update software can harbor malicious code
  • Wireless connections are insecure and aren't always evident
  • Vulnerable hacking points include voter registration lists, any machines that are linked to the internet, any digital vote results that are transferred wirelessly to central tabulators, and all final vote tallies transferred to the websites of secretaries of states

Dozens of technical reports and studiesbooksfilms and videosarticles,investigations and even congressional whistleblower testimony have exposed the depth of this crisis.

Both Touchscreens and Optical Scanners Can Be Rigged

Here it gets a little wonkier, so hang in there.

There are two kinds of vote tabulating systems in use: Approximately 20 percent are Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), called Touchscreens, which look something like an ATM. DREs both record and tally votes within their internal computers. The other ubiquitous machines are Optical Scanners, which scan paper ballots filled out by the voter, including absentee and vote-by-mail ballots.

The Touchscreens were an inappropriate technology purchased by states with funds from the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a $3.9 billion pork barrel promoted by the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who served six years in prison for conspiracy to bribe public officials, tax evasion and mail fraud. Touchscreens immediately violated democratic elections by providing no paper ballot to audit or recount. Many Touchscreens were later retrofitted with a Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPAT), essentially a glorified toilet paper roll of flimsy receipt paper that has proven both expensive and useless for verifying elections.

The VVPAT myth has also been a sorry source of confusion for voters who were misled into believing a personal vote "receipt" is sufficient protection against fraud. The truth is that an individual receipt tells us nothing about the total vote tally inside the DRE computer, and in no way verifies the final election results. VVPAT receipts have also compromised voter privacy.

The final, and possibly most dangerous myth to placate and mislead concerned voters, is that the Optical Scanners are safe. In fact, they are also computers that can miscount and can be secretly programmed or hacked to rig elections. The only difference in safety is that the paper ballots are available for hand-count audits. Some scanners also provide digital ballot images that can be used for a separate audit.

However, without actually auditing these records in public, with a secure ballotchain of custody, they offer nothing but a false sense of security. And here's the rub:twelve states use Touchscreen voting machines that provide no paper record at all. Where paper is used with Optical Scanners, most states do not conduct meaningful audits. Many fail to uphold even the most common-sense standards, such as mandatory random selection of precincts (some are chosen weeks in advance), and public oversight.

Bad auditing practices may easily be nothing more than a cover for rigging.

In 2004 elections workers in Ohio were convicted of felony rigging in the statewide recount where legally mandatory random sampling was not done. Poll workers illegally pre-selected sample precincts for manual recounting, then recounted the rest of the ballots by machine, which rendered the audit meaningless. Elections Chief, Michael Vu, resigned after overseeing the corrupted election. He was quickly hired on as Registrar of Voters in San Diego, California, where he was recently sued by election integrity advocates for leaving 285,000 ballots out of a 1 percent manual audit of the 2016 primaries.

One Person, One Vote? Or 3/5 of a Vote?

Making a new case for 100 percent manual audits is a disturbing new report calledFraction Magic by investigator Bev Harris, author of the book Black Box Voting, and the Emmy-nominated 2006 HBO film, Hacking Democracy.

Fraction Magic exposes the presence of "fractionalized" programming in the GEMS software Harris says is currently counting approximately 25 percent of the votes in US elections. The programming can be used to "invisibly, yet radically, alter election outcomes by pre-setting desired vote percentages to redistribute votes."

A fractionalized vote means that, instead of the whole number "1," the recorded vote is allowed to be any other value that is not a whole number. This allows "weighting" of races, removing the principle of "one person, one vote."

Weighted votes, for example, could look like this:

One person, 3/5 of a vote: "0.60"
One person, one-and-a-half votes: "1.5"

Why would anyone want to program code that makes a vote less, or more than one?

The report claims that the use of fractionalizing, specifically the way it is programmed into GEMS, could allow for an "extraordinary amount of rigging precision." This could be by specific voting machine, absentee batch, precinct, or even by polling places in predominantly Black or Latino neighborhoods, college areas, or religious and partisan strongholds, for example.

Candidates can receive a set percentage of votes. For example, Candidate A can be assigned 44 percent of the votes, Candidate B 51 percent, and Candidate C the rest.

Is any of this proof that elections are being rigged? No. But it is yet more absolute proof that they can be, and that without manual verification of the machines, we will never know.

According to Harris, use of the decimalized vote rigging feature is invisible to observers and unlikely to be detected by current auditing or canvass procedures.Only a full hand-count of the paper ballots would definitively prove the veracity of the machine count.

For this reason, after decades of monitoring American elections, many integrity advocates like Harris promote nothing less than a full and secure hand-count of paper ballots done at the precinct, something the American public is likely to support, if given all the facts. What's missing, however, is the political will and public resources to carry out this kind of fully verified election.

Apparently, in the United States, we can conduct multiple trillion-dollar wars around the globe, but counting our own ballots on election night is simply an overwhelming proposition.

Some hope is now dawning with far-seeing officials like Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin in Columbia County, New York, who has worked with her GOP counterpart to ensure that all or most of the machine-cast votes are hand-counted.

"Some told me you can't count the votes, it's impossible," says Martin. "I say you can. New York City has 100 times the voters we have, but also 100 times the resources and people. It's just a question of managing the process, setting up the procedures. It certainly is doable."

Yes, Election Rigging Can Happen Here

Given all of the above, the most difficult hurdle in repairing the dysfunction and corruption in our voting system is not designing solutions, and it certainly isn't proving the problem; the evidence is overwhelming.

Instead, the problem is that the press, the political parties, the elections establishment and even some fleeced candidates, have aligned in a policy of never questioning election results. Even when -- or especially when -- all signs point to criminal fraud.

Though candidates like Richard Nixon, Al Gore, John Kerry and even Bernie Sanders, had reason to call foul and challenge the results of their races -- or at least question the processes -- they all chose to remain silent and continue their political careers without willingly donning the albatross of "sore loser" status.

The rationale given is always an unwillingness to undermine a peaceful and stable transition of power.

The press typically goes one step further in actively disparaging as "tin foil hatters" anyone who questions election results or claims they can be rigged. This necessarily includes not only actual conspiracy theorists, but also the technical experts, and even the government officials and candidates who have had the courage to speak out.

Over the years, these attacks have chilled public discussion and fostered the ultimate Orwellian myth that stolen elections "can't happen here." This is not only factually disproven, it simply flies in the face of our Republic's history.

As chronicled in "Deliver the Vote," from George Washington onward, vote rigging has been as interwoven in the fabric of American culture as bank robbery. The two are alike in that both are high-stakes crimes with big pay-offs, and both have evolved with technology. Computers now allow for invisible cyber-heists of billions in cash. On a similar scale, thousands, even millions of electronic votes can be siphoned from one candidate to another through malicious internal coding in the voting software.

The standard defense from electronic voting proponents is that "no one has ever proven the elections are rigged." Of course, that is the entire problem. We can't prove it. The design of these "black box" systems prevents the detection of insider fraud. It's the perfect crime.

Here is what we must remember: It's not the responsibility of voters or candidates to prove a non-transparent vote count was fixed. It's the job of legislators and election officials to provide transparency and uphold basic standards of democracy, and it's their failure to do so that's truly shocking.

The nation's 9,000 voting jurisdictions and 50 states need ironclad, uniform standards for non-partisan election oversight, ballot security and counting transparency, and a final end to paperless and privatized voting.

This crisis is reaching a tipping point. If we Americans fail to act to secure our elections, as Bogart warned at the end of Casablanca: "You will regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life."

Maybe, as soon as this November.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Congress and Activists Mobilize to Fight Voter Suppression

June 23 voting rights press conference; Rep. Veasey, (D-Texas), Rep. Sewell, (D- Alabama) Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow -- PUSH, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus, Barbara Arnwine, chair of the Voting Rights Alliance, Terry O'Neill, National Organization For Women and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York). (Photo: Ben Ptashnik)

June 23 voting rights press conference; Rep. Veasey, (D-Texas), Rep. Sewell, (D- Alabama) Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow -- PUSH, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus, Barbara Arnwine, chair of the Voting Rights Alliance, Terry O'Neill, National Organization For Women and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York). (Photo: Ben Ptashnik)

Sunday, 03 July 2016
By Victoria Collier and Ben Ptashnik,
Truthout | Op-Ed

The voting rights struggle led by Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, marked the beginning of a steady march of progress toward true electoral democracy. Yet 50 years later, we see that progress reversing dramatically since the Shelby v. Holderdecision of June 25, 2013. In that decision, the Supreme Court gutted the "pre-clearance" provisions of the Voting Rights Act and legitimized discriminatory and anti-democratic policy changes in 33 states.

The Shelby decision strengthened and codified a multi-pronged assault on voting rights already underwayby legislatures since 2010 -- not just in the South but also in red states in every other region of the country. These attacks, a coordinated political coup led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Tea Party, are a thinly veiled conspiracy to suppress progressive and liberal voters, especially voters of color. In the 2016 primaries we began to see the results as discriminatory voter roll purges and ID laws suppressed voting in Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Wisconsin, Arizona and many other states, portending a highly manipulated result in the November elections.

In May, a group of Congress members organized to fight back, launching a newVoting Rights Caucus, the first official congressional organization devoted to the cause of defending electoral democracy. Now 71 Representatives strong, the caucus is made up predominately of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

A main objective of the new caucus is to force Congress to take up the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 2867). Introduced in 2015 by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama), the bill seeks to restore pre-clearance Section 5 provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Regions with ugly histories of racial discrimination -- nine states and more than 60 counties -- previously had to seek preclearance from the Department of Justice for any changes to their voting laws. The conservative Supreme Court majority struck down pre-clearance on the bizarre proposition that it was no longer needed because the Voting Rights Act had been "working well." 

In her sharp dissent of Shelby, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that destroying preclearance is like "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

The Voting Rights Act had been renewed under the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations with overwhelming bipartisan support. Yet it has become clear that the new GOP majority in Congress has no intention of continuing to uphold this essential defense against discrimination: GOP leaders have refused to hold one congressional hearing on voting rights in the three years sinceShelby. Representative Terri Sewell, who was born in Selma, spoke passionately at the press conference explaining that in the Shelby decision the Supreme Court had challenged Congress to modernize the Voting Rights Act, but all efforts to do so were obstructed by the GOP. It’s now clear that any movement for voter protection will require both a serious, broad-based, people-powered protest movement for democracy, and also a change in the leadership of the Congress.

At the grassroots level, citizens are also organizing in profound ways to educate the population and inspire action. The new Voting Rights Alliance was formed in June to support the Voting Rights Caucus. On June 23, Alliance members from across the country came to DC for a rally and press conference. Speakers included Representatives Sewell and Veasey, Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, Terry O’Neill of the National Organization For Women, Rev. Lennoxx Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and Barbara Arnwine, Chair of the Voting Rights Alliance.

At the same time thousands of callers flooded the Congressional Switchboard, demanding the House Speaker and Judiciary Committee Chairs hold hearings on the Voting Rights Act. 

That day, the Alliance also held a Twitter town hall and a Twitter storm using the hashtag #ProtestShelby2016. The social media conversation included thousands of participants helping to launch a national campaign to push for the Voting Rights Advancement Act’s remedial legislation needed to restore voting rights, and to build a resistance movement to voter suppression.

Further efforts to fight the racist attack on voting rights include a new bill (H.R. 5557) called the Poll Tax Prohibition Act. Introduced by Representative Veasey, co-chair of the Voting Rights Caucus and nineteen co-sponsors, it pushes back against the slew of new voter ID laws byprohibiting the requirement that an individual present a piece of identification that has an associated cost. Currently, millions of voters in dozens of states face costly new identification demands that force them to chase documents in order to vote, even if they have already been voting for 50 years.

Women are most affected, especially elderly women of color, since many now have the onerous task of proving why the maiden names on their birth certificates do not match their married names. They are also less likely to be able to drive themselves on the chase for newly required documentation, as are would-be voters with disabilities.

Another piece of legislation promoted by the Voting Rights Caucus is the VOTE Act (H.R. 5131), which focuses on the security of future elections, calling for transparency of election tabulation and for addressing the reliability of aging voting machines, which often wind up in minority districts, breaking down and causing long lines at the polls. The VOTE Act was introduced by Hank Johnson (D-Georgia), who believes that "non-proprietary, open source software is imperative for next generation voting."

Currently, the majority of the United States' voting technology is owned and programmed by private companies. Their expensive voting machines, particularly the Touch Screen Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), are prone to breakdowns, and their vulnerabilities to fraud and hacking are also well documented in studies by John Hopkins, Princeton, Rice and Stanford Universities, as well as by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Government Accountability Office and Argonne National Laboratory.

Last year, Virginia decertified 3,000 voting machines used in about 30 counties after determining that there were severe security problems with the systems, including a poorly secured Wi-Fi feature for tallying votes that would have allowed someone to alter election results without leaving a trace.

These machines had been used in hundreds of elections since 2003. Similarly insecure voting systems are in use throughout the country.

Through the VOTE Act, states will be able to apply for federal funds to develop new, more transparent "open-source" technology for vote tabulation that can be publicly owned.

The VOTE Act also aims at making ballot recounts and audits more transparent. It states that, "upon passage of the VOTE Act, jurisdictions and parties to a recount, or election contest proceeding, would have access to the voting system software used in the election being contested."

As the Voting Rights Caucus and the Voting Rights Alliance gear up to fight voter suppression and manipulation of elections, organizers are seeking to build broad-based participation in the actions and educational campaigns being planned for August 10, the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and in the weeks leading up to the elections in November.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

We Need to Build a Voting-Rights Movement

The time has come to translate widespread outrage about voter suppression into momentum for an actionable voting-rights agenda.

By Rep. John Conyers and Barbara Arnwine
APRIL 14, 2016

First published in the Nation

The spring of 1966 was a harrowing yet hopeful period in America’s electoral history. In March of that year, the Voting Rights Act survived a Supreme Court challenge from the attorney general of South Carolina. Civil-rights campaigners could finally breathe at least a tentative sigh of relief as public officials across the country began initial preparations for the first federal election following passage of the landmark law for which King and countless others had toiled for years.

Fast-forward 50 years, and the scene is just as harrowing, but—tragically—far less hopeful. Voter-suppression tactics in 2016 are spreading like a virus in our body politic. In the first presidential primaries since the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the VRA and opened the floodgates for passage of voter-suppression laws in states, the impacts are already evident. Whereas voting rights were ascendant in 1966, voter-suppression tactics are spreading in 2016. Whereas Congress was moving in the right direction in 1966, in 2016, it’s often conspicuously absent.

The challenge this year—the 50th anniversary of the implementation of the VRA—isn’t just protecting free and open access to the ballot; it is also rekindling the fire that forced federal action on voting rights. This means reigniting a national movement for restoration of the Voting Rights Act, vigorous federal enforcement of electoral rights, and a reversal of anti-democratic state voter-suppression laws. With our country at a political turning point, time is of the essence.

As The Nation’s Ari Berman and others have methodically reported, the far-right’s well orchestrated voter suppression strategy—focusing on voter ID laws, purging of voter rolls, polling place reduction, and rolling back early voting requirements—has actually resulted in a rekindling of Americans’ 1960s-style resolve in defense of the right to vote. Look at Aracely Calderon, a naturalized citizen from Guatemala, who stood at the back of a 700-person, four-block line and waited five hours to vote in the Arizona primary. Or Dennis Hatten, an African-American Marine veteran, who enduredseemingly endless bureaucratic hurdles to get a Wisconsin photo ID after being told his other forms of identification—including a veteran’s ID—were insufficient under that state’s new draconian voter-ID law. There is no shortage of courage and grit in the face of these abuses.

However, we need more than individual resolve to overcome the systemic injustice of voter suppression. We need a broad-based movement for legislative change. Many voter-ID laws—which 36 states have now enacted in varying forms—will have their first test in the 2016 general election. An analysis by Nate Silver for The New York Times shows that these laws can decrease turnout by between between 0.8 and 2.4 percent—a potentially decisive amount in highly competitive elections. Other academic researchsupports anecdotal findings that voter-ID laws have disproportionate impacts on minorities and immigrants, expanding the participation gap between white and nonwhite members of the electorate.

The time has come to translate widespread outrage about voter suppression into momentum for an actionable voting-rights agenda. The first step is building awareness of the legislative fixes that are available right now.

In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Shelby ruling—which paved the way for widespread state voter suppression by eliminating the requirement that jurisdictions with histories of discrimination obtain Department of Justice preclearance for any changes to voting laws—there was hope that Congress would act to mitigate the damage. Then-House majority leader Eric Cantor traveled to Selma with Representative John Lewis’s civil-rights pilgrimage and declared his intention to find a bipartisan solution. Unfortunately, in the wake of Cantor’s departure, the Republican Congress has balked at even discussing the issue. Both the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendments Act, HR 885, and the Voting Rights Advancement Act, HR 2867, are viable options for Congress to turn the tide against state-based voter suppression tactics. While not a panacea, these proposed post-Shelby VRA fixes would help end voter-access crises of the kind already on display in Arizona, North Carolina, and elsewhere by restoring the preclearence requirement in up to 13 states.

Voter protection is just the start of a legislative agenda for election integrity–which must also address issues like modernization of voting machines, absentee balloting, willful misinformation, felon disenfranchisement, partisan election administration, untrained election staff, and many others. On April 21, we’ll be participating in a special briefing on Capitol Hill—including the Rev. William Barber, Ari Berman, and others—to draw attention to the crisis of election integrity and to identify policy options for restoring our democratic institutions. This is the first of a series of efforts to bring the rising passion for voter protection to the halls of Congress.

The cause of voter protection is unique in that it can unite people from across the disparate areas of the progressive movement. Whether someone cares most about civil rights, campaign finance, climate change, reproductive rights, or global peace—fair and transparent elections are an absolute requirement for success. Election protection demands a fusion movement.

We’ve seen what happens when people are mobilized and organized in strategic action to defend the right to vote. Though African Americans were nearly absent from voter rolls in the deep south in the early 1960s, by late 1966, just four of the traditional 13 Southern states had African-American voter-registration levels under 50 percent. By 1968, even Mississippi had a 59 percent registration rate among African Americans. That progress was directly attributable to an indefatigable people’s movement that achieved tangible legislative change.

This year, voting-rights advocates are rightfully rushing to address the short-term barriers to the ballot box—getting people the required IDs, ensuring the presence of adequate polling sites, and protecting people from being purged from voter rolls. This is essential work. But we must also seize this moment and build broad momentum for a long-term election integrity agenda that can take hold in municipal buildings, in statehouses, and on Capitol Hill. 

Members of Congress Call for End to Mass Voter Suppression and Insecure Elections

Packed congressional hearing on voter suppression, April 21, 2016. (Photo: National Election Defense Coalition)

Packed congressional hearing on voter suppression, April 21, 2016. (Photo: National Election Defense Coalition)

Friday, 29 April 2016 09:55
By Ben Ptashnik and Victoria Collier, Truthout | News Analysis

Congressional briefings are typically dull affairs, usually with only a few dozen participants, but it was standing room only in a House Judiciary Committee hearing room on April 21, when nine members of Congress, their staff and 200 activists gathered to address the present crisis in US democracy: voter suppression and the manipulation of US elections.

In 2016 - the first presidential election since the US Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act - a slew of new malicious laws and tactics are disenfranchising millions of Americans, even as the private control of US vote-counting technology has come under renewed scrutiny in a primary season marked by allegations of fraud and election rigging.

Nine members of Congress condemned the "new Jim Crow" laws that have been forced on over half the states in the US.

This high-stakes, emotionally charged election cycle has seen widespread closure of polling locations, unprecedented voter roll purges, voting machine failures and extreme waiting lines that cause countless voters to turn away without having cast a ballot. Many have been given "provisional" ballots that are simply not counted. Irregularities in Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin and New York have engendered intraparty accusations and lawsuits, exposing a dysfunctional and often undemocratic election process.

The nine members of Congress who spoke, all from predominantly minority districts, loudly condemned the "new Jim Crow" laws that have been forced on over half the states in the US, and which the lawmakers believe were designed to deliberately suppress voters in their districts, particularly people of color, the poor, the elderly and students.

Rep. GK Butterfield speaking on voter suppression. (Photo: National Election Defense Coalition)

Rep. GK Butterfield speaking on voter suppression. (Photo: National Election Defense Coalition)

Representatives included the dean of the House and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, and longtime civil rights champion Elijah Cummings. Others who made passionate and sometimes angry statements included Representatives G. K. Butterfield (co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus), Sheila Jackson Lee, Terri Sewell, Maxine Waters, Marc Veasey, Alma Adams and Hank Johnson.

The briefing's sponsors, the National Election Defense Coalition and the Transformative Justice Coalition, support the urgent call for a new legislative agenda and political fusion movement to protect democracy, restore voting rights and ensure that every ballot cast is also counted in a secure, public, transparent process.

"There is a very insidious, treacherous and deceitful method of voter suppression, and it has to do with the integrity of the voting process itself."

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) brought much needed attention to a crucial aspect of the election crisis: the aging, hackable voting technology used nationwide. Johnson cited the fact that the vote-counting software in these machines is still programmed by a cadre of private companies on proprietary software inaccessible to elections officials and the public.

"There is a very insidious, treacherous and deceitful method of voter suppression," stated Johnson, "and it has to do with the integrity of the voting process itself." 

As the Brennan Center for Justice recently reported, the United States' current voting systems are falling apart over a decade after they were bought with $3.9 billion in funds allocated by Congress in the Help America Vote Act. "How many of you believe that we should be using a touch-screen voting machine that is 10 years old, operating on year 2000 technology and software, with no security upgrades available for more than a decade?" asked Johnson.

Johnson touched on the concerns of both voters and candidates in this election season when he discussed the well-known vulnerability of these voting systems to internal error, fraud and outsider hacking -- claims supported by top computer scientists and cybersecurity experts from MIT, Princeton, the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Labs and many others whose warnings have largely been unheeded.

"Can you imagine why we have had elections where polls predicted that a certain person would win the election by five points and then it ends up the person loses the election by 10 points? Well, one possibility, and I think it's a very good one, is that someone's manipulating the counting of the votes. Someone is hacking into these computers that tabulate the votes," Johnson said.

Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, speaking on voter suppression. (Photo: National Election Defense Coalition)

Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, speaking on voter suppression. (Photo: National Election Defense Coalition)

The partisan control of voting technology has been a longstanding concern of Prof. Robert Fitrakis, Ph.D. and J.D., who testified on the widely contested 2000 election, which was marked by voter suppression of people of color, and on his involvement as a lawyer in contesting the 2004 elections, in which the computer architecture of election night was in the hands of far-right-wing partisan companies and election officials.

"The most dangerous thing in our democracy right now is the fact that partisan, for-profit corporations using secret proprietary software provide the voting hardware and the software to register us to vote, count our votes and report election results," Fitrakis said. "I want to know why these private companies who are not using open-source software are counting our votes, registering our votes and then doing the central tabulation."

To save democracy, it's important to both take to the streets and take to the Hill.

This week, to begin addressing some of these problems, Johnson will introduce the Verifying Optimal Tools for Elections Act of 2016 (VOTE Act). The bill calls for state-controlled, open-source programming of all voting technology, and provides more than $125 million in Help America Vote Act grants to assist states in replacing voting machines. The bill would also allocate $50 million in grants for training poll workers, adopting new voting technologies and safeguards, and, crucially, removing control of voting machine source code software from private vendors.

There are also clear legislative strategies for meeting the broader challenge of voter suppression. Congress can act now to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 1659 and H.R. 2867), which has more than 150 co-sponsors in the House and bipartisan support in the Senate. The legislation would restore the Voting Rights Act and help to end the voter access crises.

Johnson from Ben-Zion Ptashnik on Vimeo.

This battle for democracy comes to a head this year as 32 states have promulgated new laws in response to the fabricated issue of "voter fraud." Sixteen of these states will see their plans go into effect for the first time in the crucial 2016 elections.

"We must emphatically ask the politicians that brought us these new Jim Crow laws to show us the fraud," stated Joel Segal, legislative director of the National Election Defense Coalition and a former staff member for Representative Conyers. He cited a Washington Post report showing that a comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation found only 31 credible incidents of so-called "voter fraud" out of 1 billion ballots cast in the United States.

Barbara R. Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, and former executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, put the current wave of voter suppression laws in the historical context of the poll tax and other attempts to disenfranchise voters of color.

The keynote presenter, Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, and leader of the Moral Mondays protest movement, described the avalanche of voter suppression laws unleashed in North Carolina immediately after the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Barber also helped lead the Democracy Awakening protests that took place outside Congress on April 18, and saw civil rights organizations, unions, social justice groups and environmentalists all standing together to demand the restoration of voting rights and election campaign finance safeguards.

This "inside-outside strategy" embodied in twin actions -- focusing on official congressional actions and grassroots direct action -- is the strategy that Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists employed to transform the political landscape a generation ago. To save democracy, it's important to both take to the streets and take to the Hill.

The briefing sparked movement in the halls of Congress: Rep. G. K. Butterfield announced that voter suppression would now be a top priority of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Many members of Congress articulated the need to translate widespread outrage about election manipulation into an actionable voting rights agenda that protects the coming general election, and all future elections. It is clear that accomplishing that goal will require a political grassroots movement similar to the suffrage and civil rights movements that expanded the vote franchise in the last century.

Conyers noted with pleasure that the crowd at the hearing was marked by racial diversity, which he said would be needed to support a broad-based movement to restore democracy to US elections.

Congressional staff and organizers are planning a series of field hearings and town hall meetings across the nation aimed at giving voice to citizens who were not allowed to vote in the 2016 presidential primaries, and pushing for repeal of voter suppression laws. The first field hearings will be held in Michigan, Texas, Alabama and North Carolina. Further congressional hearings will be scheduled this summer and fall.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

 

The Retreat From Voting Rights

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By WILLIAM BARBER II
President, NAACP North Carolina
Moral Mondays Movement leader


APRIL 28, 2016

Durham, N.C. — ON Monday, Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, N.C., upheld legislation passed in 2013 that imposed far-reaching restrictions on voting across this state, including strict voter-identification requirements. Judge Schroeder justified his decision by claiming that robust turnout in 2014 proved that the law did not suppress the black vote. But in reality, his ruling defended the worst attack on voting rights since the 19th century.

That attack began almost immediately after a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which weakened Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act. Section 5 required federal pre-approval of changes to voting laws in places with a history of discrimination, including parts of North Carolina. Within hours of that ruling, lawmakers in Raleigh filed H.B. 589, proposing some of the toughest voting rules in the country. Referring to Shelby, one sponsor expressed his relief that curtailing voting protections could move forward now that the “headache” of the Voting Rights Act had been removed. The Legislature passed the bill, and it was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.

The law eliminated voting rules that had enabled North Carolina to have the fourth best per capita voter turnout in the country. In 2012, 70 percent of black voters used early voting — and cast ballots at a slightly higher percentage than whites. Although black voters made up about 20 percent of the electorate, they made up 41 percent of voters who used same-day registration.

The North Carolina Legislature set out to change those figures and suppress minority votes. Its many impediments to voting all disproportionately affect African-American and Latino voters. None of their attacks would have survived pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. A Republican official defended the law this way: “If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.”

There never was evidence of voter impersonation to justify the voter ID requirements established by the law. Yet the harm of those requirements is clear: At last count, 318,000 registered North Carolina voters — disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos — do not have a driver’s license or a state ID card.

Continue reading the main story

New Filing in Voter Rights Lawsuit Exposes Serious Flaws at DMV Providing Voters With IDs

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News / Getty Images

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News / Getty Images

Erroneous Denials and Bureaucratic Bumbling Taking the Franchise Away From Legal Voters

Read original press release by One Wisconsin Institute here

MADISON, Wis. — A new filing in a lawsuit brought by One Wisconsin Institute and other voter rights advocates exposes serious flaws at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the process for providing Wisconsinites with the ID that voters must now produce to cast their ballot at the polls. As part of the voter ID law adopted by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican controlled legislature, individuals are ostensibly able to request a free identification card from the DMV under certain circumstances. But bureaucratic delays and improper denials are preventing otherwise legal voters from obtaining the ID now required to vote.

“There has been a comprehensive, systematic effort in Wisconsin to make voting harder and more complicated for targeted populations by Republican politicians attempting to gain an unfair partisan advantage,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director. “The documented failures of the DMV to provide legal voters with the ID they now need to exercise their right to vote is yet another sad episode in the assault on democracy underway in Wisconsin.”

The suit, filed in federal court in Madison, outlines more than a dozen policies that have made voting in Wisconsin more challenging for eligible citizens and seeks to strike down various restrictive voting measures put in place by Governor Scott Walker and the Republican State Legislature since 2011.

The latest filing by the plaintiffs notes that in the state voter ID case, the state supreme court held that the DMV had to exercise its discretion under the “extraordinary proof” petition process to permit voters to obtain exemptions for having to pay for birth certificates or other government records needed to obtain voter ID. An analysis of this process and numerous examples shows how this process is resulting in otherwise legal voters being denied the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

An internal DMV analysis found an error rate of 27 percent, meaning more than one in four petitions to obtain a voter ID under the extraordinary proof process were mishandled between March and August of 2015. The agency admits numerous instances of petitions being suspended because a person gave up in anger or frustration.

And the problem is expected to get worse. The DMV is expecting increased demand for voter IDs this year due to the presidential election and already reports a backlog of dozens of “open” petitions, has cut back on staff, and has no extra staff or budget allocated to deal with the expected increased demand.

The filing includes several examples of how the DMV process is broken, resulting in eligible individuals being denied IDs, and therefore their right to vote, including:

  • Refusing to provide an ID to a woman who had lost the use of her hands and couldn’t sign an application. The woman brought her daughter with her to sign the application and even provided her daughter with power of attorney giving her permission to sign, but the DMV did not allow it;
  • Denying the petitions of many eligible voters because of minor discrepancies in the spelling of their names or uncertainties about their exact dates of birth—even though DMV acknowledges it has no doubts these disenfranchised voters are U.S. citizens;
  • “Turning away” a senior citizen who had been ‘born in a concentration camp in Germany,’ and his German birth certificate had been lost in a fire. That citizen was ultimately granted an ID, but only after extraordinary effort on his behalf to comply with absurd demands by the DMV.

Ross concluded, “When the DMV erroneously denies someone an ID or their incompetence and bureaucratic delays result in a person giving up in anger or frustration, they are denying a legal voter their right to vote. And that is unacceptable.”

# # #

One Wisconsin Institute is a non-partisan, progressive research and education organization dedicated to a Wisconsin with equal economic opportunity for all.

Virginians Describe How The State Has Made It Harder For Them To Vote

In Fairfax County, Virginia, an election officer who checks voter identification waits for a supervisor to clarify an ID problem, at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, an election officer who checks voter identification waits for a supervisor to clarify an ID problem, at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

BY EMILY ATKIN FEB 23, 2016 4:18 PM

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA — When Karen Stallings decided to move her blind, 84-year-old father from Arizona into her home in Virginia, she expected many new challenges in her life. She did not expect voting to be one of them.

And yet, a few months before election day rolled around, she realized her father’s drivers license was out-of-state and expired. And under Virginia’s strict voter ID law, every voter needs an acceptable, unexpired form of photo identification to cast a regular ballot. So in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, Stallings drove her father to the DMV to register to vote and get a photo ID card.

By the time we finally got him up to the window, he was so sick, he fell.

What followed was a series of DMV-related calamities that eventually saw her father in the hospital. Stallings described her experience on Tuesday in front of a Virginia federal judge, who is presiding over a heated trial over the state’s voter ID law. The Democratic Party of Virginia claims the law deliberately suppresses voting by minorities, young people, and the elderly.

“Dad has vertigo, so he can’t sit or stand very long,” Stallings explained. There were only two people ahead of her at the DMV, she said, but it took three hours before someone was able to help them. She informed workers of her dad’s condition — people even offered to switch tickets with her. But they needed a specific window, and a specific person to get the new ID. No one could help, so they waited.

“By the time we finally got him up to the window, he was so sick, he fell,” Stallings said. “He was in the hospital the next day.”

Weeks later, Stallings was informed she’d be able to register her father to vote online, using his passport and a bank statement delivered to her house for proof of address. He eventually was able to vote using an absentee ballot. So all was well in the end — but the hoops she had to jump through made her question the effectiveness of Virginia’s voter ID law, which passed despite no evidence of voter impersonation in the state.

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