H.R. 1 is Priority One

By Ion Yannopoulos and Ann Daniels

Even little kids know how voting works: you vote, your vote gets counted, everyone else’s vote gets counted, the totals are added up, and the winner is the one who gets the most votes. Simple.

Or not. In real-life elections, there are so many ways this goes wrong. Let’s look at “your vote gets counted” – how do you know? And how do you know that the total of votes they announce is actually the same as the number of people who voted? There could be cheating or tampering. Even in honest elections, people can make mistakes all along the line. Bottom line: it’s so easy for there to be lost votes, miscounted votes. So how can you trust election results?

That’s why one of the first (if not the first) priorities of the new Democratic House of Representatives is H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which among other things lays the foundation for (more) secure elections. And that’s why we need you to tell your Member of Congress that you want them to support H.R. 1. Read on for more info and what to say.

Background

There are a lot of reasons why voting machines can be vulnerable to problems – and unfortunately, voting machines in the U.S. are subject to most of them. But there’s good news: it’s possible to count votes to a very high degree of accuracy, detect interference in elections, and prevent election tampering, all by using paper ballots and something called a risk-limiting audit – essentially, double-checking the election by using a specific statistical method of analyzing the votes cast.

H.R. 1 requires, among many other things, that new voting machines always start with paper ballots, and that those ballots be retained until the election is over. Why paper ballots? Digital data is cheap, fast, and very flexible – but it has a fatal flaw, because it can be changed nearly undetectably. The only way an audit can tell if there’s been tampering is if there’s a trusted source to verify the electronic vote against: namely, the voter’s original ballot. There are electronic voting machines that produce a paper ballot, but if they are hacked, the paper part produced by the electronic voting machine is just as tainted as the electronic part. In fact, there are even ways that the votes can be hacked based on the paper record produced by the electronic machine! Experts agree: Paper ballots are an indispensible part of election security.

What you can do:

1. Contact your Member of Congress. Let them know you support H.R. 1. All three of our East Bay Representatives have cosponsored the bill; thank them. Barbara Lee is on the House Appropriations Committee, which will have to come up with the money to address the funding needed for the states to agree.

What to say:

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to thank ______ for cosponsoring H.R. 1 to make our elections trustworthy by making them secure. Please make sure other Members of Congress understand how dangerously insecure our current voting machines really are, and convince them to support H.R. 1. Thank you.

For Barbara Lee, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, you can add:

I’m also asking you to make sure the provisions for funding voting machines with paper ballots are rock solid, to resist criticisms about “unfunded mandates.”

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 • DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 • DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065

2. Contact the California Secretary of State. The Secretary of State oversees elections. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) is having a conference in Washington from Feb. 1-4, 2019, and one of the topics they will address is voting on a resolution opposing any federal attempts to decide how state money is spent on elections – essentially leaving decisions about election machines in the hands of the states. Tell Secretary of State Alex Padilla that we don’t believe our elections can be safe nationally if any states are vulnerable, and that a minimum standard needs to be set for all elections.

What to say:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to thank Secretary of State Padilla for speaking out about the need to defend election integrity, and I want to ask him to speak against the NASS Interim Position on Potential Federal Election Funding. Our elections can’t be safe nationally if any states are vulnerable. For us to be secure and for our elections to be trusted they need to be verified by audit, and we need both paper ballots and risk-limiting audits in order to make that happen.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla: email; Main phone (916) 657-2166; Legislative Office: (916) 653-6774

3. Help work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team — email heidi@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack. Want an invitation to join Slack? Email info@IndivisibleEB.org

4. Find out more: For more information, read our past articles about election security and risk-limiting audits:

Town Hall on Securing Our Elections

By Ted Landau

For Representative Mark DeSaulnier’s 61st Town Hall since taking office, he focused on a single critical and timely issue: Securing Our Elections. Free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy. Unfortunately, as evidenced by Russian interference with the 2016 election, the integrity of our voting process has never been under greater threat. The purpose of the Town Hall, held in Walnut Creek on August 13, 2018, was to consider what we should do about this — for the 2018 midterms and beyond.

The Town Hall began with a brief slide show presentation followed by opening statements by Rep. DeSaulnier and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Next, three election experts, Dr. David Jefferson, Professor Philip Stark and Mark Kumleben, joined the panel discussion. Taking questions from the jam-packed audience of about 300, they delivered both good and bad news.

Let’s start with the bad news: Here in California, attempts to “break in” to our election hardware continue unabated. Efforts to employ social media as a means to disrupt our elections also remain ongoing. We need to be more vigilant than ever if we expect to safeguard our election process. And unfortunately, with Trump at the helm and his GOP enablers downplaying Russian interference and blocking the Democrats’ attempt to increase election security funding, we can’t depend on much help from the federal government.

The good news: DeSaulnier continues to work to get Washington to act. He is currently the co-sponsor of at least 5 bills to improve election security (such as the aptly named Election Security Act, H.R. 5011). While none of these bills has made it to the GOP-controlled floor as yet, this is a start. If you live in CA-11, DeSaulnier’s district, thank him and urge him to keep pushing! Meanwhile, Secretary of State Padilla claimed that no one has yet succeeded in “hacking” California voting equipment. To help keep things that way, the state has allocated over $134 million dollars to upgrade our voting machines and to provide additional election protections. One caution came from Professor Stark, who pointed out that just because you’ve found no evidence of hacking, that doesn’t guarantee none has taken place; hackers may have succeeded in preventing your ability to detect them.

So what should we be doing? The panelists agreed on several key recommendations:

  • Paper ballots are essential. Electronic voting, online voting, whatever: they’re all bad. Only paper ballots allow us to reliably track, audit and verify the authenticity and accuracy of the vote. Accept no substitute. Further, no voting machines should be connected to the Internet; it’s too much of a risk. California has gotten the message: it keeps its machines offline and uses only paper ballots unless people with disabilities need an accessible voting machine. As for the rest of the country, while the Constitution prohibits most federal regulation of the electoral process, it allows for the federal government to require states to use paper ballots. We should demand that they do so!
  • Beware of bots. As discussed primarily by Mr. Kumleben, bots are mini-programs designed to imitate humans on social media. We can’t outlaw them but we should be aware of them. They can create an illusion of consensus or popularity that can unduly influence people’s perceptions and thus how they vote. Always be skeptical of what you read and view online — especially from unfamiliar sources! We should also demand that politicians reveal not only where their campaign money comes from but where it goes. If they’re spending money on bots, the voters should know!
  • Gerrymandering and voter suppression are rooted in white supremacy; their goal is to inhibit minorities from voting or having their vote matter. That was the strong assertion made by the Secretary of State to open this topic, which drew applause from the audience. The ideal goal should be for every eligible person to vote — and to do so within fairly-drawn districts. Again, California has led the way here with its recent bipartisan redistricting. All states should move in this direction.
  • Make the move to open source: non-proprietary software that anyone can see, explore and even modify. As elucidated by Dr. Jefferson and Professor Stark, most voting machines in use today run on proprietary software, owned entirely by the same companies that manufacture voting machine hardware. Even though election officials “purchase” voting equipment, they are prohibited from viewing or modifying the machine’s software source code. This leads to a quasi-monopoly that costs the government dearly. If voting machines were instead truly owned by the public and ran on open source software, it could reduce election costs by a factor of five, leading many experts to urge that we should push for a move to open source. While it is not a panacea for security concerns, and while it’s controversial (because, among other things, it is open to modification), open source makes the process much more transparent and accountable. Yet again, California is ahead of the curve. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles counties are planning to transition to open source. Other districts are expected to follow.

Several additional points of interest were raised by the panel:

  • You may not be aware of this, but a significant change is coming to the voting process in California, perhaps as early as 2020 in Contra Costa County, as a result of the Voter’s Choice Act. Most significantly, the law provides a new voting option, intended to facilitate in-person voting: No longer will you be restricted to vote only on election day at just one specified polling location. Instead, for the 11 days prior to an election, you will be able to vote at any of numerous “vote centers” located throughout the county. If you currently use a mail-in ballot, you already can come close to achieving this flexibility. You don’t have to mail your ballot in, risking problems with postal delivery or interference en route. You can drop it off at a city hall or, on election day, at a polling location.
  • Here is a truly cool tip revealed by Secretary of State Padilla: Did you know you can check the status of your vote after an election — and even get a history of your previous votes? To do so, start here.
  • Professor Stark explained the benefits of “risk-limiting” audits. These are partial audits that, combined with statistical analyses, determine when a full audit of a vote is needed. This allows the county to save time and money that would otherwise be wasted on full audits when they have little or no chance of changing the results. Expect to see the implementation of these audits here in California.

Are you interested in working with the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team? Send us an email or join the voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.

Ted Landau is a retired professor of psychology. He has also spent several decades as a tech journalist/author — writing primarily about Apple products. He has been politically active in the East Bay since moving here in 2004.

Cambridge Analytica: What, When, How, Why

In early 2013, Canadian data scientist Christopher Wylie pitched an idea to his boss, Steve Bannon, for a company that would change how political campaigns use data to change minds. The two men secured funding for their project from Republican billionaire donor Robert Mercer and, excited by their idea’s potential, set about founding and building a company called Cambridge Analytica. Wylie turned whistleblower and told this story to a British newspaper in March of 2018.

Like many things to do with the alt-right, the elevator pitch for Cambridge Analytica sounds harmless: the company would gather and analyze social media profile data to better target events and news stories to eligible voters in the US presidential election, in the British EU membership referendum, and in any other election a paying campaign wanted to win. Using Wylie’s innovative data mining and analysis techniques, the company would offer better targeting and stronger results for its campaigns.

But, like everything having to do with the alt-right, there was a lot more to it.

Preying on Fear in the West

Cambridge Analytica hit the ground running. Between June and August 2014, the company harvested data from around 50 million Facebook profiles using a methodology that involved pulling data from friends of people who took a personality test set up by a Russian academic. Per British newspaper The Guardian:

The data was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University. Through his company Global Science Research (GSR), in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use.

However, the app also collected the information of the test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of a data pool tens of millions-strong. Facebook’s “platform policy” allowed only collection of friends’ data to improve user experience in the app and barred it being sold on or used for advertising.

Having access to such rich data allowed Cambridge Analytica to, as one of the firm’s managing directors put it in a video filmed undercover by a team from Britain’s Channel Four News program, “drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else, to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears, concerns.” He added: “It’s no good fighting an election campaign on the facts because actually it’s all about emotion, it’s all about emotion.”

“Information Warfare”

Once the company built profiles of voters using their Facebook data, they set to work on behalf of the Trump and pro-Brexit campaigns. They created and disseminated fake news stories designed to prey on people’s deepest fears and concerns. In videos secretly filmed by Channel Four, the company’s CEO Alexander Nix boasted about all of the shady tactics his firm could set loose on both the people it has profiled and the leaders they follow. 


These tactics were summed up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as “information warfare.” In an indictment for several companies and people associated with Russian troll farms, the Special Counsel said that groups using unbranded memes, fake news stories, and videos, “engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”

How deeply their actions influenced the presidential election and Brexit referendum in 2016 is currently an open question – but it’s one that both America and the United Kingdom have a vested interest in asking.

Russian Influence, Western Consequence

There are multiple lines of evidence that connect Cambridge Analytica to Russian influence, elevating this from being a question of morals and privacy to being a question of national security. Additional revelations suggesting that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Global, had high-level contractor access to the British Ministry of Defence and the US State Department have raised the stakes even higher.

Within days of Wylie’s story being published in the British press, the British Parliament and parts of the U.S. Congress had called for representatives from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to appear before them to answer questions.

Facebook has taken a pummelling from the developing news stories (including news that its employees shared office space with Cambridge Analytica in San Antonio during the Trump campaign), with its stock tumbling rapidly while its executives remain silent. For its part, Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO and continues to protest its innocence.

We Can Help Take Them Down

There’s no question that Cambridge Analytica and the companies that supported it in its work deserve to face transparent justice. The West needs to thoroughly investigate the extent of the company’s undue influence over critical, history-making elections held throughout 2016. With both of its senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee, California residents have outsized power to make sure this happens.

 

Image courtesy of rawpixel via Pixabay.

Use the Force for Good, Senator Harris

Trying to keep track of America’s current government is like playing a Kafkaesque game of whack-a-mole where you wear a blindfold while news anchors give you instructions on where the moles are in a different language several hours ago.

One persistent mole is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When it’s not very publicly tearing families apart, detaining people without due process, or targeting individuals who pose no threat, this militarized arm of the Trump administration spends its time quietly watching our Congress enact legislation that strengthens it and expands its powers ever further.

To our great disappointment, our own Senator Kamala Harris, a member of the authorizing committee for the Department of Homeland Security and ICE (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, or HSGAC), has failed to use her position to halt the spread of ICE’s power, authority and funding. She has raised no opposition to ICE’s intent to spend $100 million on software that will allow for “automatic extreme vetting” – technology that will give it the capacity to digitally profile visitors and immigrants, which is inaccurate and biased and endangers civil liberties. And on March 7, 2018 – more than seven months after her committee received the DHS reauthorization bill that, among other things gives DHS the power to ask for more funding for ICE – she signed off on the bill without protest.

While we applaud Senator Harris’ strong public stance against ICE, we are disappointed that she has not taken any of the opportunities presented to her as a member of HSGAC to call attention to the need for greater scrutiny of this controversial agency or to seek to amend the reauthorization bill to address the numerous allegations about ICE’s abuses.

It’s vital that we continue to press our Members of Congress to hold ICE accountable and stand up to its persistent attempts to infringe on our rights. Here’s where you can help:

Contact Senator Harris. Let her know you’re keeping track of ICE and her responses to ICE, no matter how few headlines the stories get, and tell her you’re disappointed that she has not used the occasions she had to speak out against ICE’s grab for power and money. What to say:

My name is  _______ and my zip code is _________. I am a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want to thank Senator Harris for her statements about ICE ‘s abuses of power, but I am concerned that she voted in the Homeland Security Committee to send a bill authorizing the agency to the Senate floor. I want her to use her position on this Committee as an opportunity to push for reform of ICE and to force the agency to be more responsive to Congressional oversight.

Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Be informed and inform others. Support and connect with your local ICE rapid response networks. Make sure you and your neighbors know what to do if you see ICE. Remember: respond with power, not panic. Download ACLU NorCal’s Mobile Justice app to make sure you’re ready to record ICE overreach if it happens in your neighborhood.

Image via TryJimmy licensed under Creative Commons.

Power, Not Panic: What To Do If You See ICE

The Trump administration is making no secret of its intention to persecute California’s undocumented immigrants. Despite recent legislation barring authorities from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the state, rumblings from D.C. coupled with recent egregious acts of overreach by ICE in California make it clear that these agents present a growing threat to our communities. Whether we’re immigrants, allies, or community members who care, we need to prepare ourselves to respond to raids and checkpoints wherever we find them. Below is a list of resources and training that you can use to be as ready as possible to hold ICE to account in our state.

How to Respond to ICE

Remember these key words: Power, not panic. Those words will help you find the website of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, which has a treasure trove of info on protecting yourself and your community against ICE and fighting misinformation.

Keep in mind:

  • First and foremost: Know your rights. Know whether or not you are safe from ICE, and to what extent your immigration status, if any, would be impacted by an arrest.
  • Learn about ICE and how it operates.
  • If you see ICE on the street, take steps to confirm with others that you saw them. Spreading panic helps no one, and could traumatize children and families already living in fear.
    • Once ICE presence is confirmed, call your local Rapid Response network hotline. Use the hotlines only to report ICE activity and enforcement actions; website links are also given to make informational inquiries.
    • Document what you see ICE doing. We recommend downloading the ACLU’s free Mobile Justice – CA app, which automatically uploads video  from your smartphone to the ACLU Northern California office. This keeps the footage safe if enforcement officials try to delete it or confiscate your phone.
  • If ICE comes to your homeyou don’t have to let them in unless they show you a warrant. They will sometimes wave bits of paper that aren’t warrants around and say that they are warrants; they can and will bend the law to gain entrance to your home.
    • If you are arrested, remain silent, and ask to speak to a lawyer.
    • The ACLU has precise instructions on how to handle an ICE raid on your home in Spanish and in English.

Want to help? Volunteer or otherwise support your local Rapid Response Network:

Graphic © California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance 

Digital Security in the Age of Trump

The success of Indivisible and Indivisible East Bay depends on people being able to feel safe in order to participate as much as they want. We believe we’re all stronger the broader our movement, and that breadth requires that people from all walks of life be able to play a role and feel safe doing so.

We know that the US government and internet companies have technology to listen in on our phone calls, read our email and text messages, see what we search for online, record and analyze what we “like” on Social Media, and surveil many other aspects of our growing digital lives. It’s safe to say the new Administration will continue to make use of these tools. Also, municipal police departments are availing themselves of this technology, including SF and Oakland PDs, such as technologies to capture phone numbers of cell phones carried by people who are present at a demonstration.

In order to enhance everyone’s digital security, we would like to propose that people follow the guidelines below.

Ensuring digital safety

As with everything related to security, nothing can prevent a committed intruder, especially a State actor, from hacking into your digital lives. However, there are lots of things you can do that can keep most hackers out, keep you under the radar, and make life difficult for a particularly committed actor.

Some of these measures might be as simple as not bringing your smartphone with you to an event; collecting all phones from people at a meeting and placing them out of earshot and out of view of the meeting; using Signal instead of your regular texting app; using a password manager; activating two factor authorization on your accounts. Think of these as different slices of Swiss cheese stacked in front of one another: any single slice will have holes that one can get through. But, enough of them stacked together will form a more thorough barrier.

For basic digital safety there are several areas where you can take action:

Description Ease of setup and use Setup time
1 Good password hygiene, much aided by using a password manager, like 1Password and LastPass. A little time-consuming to set up; once set up, your digital life will be much, much easier to manage. Depends on how many accounts you have.
2 Enable 2FA (two-factor authentication) with all your accounts. Easy to setup and use. Maybe 5 min per acct that has this as an option.
3 Encrypt your hard drive. Easy to setup and easy to use. 5 min
4 Use a passcode protect your devices. Easy to setup, easy to use. 5 min
5 Keep your operating systems up to date. Easy to do. 5-10 min, periodically
6 Use an encrypted messaging app, like Signal. Easy to setup and easy to use. You’ll need to get your correspondents to use it. 5 min
7 Cover your browsing tracks. Easy to set up (download the TOR browser). Easy to use, but with some performance hits (slower). 15 min to download and install, depending on your internet connection.
8 Use fully-encrypted email. Harder to setup, but once in place easy to use. 30-60 min.

Additional resources

If you’d like read more on this topic, check out our new Digital Security Resources page. The provided materials go into further detail on risks and what you can do to make yourself safe.

Step-by-step instructions on how to do ALL of the above and more can be found on the EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense website.

Among the best, most comprehensive and user-friendly guides out there, the EFF’s guide is written by the folks who care about civil rights in the technological age. It gives high level rationale for why this is important, and an overview of many specific à la carte solutions, how hard they are to implement, and what they’ll do. We recommend that you read this slideshow which presents the same material.

Our friends over at Indivisible Austin have posted a number of practical guides regarding digital security. Worth the bookmark.

Addendum: Digital Security as an Act of Solidarity

Government surveillance is nothing new. It’s well known that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was surveilled by the FBI, not to mention generations of African-Americans before and after him. And today, BLM activists, DAPL activists, and many Americans who practice the Muslim faith, are being monitored by local, State and Federal authorities.

If we think we’re not being surveilled by the government, we may find ourselves communicating with friends or family members who are, or who may potentially be, monitored. When many of us say, “I have nothing to hide,” we’re reflecting a mindset that is rooted in privilege, that doesn’t take into account the possible vulnerability of the person we’re communicating with electronically.

One way to support our marginalized correspondents (and challenge our privilege) is to use a more secure means of communicating with them. In addition to normalizing the use of these tools and helping others protect themselves, we will have a taste of what it’s like to take measures against unwarranted surveillance. Today, for many still, to employ digital security is act of solidarity; for others, it has become an act of necessity.