2018 Voting Issues in America

Dec 2, 2018
The New Yorker
Allegations of G.O.P. Election Fraud Shake North Carolina’s Ninth District

The state’s Board of Elections—four Democrats, four Republicans, and one Independent—shocked North Carolina’s political establishment by voting unanimously not to certify Mark Harris’s win.

In October, during the final stretch of the congressional election in North Carolina’s Ninth District—one of the most tightly contested House races in the nation—Datesha Montgomery opened her door, in Bladen County, to find a young woman who explained that she was collecting absentee ballots. “I filled out two names on the ballot—Hakeem Brown for Sheriff and Vince Rozier for board of education,” Montgomery wrote in an affidavit. Under North Carolina law, only voters themselves are allowed to handle or turn in their ballots, but the woman at Montgomery’s door “stated the [other races] were not important.” Montgomery added, “I gave her the ballot and she said she would finish it herself. I signed the ballot and she left. It was not sealed up at any time.”

Earlier this week, Montgomery’s complaint, along with four other sworn statements, and a sixth which was not notarized, were submitted to the North Carolina election board by a lawyer for the state’s Democratic Party. These affidavits, which were first reported by the Charlotte TV station WSOC, contain the following allegations: a woman going door to door saying “she was assigned to the district to collect absentee ballots”; one instance of an unrequested absentee ballot arriving at a voter’s house; “improper” election monitoring at a polling site; unusual “coding” on absentee ballots; and two men separately saying that they overheard people talking about payments to a local political operative working for the Republican candidate, Mark Harris. As of now, these anecdotes are, of course, purely allegations. But state officials have begun to explore whether these testimonies could help explain statistical irregularities in the absentee-vote count for the Ninth District, which had previously been called for Harris over his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by a margin of nine hundred and five votes (out of around two hundred and eighty thousand cast).

North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District begins in the Democratic suburbs of Charlotte, but the gerrymandered counterweight, which has kept the seat in Republican hands since 1963, is a rural Republican stronghold stretching east along the South Carolina state line. It is here, in Bladen County and the neighboring Robeson County, that the problems began. Steve Stone, the chairman of the Robeson County Board of Elections, told the WashingtonPost that election officials became concerned in August by people dropping off large numbers of registration forms and absentee-ballot requests. He said that county residents had also made reports of people going door to door, telling voters that their registrations had been dropped, that they needed to re-register, and that they should sign an absentee-ballot-request form. The large number of complaints prompted state investigators to seize completed absentee-ballot-request forms and envelopes from both counties in the days after the election.

On Tuesday, the state’s Board of Elections—made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and one Independent—which tabulates and verifies every vote in the weeks after an election, shocked North Carolina’s political establishment by voting unanimously not to certify Harris’s win. “I’m very familiar with unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state,” Joshua Malcolm, the board’s vice-chairman and a Democratic resident of the Ninth District, said during the meeting. “I’m not going to turn a blind eye to what took place. To the best of my understanding, which has been ongoing for a number of years, that has been repeatedly referred to the United States Attorney and district attorneys to take action and clean it up.”

The board’s actions inspired J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics at Catawba College, near Charlotte, and a self-described “North Carolina politics data geek,” to reëxamine some of the voter returns. In Bladen and Robeson counties, Bitzer found that Harris won an unusually high share of mail-in absentee-ballot votes. Bladen was the only county where the Republican prevailed in the mail-in-absentee vote, winning sixty-one per cent of the votes from mail-in ballots—despite registered Republicans accounting for only nineteen per cent of the county’s returned absentee ballots. To achieve that margin, Harris would have needed to win not only all of the Republican ballots but almost every single mail-in vote from Independents, as well as a significant number of votes from crossover Democrats. Since posting his findings on his blog, Bitzer has been answering so many media calls that his voice has grown hoarse. “Now it feels more like an avalanche rather than the snowball effect,” he said. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

It was not just the general election in which the numbers looked funny. Investigators are now looking into the Republican primary, in May, as well. Harris won with eight hundred and twenty-eight votes over the incumbent, Robert Pittenger, claiming ninety-six per cent of the absentee ballots in Bladen County—which was a far higher margin of victory than the rest of his totals in the county. Pittenger told Spectrum News on Thursday, “We were fully aware of [the accusations of fraud]. There are some pretty unsavory people, particularly out in Bladen County, and I didn’t have anything to do with them.”

In the general election, Bitzer also found that, compared to other counties in the Ninth District, a much higher rate of mail-in absentee ballots requested in Bladen and Robeson counties—about forty per cent and sixty-two per cent, respectively—were never turned in. In fact, those two counties had the highest rates of unreturned absentee ballots of any district in North Carolina. And an analysis of the voting data by the Raleigh News & Observer found that “the unreturned ballots are disproportionately associated with minority voters,” who tend to vote for Democrats over Republicans. In Robeson County, seventy-five per cent of the absentee ballots requested by African-Americans and sixty-nine per cent of those requested by American Indians were never received by the state. On Friday, Harris tweeted, “There is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.” But about sixteen hundred mail-in absentee ballots were requested in the two counties and not returned, in a race decided by fewer than a thousand votes. Nate Silver, a data journalist and the founder of FiveThirtyEight.com, tweetedin response, “There are enough ballots in question in NC-9 to potentially affect the outcome.”

“Was this just an anomaly of people requesting ballots and then deciding not to send them in?” Bitzer said. “Or is this evidence of a concerted effort to influence or impact the election?” Prior to the election, Bitzer told me, it would have been possible for someone interested in interfering with the election to determine through public records which voters had not yet returned requested absentee ballots. “So it would not be a stretch, if someone made a concerted effort to look at each day’s records, for that someone to find out where that particular voter lived, and then it would be easy enough to go and try to collect it themselves.” Such an action would not only be illegal because a ballot may be handled only by the voter who completes it but would also create the opportunity for electoral fraud. As Bitzer noted, “Let’s say, a voter handed over a ballot to a collector, and the voter had not secured it in a sealed envelope, and there was no vote in the congressional election. The collector could put a vote in. If there was a vote, but it was not for the right candidate, the collector could mark a vote for a second candidate and spoil the ballot.” But, Bitzer added, “These are hypotheticals. We just don’t know to say with certainty what happened. We’re trying to piece a puzzle together, and we may not even fully understand how many pieces are out there.”

On Friday, after a three-hour closed-door meeting, the board declined to certify the election for a second time. Both Democrats and Republicans voted to hear evidence about “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities” at a meeting to be held by December 21st. A finding of fraud could result in a new election. At the end of the meeting, Andy Penry, the Democratic chairman, thanked the other eight members for their service, as the current board is authorized to operate only until 11:59 p.m. on Monday. The board has been mired in legal battles since its formation by a Republican supermajority in the state legislature, shortly after the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, defeated the Republican incumbent, in 2016. A court ruling in October found that the legislature’s attempt to sidestep the governor was unconstitutional, but it allowed the current board to continue until Monday so as not to disturb the November election and certification process. Shortly after the board adjourned on Friday, a stay was granted to allow it to remain in operation until December 12th. Who will take charge of the election after that, however, remains unclear. On Saturday, Penry, who had been under attack by Republicans for his criticism of President Trump, resigned, explaining, “I will not allow myself to be used as an instrument of distraction in this investigation.”

The North Carolina Republican Party has already threatened to sue if the current election results are not certified. Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the state Party, said, “Mark Harris got more legitimate votes. Mark Harris will be the congressman, and any effort not to do that would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.” David Lewis, the Republican chairman of the General Assembly’s Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House, who would likely be a key figure in any battles over a reconstituted election board, tweeted on Friday afternoon, “I am extremelyconcerned about the severe lack of transparency by the Governor’s Board of Elections. . . . This legislature retains statutory and constitutional oversight authority to ensure that his control is not being abused for political gain. We will use it.” Meanwhile, on Friday, Harris was in Washington, D.C., along with other newly elected representatives, participating in a lottery to determine the order in which they would select their offices in government buildings. “With the tension between the Democratic governor and the supermajority Republican lame-duck legislature,” Bitzer said, “I would be the last to try and predict where this goes next week. Stay tuned.”    Source

October 31, 2018
The New Yorker
How Voting-Machine Errors Reflect a Wider Crisis for American Democracy

When reports began circulating last week that voting machines in Texas were flipping ballots cast for Beto O’Rourke over to Ted Cruz, and machines in Georgia were changing votes for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to those for her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, it would not have been unreasonable to suppose that those machines had been hacked. After all, their vulnerabilities have been known for nearly two decades. In September, J. Alex Halderman, a computer-science professor at the University of Michigan, demonstrated to members of Congress precisely how easy it is to surreptitiously manipulate the AccuVote TS, a variant of the direct-recording electronic (D.R.E.) voting machines used in Georgia. In addition, Halderman noted, it is impossible to verify that the votes cast were not the votes intended, since the AccuVote does not provide a physical record of the transaction.

Election-security experts, meanwhile, used the opportunity to remind the public—yet again—how susceptible touch-screen voting machines are to error, especially because they often rely on outdated and unsupported software. As the Brennan Center for Justice cautioned back in 2008, typically machines flip votes because they aren’t properly calibrated. This can happen, and does happen, to candidates from any party. But none of that was what we were hearing from election officials themselves. “The machines do not have glitches,” Stan Stanart, the county clerk in Harris County, Texas, which uses a system called the Hart InterCivic eSlate, told a local television station. He blamed mistakes on the voters themselves.

The irony here is that these particular vote-flipping machines were deployed across the country in response to the monumental failure of punch-card voting machines during the 2000 Presidential election, when so-called hanging chads very likely resulted in the wrong man winning. The crisis that ensued inspired a bipartisan Congress, in 2002, to pass the Help America Vote Act (hava). Among other things, hava created the Election Assistance Commission, which it then deputized to test and certify voting machines. The act also allocated millions of dollars for election-infrastructure upgrades, much of which was used to replace traditional voting machines with computerized machines like eSlate and the AccuVoteTS. Georgia, in fact, was the first state to adopt D.R.E. touch screens statewide.

Those machines are still in service, despite their well-documented problems. A lawsuit to compel Georgia to use paper ballots in the November midterms fell short in September, when Judge Amy Totenberg, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, ruled that there was not enough time to get a paper-ballot system up and running. But she also wrote that the plaintiffs had shown that Georgia’s voting machines posed “a concrete risk of alteration of ballot counts that would impact their own votes.” Totenberg added that “given the absence of an independent paper audit trail of the vote, the scope of this threat is difficult to quantify, though even a minor alteration of votes in close electoral races can make a material difference in the outcome.”

This is especially troublesome because Kemp, the Georgia secretary of state, is overseeing his own election. If the state’s voting machines—which he has resisted replacing—are flipping in his favor, there will be no way to prove it. On October 22nd, the former President Jimmy Carter, a lifelong Georgian and veteran international-election observer, called on Kemp to resign as secretary of state to eliminate this conflict of interest. Kemp did not respond. Earlier this year, after purging more than half a million voters—more than three hundred thousand of them erroneously—and sidelining fifty-three thousand voter-registration applications in this election cycle, most of them from African-Americans (Abrams is black), Kemp said, “For anyone to think there’s a way to manipulate the process because you’re secretary of state is outrageous.”

The voting machines purchased back in the early two-thousands were never meant to last this long. They have a shelf life of ten, maybe fifteen years. Many are no longer made, or the companies that manufactured them have gone out of business, or both. To get spare parts, election officials have had to scour eBay and Craigslist, looking for old machines that other municipalities have discarded. Those municipalities have the funds to buy new voting equipment. Under-resourced communities do not. What we’re getting, as the Brennan Center has pointed out, is a “two-tiered” electoral system, bound to larger economic and social inequalities. Decrepit and broken machines result in long lines, and long lines result in people walking away without voting. This is not voter suppression—it’s voter depression, but the consequences are the same. In 2012, for instance, somewhere between five hundred thousand and seven hundred thousand people were shut out of voting by long wait times. And long lines, according to researchers at the Caltech/M.I.T. Voting Technology Project, undermine public confidence in the election system, “even when individuals do not experience the long lines themselves.”

hava also introduced the provisional ballot, a fail-safe mechanism created to enable citizens to vote even if they encounter obstacles on Election Day, such as faulty voting machines, eligibility challenges by poll workers, or discrepancies in the voting records. Once they are cast, provisional ballots are put aside until their authenticity can be verified. But the law has left it to the states to decide how these ballots are counted—or not—and when. This could be a couple of days after an election, a week later, or never. They become crucial in close elections but marginal otherwise; about twenty per cent of provisional ballots are not counted in midterm elections, and about thirty per cent in Presidential elections.

When paired with the restrictive voter-I.D. laws that Republican-controlled states have been passing since 2005, ostensibly to prevent voter fraud—which has repeatedly been shown to be all but nonexistent—provisional ballots, intended to protect voters, become yet another instrument of disenfranchisement. A provisional ballot cast in Indiana, the first state to implement restrictive voter-I.D. laws, will be rejected for the very same reason that it was cast provisionally in the first place: because the voter does not have a state-issued I.D. In Georgia, a provisional voter with the wrong I.D. or no I.D. is given three days to bring the documents to a county registrar’s office, which may be open only during working hours.

According to the N.A.A.C.P., which recently lost a challenge to Alabama’s voter-I.D. law, an estimated hundred thousand Alabamians are effectively prevented from voting because they don’t have acceptable I.D.s. The judge’s rationale in the case—that the voter-I.D. law is not discriminatory, because it applies to all citizens equally—echoes the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which upheld Indiana’s restrictive voter-I.D. laws. In the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote a concurring opinion in the case, the Indiana law was “a generally applicable, nondiscriminatory voting regulation.” But even he acknowledged that a law applied universally is not the same as a law experienced equally, writing that the “the Indiana law affects different voters differently.” Of course, this fact, which Scalia deemed “irrelevant,” has been proved true in state after state since. In Wisconsin, in 2016, for instance, African-Americans were more than three times more likely to be deterred from voting by that state’s voter-I.D. law.

This past spring, in Texas, where black and Hispanic citizens comprise a disproportionate number of the more than six hundred thousand people who do not have the required voting documents, a federal court of appeals upheld a voter-I.D. law that levies criminal penalties on people who submit an incorrect affidavit asserting the right to vote. (Earlier this year, Texas sent a woman to prison for five years for mistakenly voting while she was on probation.) Strict voter-I.D. laws have kept Hispanics in Arizona, students in New Hampshire, Native Americans in North Dakota, and people of color in Wisconsin, Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio, to name a few, from voting. “I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion” in Crawford, when it was heard by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the conservative jurist Richard Posner wrote in his 2013 memoir. That law, he observed, is “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”

The United States has a long history of denying the vote to whole groups of people— especially women, people of color, and the poor. Poll taxes, literacy exams, and property deeds have been replaced by voter-I.D. laws, polling-place closures, and state-sanctioned efforts to curtail voter registration. Most recently, this has been a Republican strategy to grab and hold on to power, one best explained by the conservative operative Paul Weyrich when he was plotting Ronald Reagan’s path to victory, in 1980: “I don’t want everybody to vote . . . our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

What we’re seeing now, as that strategy comes to fruition, and entrenched social and economic inequalities undermine the ability of whole swaths of citizens to cast a ballot, is a concerted effort to make sure that our election system does not work for everyone. Voting machines that flip votes don’t need to be hacked by a malicious foreign actor to undermine public confidence in the integrity of our democracy. That’s being done for Americans, by Americans.  Source

August 12, 2018
670 ballots in a precinct with 276 voters, and other tales from Georgia’s primary

WASHINGTON – Habersham County’s Mud Creek precinct in northeastern Georgia had 276 registered voters ahead of the state’s primary elections in May.

But 670 ballots were cast, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office, indicating a 243 percent turnout.

The discrepancy, included in a number of sworn statements and exhibits filed as part of a federal lawsuit against the state by election security activists, comes amid swelling public concern for the security of Georgia’s voting systems. Georgia is one of four states that uses voting machines statewide that produce no paper record for voters to verify, making them difficult to audit, experts say.

And cybersecurity experts have warned that there were security flaws on the state election website leading up to the 2016 contest that permitted the download and manipulation of voter information.

The court filings highlight various issues with Georgia’s 16-year-old voting machines, as well as the system that runs them and handles voter registration information.

In one sworn statement, a voter explains that she and her husband, who were registered to vote at the same address, were assigned different polling places and different city council districts. In another, a voting machine froze on Election Day.

In several instances, voters showed up at their polling places as listed on the secretary of state’s website, only to be told they were supposed to vote elsewhere.

An Atlanta Democrat’s voting machine provided him a ballot including the 5th Congressional District, for which longtime Rep. John Lewis ran unopposed, instead of his 6th Congressional District ballot, which featured a competitive Democratic race.

Some issues, such as the freezing machines, could be chalked up to the age of the polling infrastructure, said Harri Hursti, a computer programmer who studies election cybersecurity.

But others, like the incorrect ballots, could have been caused by anything from a clerical error to a malicious manipulation of voter data, said Hursti, who is also the organizer for the Voting Village at hacking conference DEF CON, where participants demonstrate hacking into some state voting machines.

It’s possible that there’s a connection between the security issues reported at Georgia’s Center for Election Systems and the issues chronicled in the court statements, but an immediate switch to paper ballots is necessary regardless, Hursti said.

“But the connection is not needed,” he said. “You don’t need to have a smoking gun to do the right thing.”

In a statement, the office of Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp defended the security of state elections.

“Alongside federal, local and private sector partners, we continue to fight every day to ensure secure and accurate elections in Georgia that are free from interference. To this day, due to the vigilance, dedication and hard work of those partners, our elections system and voting equipment remain secure,” spokeswoman Candice Broce wrote in an email.

Kemp has set up a bipartisan commission to look into changing state voting machines ahead of the 2020 elections, but not in time for the midterm elections this November.

Marilyn Marks, the executive director of the Coalition for Good Government, which has led the charge against the state’s management of the election system, said the statements filed in federal court are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to voter complaints.

“We are submitting only a small sample from scores of known system malfunctions and irregularities,” she wrote in an email. “But those examples should raise alarms with officials, political parties, candidates and voters. Something is terribly wrong at a systemic level, and is not being taken seriously by Secretary Kemp, or the state and counties’ election boards charged with conducting secure elections.”

The court statements are the latest additions to the growing list of concerns surrounding Georgia’s election security.

In July, Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment indicated that Russian operatives charged with hacking into Democrats’ emails also visited county election websites in Georgia, among other states.

Kennesaw State University’s Center for Election Systems, which was responsible for running Georgia’s elections, was proved vulnerable by friendly cybersecurity experts both before and after the 2016 elections.

Voter information and other important data, which gets disseminated to polling places in Georgia’s 159 counties, was open to the public and could have been manipulated by bad actors, charged Logan Lamb, the first friendly hacker to notify the state of the issue. He sent that notification in August 2016, but the problem was not fully solved until March 2017.

Jasmine Clark, who will be on the ballot for Georgia’s House of Representatives in November, spent an extra half hour at her polling place on July 24. If she didn’t have that spare time, she may not have been able to vote at all, she said in her statement.

When Clark arrived at about 7:50 that morning, elections officials told her she’d gone to the wrong polling place, even though she hadn’t changed her registration information since 2016.

Inexplicably, she was told 25 minutes later that her name had appeared on the electronic poll book for that voting location, and she was able to cast her ballot.

“Unlike other people I met that day who were turned away, I had the flexibility to stay to fight for my right to vote in the right precinct on the correct ballot,” she said in her statement.

Duluth voter Dana Bowers experienced a similar problem. She was told, “Don’t worry Ms. Bowers, this has been happening all day,” according to her sworn declaration.

Bowers, who works as an advocacy coordinator in Josh McCall’s campaign for the 9th Congressional District, had checked her “My Voter Page” on the secretary of state’s office website before heading to the polls in July and found she’d been assigned a new precinct – number 100.

But when she arrived at what she thought was her new polling place, she was told she was still assigned her original polling place in precinct 96. She wound up filling out a provisional ballot that day. When she checked her “My Voter Page” after the election, she wrote in her statement, she was assigned to precinct 96 once more.

Other statements chronicled issues with the voting machines themselves.

Bowers, for example, noticed that a machine was marked “Do Not Touch,” when she went to vote in July. One poll worker told her votes had been cast on the machine prior to its failure on Election Day.

After the polls closed, Bowser noticed the results tape from the machine showed it hadn’t collected any votes.    Source

Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
August 3, 2018
Report: Trump commission did not find widespread voter fraud
PORTLAND, Maine — The now-disbanded voting integrity commission launched by the Trump administration uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud, according to an analysis of administration documents released Friday.In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who are both Republicans and led the commission, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said the documents show there was a “pre-ordained outcome” and that drafts of a commission report included a section on evidence of voter fraud that was “glaringly empty.”“It’s calling into the darkness, looking for voter fraud,” Dunlap, a Democrat, told The Associated Press. “There’s no real evidence of it anywhere.”Republican President Donald Trump convened the commission to investigate the 2016 presidential election after making unsubstantiated claims that between 3 million and 5 million ballots were illegally cast. Critics, including Dunlap, reject his claims of widespread voter fraud.The Trump administration last month complied with a court order to turn over documents from the voting integrity commission to Dunlap. The commission met just twice and has not issued a report.

Dunlap’s findings received immediate pushback Friday from Kobach, who acted as vice-chair of the commission while Pence served as chair.

“For some people, no matter how many cases of voter fraud you show them, there will never be enough for them to admit that there’s a problem,” said Kobach, who is running for Kansas governor and has a good chance of unseating the incumbent, Jeff Colyer, in the Republican primary Tuesday.

“It appears that Secretary Dunlap is willfully blind to the voter fraud in front of his nose,” Kobach said in a statement released by his spokesman.

Kobach said there have been more than 1,000 convictions for voter fraud since 2000, and that the commission presented 8,400 instances of double voting in the 2016 election in 20 states.

“Had the commission done the same analysis of all 50 states, the number would have been exponentially higher,” Kobach said.

In response, Dunlap said those figures were never brought before the commission, and that Kobach hasn’t presented any evidence for his claims of double voting. He said the commission was presented with a report claiming over 1,000 convictions for various forms of voter misconduct since 1948.

Pence’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Dunlap said he is unsure whether the administration has released all relevant documents, and said the matter is in litigation. He said he was repeatedly rebuffed when he sought access to commission records including meeting materials, witness invitations and correspondence.

He released his findings on a website.   Source

June 13, 2017
Vanity Fair

Republicans eager to downplay Russian interference in the 2016 election have often noted that while Moscow may have orchestrated a propaganda campaign to sway voters—and yes, allegedly hacked into Democratic Party computers and released thousands of damaging e-mails—there has been no evidence that the vote itself was tampered with in any way. A series of unflattering leaks may have hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the final stretch of the presidential race, but the Russians didn’t force her not to campaign in Wisconsin. Read more


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