Election Crisis in America

July 25, 2019

Robert Mueller issued a stark warning to Congress on Russian election interference Wednesday: “They’re doing it as we sit here.”

Still, Senate Republicans have blocked four pieces of legislation that sought to bolster the security of U.S. elections since the former special counsel’s daylong congressional testimony, the latest of which came on Thursday when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, blocked two unanimous consent votes.

“The Republican leader has already indicated his intention to bury this bill in the legislative graveyard,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, on the floor just prior to McConnell’s block. Schumer was one of two Democrats who tried to force a vote on one of the bills. “That’s a disgrace.”

In his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday, Mueller elaborated on his report, which concluded that Russia tried to interfere in 2016 in a “sweeping and systematic fashion.”

“It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign,” Mueller said of Russia. “Much more needs to be done in order to protect against these intrusions—not just by the Russians, but others as well.”

The measure Schumer attempted to force a vote on, known as Securing America’s Federal Elections Act and in which was passed by the House last month, would have provided $600 million for states to strengthen election security, given states $175 million biannually for election infrastructure, required post-election audits and more safeguards in electronic voting machines, such as federal elections backing up their electronic voting machine tallies with paper ballots. GOP Representative Brian Mast was the lone House Republican to vote for it.

McConnell said his opposition arose from his belief the legislation was “highly partisan” and came from the “same folks who hyped up a conspiracy theory” about Trump-Russia collusion.

Republicans block fourth election security bill
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions at the U.S. Capitol on July 9 in Washington, DC.PHOTO BY WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY

“It’s so partisan that it received one—just one—Republican vote over in the House. Clearly, this request is not a serious effort to make a law,” McConnell continued. “It’s very important that we maintain the integrity and security of elections in our country.”

Schumer suggested that McConnell bring a different elections security bill to the floor for debate. McConnell did not respond.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal’s move to force a vote on a separate elections security bill, the Duty To Report Act, which would require candidates, campaign officials and their family members to notify the FBI and the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours if they receive or are offered foreign contributions, was also blocked by McConnell.

Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith blocked the same move by Democrats Wednesday evening to pass similar election security bills. The Mississippi lawmaker did not state her reason for opposing the measures.

Current law already prohibits accepting or seeking foreign assistance in elections. However, neither campaigns nor candidates are required to report to the U.S. government any offers from foreign governments.

Even in the wake of the Russia probe that delved into the foreign adversary’s attempts to subvert the 2016 elections and Mueller’s conclusion that it is “among the most serious” issue that “deserves the attention of every American,” Trump has said he would accept damaging information on an opponent from a foreign government.

“I think you might want to listen,” Trump said in an interview with ABC News last month. “There isn’t anything wrong with listening.” The president later walked back his remarks.  Source

July 25, 2019
Senate Intel finds ‘extensive’ Russian election interference going back to 2014

The Senate Intelligence Committee has released its long-awaited bipartisan report on election security and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Among the key findings of the report, the committee writes that “the Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level.”

The report is heavily redacted in some areas and is 67 pages. The Senate panel, which has been investigating Russian interference for more than two years, released a summary version of its election security findings in May 2018.

The panel released its redacted report one day after former special counsel Robert Mueller appeared on Capitol Hill to testify about his own 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump.

The congressional document, which is the product of a bipartisan investigation led by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), recommended that officials give “renewed attention” to vulnerabilities in voting infrastructure, such as further securing voter registration databases.

The report also recommends that Congress should consider providing additional funding for states to secure elections once the $380 million appropriated by Congress to states for this purpose in 2018 is spent.

“In 2016, the U.S. was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary on our election infrastructure,” Burr said in a statement, noting that the Department of Homeland Security and state and local election officials have made strides in the past three years “to bridge gaps in information sharing and shore up vulnerabilities.”

“There is still much work that remains to be done, however,” Burr said. “It is my hope that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan report will provide the American people with valuable insight into the election security threats still facing our nation and the ways we can address them.”

Warner echoed Burr, saying neither the federal government nor the states were “adequately prepared” when Russia attempted to infiltrate U.S. voting statements in 2016 but said they have taken steps since then to ensure election systems are better secured.

But, Warner added, “there’s still much more we can and must do to protect our elections.”

The panel is expected to release further volumes laying out the investigation’s findings regarding the intelligence community’s assessment, the Obama administration’s response to Russian interference, social media disinformation campaigns and whether there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow sometime in the fall leading up to Election Day.

The report released Thursday stresses that federal agencies should remain “respectful” of state jurisdiction over the administration of elections, but that each should “be aware of their own cybersecurity limitations and know both how and when to obtain assistance.”

Mueller, during his highly anticipated testimony Wednesday, emphasized threats faced by U.S. elections from foreign interference.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy,” Mueller said in his opening remarks. “The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious.”

Democrats seized on Mueller’s comments to try to pass multiple election security bills by unanimous consent in the Senate this week, including more funding for states to secure election systems, as well as one to require federal campaigns to report contact with foreign nationals to authorities.

However, Senate Republicans blocked each of these bills, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying Thursday that he would only consider “bipartisan” legislation on the issue. McConnell has so far refused to allow a stand-alone vote on election security measures.

The Intelligence Committee’s report’s overall findings confirmed previous details made public about Russian efforts to access state voting infrastructure, with Illinois suffering the worst hit.

The committee reported that “as of the end of 2018, the Russian cyber actors had successfully penetrated Illinois’s voter registration database, viewed multiple database tables, and accessed up to 200,000 voter registration records.” This attack led to the exfiltration of voter data including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth and driver’s license numbers.

Election infrastructure in a second unnamed state was also breached, and several counties in that state were specifically probed. Officials from this state told the committee they were “highly confident” of the security of their systems, having implemented several upgrades since 2016.

While Illinois and the unnamed state suffered the worst effects of Russian election targeting, the committee wrote that intelligence developed in 2018 assessed that all 50 states were targeted in 2016 in some way.

The panel’s report cites testimony from Obama-era officials and Trump administration officials and security experts, as well as private interviews with state officials who are not named.

The Senate report says the investigation found no evidence any vote tallies were changed, vote-tallying systems manipulated or voter registration data changed or deleted but notes that the committee and the intelligence community’s insights are “limited.”

Mueller’s report, like the intelligence assessment that the Senate Intelligence Committee upheld, stated that Russia interfered to help Trump win but does not assert that Russia’s intervention had a material impact on the result of the election.

The Senate report also states that Russian Embassy officials submitted a request with the State Department to observe the election, which was not approved. Despite this, the committee found that the State Department was “aware that Russia was attempting to send election observers to polling places in 2016. The true intention of these efforts is unknown.”

The committee detailed Russian attempts to probe and access election systems and infrastructure in a variety of unnamed states. U.S. officials have said that Russian hackers probed election infrastructure in 21 states.

Among the more alarming of these finding was that in one state, cyber actors tried to penetrate systems that, had they been successful, would have allowed them to “manipulate the unofficial display of the election tallies.”

The report includes a number of recommendations. It calls on the federal government to create an effective deterrence by more forcefully pushing back on foreign interference, not only in the cyber arena, as part of a cyber doctrine.

“The United States should communicate to adversaries that it will view an attack on its election infrastructure as a hostile act, and we will respond accordingly. The U.S. Government should not limit its response to cyber activity; rather, it should create a menu of potential responses that will send a clear message and create significant costs for the perpetrator,” the report states.

It also includes a number of recommendations for federal and state officials to shore up the security of U.S. electoral systems, such as conducting security audits, institute two-factor authentication, create paper backups of voter databases and replace outdated voting systems.

The Senate panel opened its investigation in January 2017. Most of its work has taken place behind the scenes, as the committee has interviewed key members of the Trump campaign and other figures integral to the investigation.

Burr has at various points predicted the investigation to be wrapping up, but it has extended longer than anticipated. The committee was re-interviewing witnesses earlier this year, including Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr., who was summoned via subpoena.

Mueller’s investigation found that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in sweeping and systematic form, but did not find enough evidence to charge members of the Trump campaign in a broader conspiracy with Russia.

Mueller also did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the Russia investigation — an issue of prime focus during the former special counsel’s testimony on Wednesday.  Source

January 22, 2019
How Voting-Machine Lobbyists Undermine the Democratic Process

In the past decade, Election Systems & Software (E.S. & S.), the largest manufacturer of voting machines in the country, has routinely wined and dined a select group of state-election brass, which the company called an “advisory board,” offering them airfare on trips to places like Las Vegas and New York, upscale-hotel accommodations, and tickets to live events. Among the recipients of this largesse, according to an investigation by McClatchy published last year, was David Dove, the chief of staff to Georgia’s then secretary of state, Brian Kemp. Kemp, the new governor of Georgia, made news in the midterm elections for his efforts to keep people of color from voting and for overseeing his own election. In March of 2017, when Dove attended an E.S. & S. junket in Las Vegas, Kemp’s office was in the market to replace the state’s entire inventory of voting machines. “It’s highly inappropriate for any election official to be accepting anything of value from a primary contractor,” Virginia Canter, the chief ethics officer at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told McClatchy. “It shocks the conscience.” (Kathy Rogers, E.S. & S.’s senior vice-president for governmental affairs, told McClatchy that there was nothing untoward about the advisory board, which she said has been “immensely valuable in providing customer feedback.”)

Earlier this month, Georgia’s Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission voted to recommend that the state replace its touch-screen voting machines with newer, similarly vulnerable machines, which could be produced by E.S. & S. at an estimated cost of a hundred million dollars. In doing so, the panel rejected the advice of computer scientists and election-integrity advocates, who consider hand-marked ballots to be the “most reliable record of voter intent,” and also the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which recommended that all states adopt paper ballots and conduct post-election audits. The practice of democracy begins with casting votes; its integrity depends on the inclusivity of the franchise and the accurate recording of its will. Georgia turns out to be a prime example of how voting-system venders, in partnership with elected officials, can jeopardize the democratic process by influencing municipalities to buy proprietary, inscrutable voting devices that are infinitely less secure than paper-ballot systems that cost three times less.

The influence-peddling that has beset Georgia’s voting-system procurement began years earlier, in 2002, when the legislature eliminated a requirement that the state’s voting machines produce an independent audit trail of each vote cast. That same year, the secretary of state, Cathy Cox, signed a fifty-four-million-dollar contract with the election-machine vender Diebold. The lobbyist for Diebold, the former Georgia secretary of state Lewis Massey, then joined the lobbying firm of Bruce Bowers. The revolving door between the Georgia state government and the election venders was just beginning to spin.

In 2006, a bill requiring a verifiable paper record of each ballot, introduced in the Georgia legislature at the urging of election-integrity advocates, failed after the state’s elections director, Kathy Rogers, opposed it. Rogers, of course, later went to work for E.S. & S. Election-integrity advocates sued in response, challenging the legality of the state’s voting equipment. In the three years that the case wended its way through the courts, where it was eventually dismissed by the Georgia Supreme Court, the new secretary of state, Karen Handel, was found to have received twenty-five thousand dollars in campaign contributions from employees and family members associated with Massey and Bowers’ lobbying firm.

In 2012, Charles Harper, a sod farmer who had been elected to the Georgia House of Representative a decade earlier, became a registered lobbyist in the office of the Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp, where he served as legislative director. At the end of 2017, as Kemp was ramping up his campaign for governor, Harper did not renew his lobbying credentials with the secretary of state. Instead, he registered to lobby for E.S. & S. Around the same time, John Bozeman, then the head of legislative affairs for Georgia’s former governor, Sonny Perdue (who is now the Secretary of Agriculture in the Trump Administration), also registered to lobby on behalf of E.S. & S. After Kemp won the governor’s race, in November, he named Harper, whose contract with E.S. & S. ended in June, 2018, to his transition team. Harper is now Kemp’s deputy chief of staff.

While Harper was shilling for E.S. & S., Georgia’s election system was again being challenged in the courts. That suit was decided last September, when Amy Totenberg, a federal judge in the Northern District of Georgia, denied the plaintiffs’ request to compel the state to use paper ballots in the November midterms, on the grounds that their request was made too close to the election. But, Judge Totenberg warned, “Advanced persistent threats in this data-driven world and ordinary hacking are unfortunately here to stay. Defendants will fail to address that reality if they demean as paranoia the research-based findings of national cybersecurity engineers and experts in the field of elections. Nor will surface-level audit procedures address this reality when viruses and malware alter data results and evade or suppress detection.”

In the meantime, Kemp was looking to replace the state’s voting machines. A year before Totenberg’s decision, in August, 2017, he invited Rockdale County to pilot the E.S. & S. ExpressVote system in its municipal elections. A pilot project like the one in Rockdale County, which E.S. & S. paid for, gives venders a competitive advantage when it comes time for legislators to set the terms for what can and can’t be purchased. Edward Perez, a fifteen-year veteran of the commercial election industry who now works on open-source election technology, told me, “What any one of the venders and lobbyists are going to do is they’re going to be working to get the ear of the proper people in the state legislature, most of whom, not surprisingly, are not well schooled in all of the details of election administration.” The Rockdale pilot, Perez said, would have put E.S. & S. “in the catbird seat” when it was time for election officials to consider options for future voting technology. His colleague at the Open Source Election Technology Institute, Gregory Miller, put an even finer point on it. “You can actually structure that request for bid in such a way that you almost have lit up the answer as to who is going to win the contract,” he said. “You almost immediately know that only one vender is going to have a solution for that. This is where the vender lobby comes in.”

Something similar happened last fall in Delaware, where the Voting Equipment Selection Task Force also voted to replace its aging touch-screen machines with a variant of the ExpressVote system. When Jennifer Hill, at Common Cause Delaware, a government-accountability group, obtained all the bids from a public-records request, she found that “the Department of Elections had pretty much tailored the request for proposal in a way that eliminated venders whose primary business was to sell paper-ballot systems.” Hill also noted that a lobbyist for E.S. & S., who was “well-connected in the state,” helped “to shepherd this whole thing through.” Elaine Manlove, the Delaware elections director, told me that the twelve members of the election task force each independently concluded that ExpressVote was the best system for the state. “It’s not a big change for Delaware voters,” she said. “They’re voting on the screen, just like they do now.” (A representative from E.S. & S. told me that the the company “follows all state and federal guidelines for procurement of government contracts.”)

In Delaware and Georgia, voting equipment is purchased and deployed statewide. But, in most states, these decisions are made by counties, which oversee elections. Last year, Franklin County, Ohio, bought ExpressVote machines, as did Johnson County, Kansas. Counties in New Jersey and Arkansas have done so, too. It’s a trend that has election-security experts concerned. “I have started calling all of these things voting computers, because I think that changes the expectations of how well they work,” Duncan Buell, a professor of computer science at the University of South Carolina who has been studying electronic voting systems since 2005, told me. “Any time you introduce computer technology, you introduce the probability that, if there is value, somebody is going to try to hack it. And this is why people are very skeptical—and I’m certainly very skeptical—of using computers for any election any more than is absolutely minimally necessary.”

The ExpressVote machines use what are known as ballot-marking devices. Once a vote is cast on the touch screen, the machine prints out a card that summarizes the voter’s choice, in both plain English and in the form of a bar code. After the voter reviews the card, it is returned to the machine, which records the information symbolized by the bar code. It’s a paper trail, but one that a voter can’t actually verify, because the bar codes can’t be read. “If you’re tallying based on bar codes, you could conceivably have software that [flips] the voter’s choices,” Buell said. “If you’re in a target state using these devices and the computer security isn’t very good, this becomes more likely.” This is less of a concern in states that require manual post-election audits. But neither Georgia nor Delaware do.

On January 4th, when the new Congress introduced its first piece of legislation, H.R. 1, it, too, registered concern about election security. The bill, a five-hundred-and-seventy-one-page laundry list of reforms sought by the Democratic majority, includes a provision that would mandate voting on paper ballots. This is not the first time that members of the House have tried to move the country away from computerized voting machines. Last year, the Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi, proposed the Election Security Act; a year before, the Republican Mark Meadows, the chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, introduced the Paper Act, which was endorsed by the former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and by Grover Norquist, the president of the conservative organization Americans for Tax Reform. The Senate’s attempt to reform election practices, last year’s Secure Elections Act, had bipartisan support, too, but was killed by the White House before it got out of committee.

Much of the resistance to these proposals is coming from the state level. In early January, the incoming president of the National Association of Secretaries of State (nass), the Republican Paul Pate, of Iowa, told Politico that H.R. 1 was “a huge federal overreach.” The current nass president, the Vermont secretary of state Jim Condos, made it clear to me that, though he personally believes voter-marked paper ballots and post-election audits should be standard practice, he was not able to say this in his official capacity as nass president. “We try to keep partisan politics out of the way,” he said. nass holds its meetings twice a year, and Condos told me that “there is no question that the venders are there and they’re showing their latest and greatest.” In fact, E.S. & S., Hart InterCivic, and Dominion, which together make and service virtually all of the election machines used in the United States, are financial contributors to nass. All are privately held companies and thus largely shielded from financial disclosure. In addition, since 2013, E.S. & S. has donated more than thirty thousand dollars to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that, in her book “Dark Money,” the New Yorker writer Jane Mayer calls “a catch-all bank account for corporations interested in influencing state laws.” Last year, Trump successfully nominated Donald Palmer, who, as a former state-election director in Florida and Virginia, was a member of the E.S. & S. advisory board, to be a commissioner at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the federal organization that oversees certification of election equipment.

Paper ballots, it should be noted, are not a perfect solution, as New York City voters found out in November, when their two-page ballots jammed the scanners, leading to long lines and wait times. But they are inexpensive, accountable, and intuitive. Except, it seems, for members of Georgia’s Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission. “When I was in Georgia and I met with legislators and election officials and talked to them about using a ballot where you fill in the ovals and then mark it with a pen, or use a ballot-marking device for somebody that is disabled, they didn’t know that that was an option,” Susan Greenhalgh, who is now the policy director of the National Election Defense Coalition, told me. “People literally said to me, ‘Does anybody else in the country do this?’ ”   Source

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