A bipartisan group of six senators has introduced legislation that would take a huge step toward securing elections in the United States. Called the Secure Elections Act, the bill aims to eliminate insecure paperless voting machines from American elections while promoting routine audits that would dramatically reduce the danger of interference from foreign governments.
“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?
There’s no evidence that hacking had any impact whatsoever on the results of the 2016 election.
But—in an age of rapidly rising cybersecurity threats and quickly aging voting infrastructure—there’s no guarantee that elections in 2018, 2020, and beyond will be safe. While alleged Russian hacking has received huge attention this year, the cyber-threat to American electoral democracy could come in the future from Russia, China, North Korea, ISIS, Anonymous, or any of a number of potential players with cyber capacities.
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.
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.
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: NBC, ABC, CBS, Reuters, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, USA Today,The Hill, The Guardian, Mother Jones, Politico, and a dozen other outlets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"You've heard the old adage 'follow the money.' I follow the vote, and wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to ... make bad things happen." — Steve Stigall, CIA cyber-security expert, in remarks to the US Election Assistance Commission
Primary election rigging in the coming weeks and months is all but assured if American voters and candidates don't take steps to prevent it now. Evidence that US voting systems are wide open to fraud and manipulation should be taken seriously in light of the unprecedented high-stakes elections we're facing.
Not in recent history have American voters been presented with such radically polarized candidates, forcing a crucial choice for the direction of our future, and possibly upending long-established centers of power.
Local fixers, insider operatives, rogue hackers and even foreign countries could all rig US elections electronically.
It's no secret that US primaries have been tightly controlled by the two ruling parties, usually to the benefit of their favored candidates. If this internal manipulation (some might call it rigging) is not publicly condoned, neither is it loudly condemned.
This year, however, the primary season is shaping up to be a battle royal between the political establishment and outsider insurgencies who are challenging the party elites and defying their usual filters, money and manipulations. And it seems all bets are off.
As a brazen Donald Trump kicks down the door of the GOP, tens of millions in super PAC dark cash has (so far) failed to buy the candidacy for a lackluster Jeb Bush. Accusations abound that Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has stacked the deck for Hillary Clinton. Yet nothing - not even corporate media's censorship or outright hostility toward Bernie Sanders - has blunted his skyrocketing grassroots campaign.
You might ask: What is left, then, for the party powerful to ensure outcomes in 2016? Would any of them be so desperate as to actually rig the final vote count? Could they?
Indeed, they could.
But to be fair, so could a lot of other people. Local fixers, insider operatives, rogue hackers and even foreign countries could all rig US elections - in whole or part, in 50 states and most of the United States' 3,143 counties - electronically, and without detection.
Time and again, the beneficiaries of suspicious primary elections are establishment-favored candidates.
The potential for this vote-rigging cyberwar is the result of an ongoing crisis in US democracy - a silent coup of sorts. Over many decades, US elections have been quietly outsourced to a small group of private voting machine companies, some with extreme partisan ties and criminal records. They have now almost entirely replaced our publicly counted paper ballots with their secretly programmed, easily hacked electronic voting technology.
For example, the Diebold AccuVote-TS Touchscreen voting machine was recentlyanalyzed by Princeton computer security professors. They found that malicious software running on a single voting machine can be installed in as little as one minute, spreading invisibly from machine to machine through a virus, while stealing votes with little risk of detection.
While recent laws have limited essential hand-counting audits - in some cases making them actually illegal - in 18 states voting machines are used that produce no paper ballot at all, making verification of the results impossible.
Threats to the 2016 Elections
In 2016, Americans will once again cast their votes into this lawless electronic void, and no, we can't solve the problem before these game-changing primary elections. But shining a light on our voting systems does make a difference - as does getting out to vote: Voter apathy and ignorance create the ideal conditions for election rigging. Huge turnout makes election rigging less feasible, particularly when the pre-election polls or exit polls diverge more than 10 percent from actual vote returns. Manipulations usually happen when the spread between candidates is smaller than 10 percent.
What evidence do we have that any election rigging has already taken place? As it happens, extensive documentation exists, compiled over decades by researchers, cyber-security professionals, statistical analysts and even government agencies.
If you haven't heard about it until now, thank the press. A longstanding mainstream media blackout on this issue has prevented the evidence from reaching the public and vulnerable candidates.
While the investigations into rigging are mostly nonpartisan, the results typically are not. Time and again, the beneficiaries of suspicious primary elections are establishment-favored candidates. In general elections, far-right and extremist Republicans have overwhelmingly raked in the "surprise upset" wins.
Why Watch the Primaries?
The primaries in particular should be a major focal point of scrutiny by all democracy advocates and supporters of grassroots, populist and insurgent candidates in both parties.
See the eye-opening statistical analysis of vote results from 2008 to 2012 compiled by citizen watchdog team Francois Choquette and James Johnson. Results showed a highly suspect, so far inexplicable gain of votes, only in larger precincts, only for Republicans (and in the primaries, only for Mitt Romney), and only when votes are counted by computers.
Choquette, an aerospace engineer and Republican, writes, "This substantial effect exceeds reasonable statistical bounds and we calculate that the probability of such election results happening by chance is beyond typical or even extreme."
The potential smoking gun is that the votes gained by Republicans or "chosen" candidates in each precinct increase as a function of precinct size (vote tally), not the precinct location, whether in cities or rural areas. This makes no obvious sense based on any known demographic. Once you factor in rigging, however, it starts to make a lot of sense; stealing votes from a bigger pool is less likely to be detected.
Lower down the ballot, many Democrats got tens of thousands more votes than Bevin.
We see, again, the nightmare scenario I've warned about for so many years: a U.S. election where all of the pre-election polls suggest Candidate X is set to win, but Candidate Y ends up winning by a huge margin instead and nobody even bothers to verify that the computer tabulated results accurately reflect the intent of the voters.
That's exactly what happened in Kentucky on Tuesday, where Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway was leading by a fair margin (about 3 to 5 points) in almost every pre-election poll in his race for Governor, but then ended up being announced as the loser to 'Tea Party' Republican candidate Matt Bevin by a landslide (almost 9 points) --- according to the state's 100% unverified computer tabulation systems.
As detailed on today's program with my guest Karoli Kuns of Crooks And Liars, there are a number of reasons to question the reported results. Among them, as Kuns points out today at C&L, the Democrats running in the down ballot races --- for Secretary of State, Attorney General (Conway's current job) and even state Auditor --- each reportedly received tens of thousands more votes than Conway did at the top of the ticket!
Bev Harris, of BlackBoxVoting.org, described the higher vote totals in the down ballot races as a "significant anomaly". She tells me that, at least until more records are requested and examined, the KY-Gov's race "has to be looked at as a questionable outcome, particularly because of the discrepancies in the down ballot races. More votes in those races and not at the top...that just doesn't happen."
(Here is a link to a helpful Public Records Request toolkit [PDF] from Black Box Voting for those of you who may be interested in helping to try and obtain some transparency in this race, as we also discussed on today's program.)
There are many other reasons for supporters to question the reported results in the KY-Gov's race, as I detail during the show. Of course, the reported results could also be completely accurate. But, without public, human examination of the hand-marked paper ballots (which, thankfully, now actually exist across most of the state!) and other related records, we have yet another unverified, 100% faith-based election to leave supporters wondering if they really won or lost.
Written by Beth Clarkson
When you do your civic duty, and cast your vote for the various candidates and public propositions at an electronic voting machine, how confident are you that the results will be tabulated honestly?
If you feel less than sanguine about it and do a bit of the research to assuage your doubts, be prepared to feel even less confident afterwards. After years of casual research, the results I found have led me to file a lawsuit requesting access to the records needed to perform an audit myself.
My statistical analysis shows patterns indicative of vote manipulation in machines. The manipulation is relatively small, compared with the inherent variability of election results, but it is consistent. These results form a pattern that goes across the nation and back a number of election cycles. I’ve downloaded data and verified the results from several states for myself. Furthermore, the manipulation is not limited to a single powerful operator. My assessment is that the data reveals multiple (at least two) agents working independently to successfully alter voting results.
What convinced me that vote fraud is possible?
For me, it started with the 2004 Ohio presidential election. In 2005 I obtained and examined that data and it confirmed what other statisticians had said – that the results were highly suspicious. The official report from the congressional hearing on that election describes it as 'the abuse and manipulation of electronic voting machines and the arbitrary and illegal behavior of a number of elected and election officials which effectively disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters in order to change the outcome of an election.'
For a thorough assessment, I recommend reading 'Post-Election Audits: Restoring Trust in Elections' published by the Brennan Center for Justice which includes a lengthy appendix of various well documented voting equipment problems. The audit in my county (Sedgwick, Kansas) that I wish to perform is similar to those recommended in this report. Currently, my county does not perform any sort of post-election verification of voting machine results, not even for recounts. I know because I requested such a recount after the November 2014 election. That request was denied.
The voting machine software used is proprietary and even the election officials are not allowed to inspect it. This is termed Black Box Votingand combined with Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting, which permits touchscreen machines and does not require a paper trail allows a situation ripe for exploitation. In addition, as Harper’s Magazine reported in 2012, the security of these machines is so lax that:
'As recently as September 2011, a team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory hacked into one of Diebold’s old Accuvote touchscreen systems. Their report asserted that anyone with $26 in parts and an eighth-grade science education would be able to manipulate the outcome of an election….Johnston’s group also breached a system made by another industry giant, Sequoia, using the same “man in the middle” hack - a tiny wireless component that is inserted between the display screen and the main circuit board - which requires no knowledge of the actual voting software.'
Also, there’s the fact that the polls are red-shifted (where there is systematic biasing toward Republican candidates) and have been for several election cycles. This is routinely assumed to be due to Republicans being less likely to answer pollsters, but there is no empirical justification for it. It’s used by polling organizations in their models in order to more accurately predict official results.
What convinced me to take action was a paper titled ‘Primary Election Results Amazing Statistical Anomalies’ by Francois Choquette and James Johnson. After analyzing the same elections (which I downloaded myself from various state government sites) and confirming Choquette and Johnson's results, I had to try and do something about the problem. The data I’ve analyzed supports their hypothesis that we have a serious pervasive and systematic problem with electronic voting machines.
Kansas mathematician said this week that she had retained a lawyer and had scheduled a discovery hearing to force Secretary of State Kris Kobach to hand over voting records after they showed evidence of election fraud.
“I don’t understand why those patterns are there, the patterns are very definitely real. But we don’t know what’s causing them or why they’re there,” Wichita State University statistician Beth Clarkson told KSHB last month. “They do fit what would be expected if election fraud is occurring, and that’s very concerning.”
Brad Blog’s Brad Friedman explained the suspicious activity in a recent column:
Confirming a theory initially reported by two other statisticians in 2012 [PDF], Clarkson has found that computer-reported results from larger precincts in the state, with more than 500 voters, show a “consistent” statistical increase in votes for the Republican candidates in general elections (and even a similar increase for establishment GOP candidates versus ‘Tea Party’ challengers during Republican primaries). Those results run counter to conventional political wisdom that Democrats perform better in larger, more urban precincts.
Kobach, however, went to court to block Sedgwick County from releasing voting records to Clarkson.
“Paper Ballots Remain the Gold Standard” Cybersecurity Expert Says.
If the Defense Department, the CIA, and our largest corporations can be hacked, certainly 50 states and over 3,000 separate county systems are no match for individuals or nation states that might want to influence the outcome of elections.