Election Security IS National Security

Deadline: today and ongoing – If there’s one thing former Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been unequivocal about, it’s foreign interference in our elections – the subject of the entire first part of the Special Counsel’s Report, and a theme Mueller emphasized repeatedly in his May 27 statement

The Report lists many forms of election interference, but one challenge stands out: election security doesn’t get enough funding. The U.S. spends $650 to $700 billion on defense – that’s ¾ of a trillion dollars; $55 billion on homeland security; and $16 billion on cybersecurity in the defense department alone. Yet somehow we can’t manage to find more than $380 million to budget for election security, and we don’t even actually spend that. Election experts have been calling for more funding for years, but the calls have become much more urgent since the 2016 election made it clear how much of a threat we face.

The Mueller Report wasn’t news to those who’ve been paying attention: our intelligence agencies reported that Russia interfered in our 2016 elections as early as January 2017, and recently stated that Russia and China intend to do so again in 2020. To counteract these threats, a report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine calls for all local, state and and national elections to use only “human-readable paper ballots” by 2020, and security experts at Stanford listed 45 recommendations emphasizing the need for a multi-disciplinary nationwide effort.

This is as much an issue of national security as an armed threat. If we spend hundreds of billions on military expenditures and militarizing our borders but leave our elections undefended, we’re lowering the front gates while leaving the side doors wide open. Even worse, we do so knowing we were attacked in the past, are currently being attacked, and will be attacked in the future.

The House of Representatives is taking the issue seriously: the House Appropriations Committee voted for an appropriations bill with $600 million for election security to the proposed budget for 2020 (see page 70 of this PDF of the budget), and this money was part of H.R. 3351, the budget bill which the full House passed by a vote of 224 to 196 on June 26. The Senate is another story, however, repeatedly stalling election security bills.  

What you can do:

1. Contact your Members of Congress to urge them to treat election security funding as a national security issue.

What to say if your representative is Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) or Barbara Lee (CA-13):

My name is ____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to thank Rep. _________ for voting for $600 million for election security in the 2020 budget. I’d like them to speak out publicly to persuade the public and their colleagues that election security funding is an issue of national security.

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

What to say if your representative is Eric Swalwell (CA-13):

My name is ____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m disappointed that Rep. Swalwell did not vote on H.R. 3351, which funds $600 million for election security in the 2020 budget. I’d like him to speak out publicly to persuade the public and his colleagues that election security funding is an issue of national security.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065

What to say to our Senators:

  • To Senator Dianne Feinstein, on the Senate Appropriations and Intelligence Committees (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841:

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. The House Appropriations Committee has authorized $600 million for election security. I’d like the Senator to use her position on the Appropriations Committee to resist any attempts to remove election security money from the final budget, and also work to persuade her Senate colleagues that election security funding is an issue of national security.

  • To Senator Kamala Harris, on the Senate Intelligence Committee (email); (415) 981-9369 • DC: (202) 224-3553:

My name is ____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. The House has voted to authorize $600 million for election security in the 2020 budget. I’d like the Senator to work to persuade her colleagues that election security funding is an issue of national security.

2. Spread the word to people in other states, particularly those whose Senators are on the Senate Appropriations Committee (they will decide if election security funding remains in the budget) or the Senate Intelligence Committee (they’re in the best position to understand the details of foreign interference in 2016 and 2018).

Photo of Vladimir Putin by the Kremlin

 

Building a Team to Secure Our Elections

By Haleh S

The security and integrity of U.S. elections has been heatedly discussed in public, and by the media and politicians, especially since our 2016 election. The terms election security and election integrity are often used interchangeably, with much of the recent focus on election security – generally referring to steps we take to protect voting machines from foreign or domestic hacking – because of Russia’s interference. Election integrity usually refers to preserving our democratic electoral processes, including voter registration, accessibility, ballot counting, vote audits, and generally protecting voter confidence in the system.

To ensure election integrity we must promote fair, credible, professional, and inclusive electoral processes. According to the Electoral Knowledge Network, without electoral integrity we can’t hold leaders and officials accountable to the public, and our confidence in election results is weakened. A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that only 35% of Americans were “very confident” that their vote would be counted accurately. Voter confidence in any democratic election process is one of the necessary elements of protecting the integrity of elections.

On May 19, 2019, the Secure Elections Network presented a webinar, “Making Connections: Working with Elections Officials for Common Goals,” featuring Tina Barton, the City Clerk of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and an election security advocate. Barton was appointed to Michigan’s Election Security Commission by the MI Secretary of State. The Commission, the first of its kind, was created in March 2019 to help boost voter confidence, increase turnout, and secure the integrity of elections against known and future threats such as hacking.

A passionate leader in protecting the electoral process, Barton wants to make the process fair and accessible to all eligible voters, and to increase voter confidence in elections. In her presentation, Barton highlighted current challenges with interactions between election officials and election advocates, and suggested ways to overcome them. We should benefit from each other’s strengths by collaborating, said Barton, stressing the importance of having a unified team of election officials and advocates to secure our 2020 and future elections. Her presentation featured Henry Ford’s motto: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success.” Some of her concrete suggestions were that officials and advocates communicate frequently to share information, work together to recognize and fix problems, present unified messaging on registration and voting, and hold events jointly.

In her “Open Letter to Advocates of All Things Election Related”, Barton encourages advocates and officials to work together to get correct information to voters. She’s also dedicated to stopping partisan interference and attacks on voter confidence, stating during the webinar that elections should be a nonpartisan battle ground.

We are not each other’s enemy

Barton noted that the majority of contacts between election officials and voting rights groups have been negative and adversarial. She believes that advocacy groups have the misconception that election officials and election workers seek to impede the process, and because of that election officials often feel they’re being attacked or are doing something wrong. Barton thinks these problems are often caused by lack of understanding of each other’s roles. She explained that in many small or rural municipalities, one official is responsible for a wide range of duties and responsibilities, with elections being only one. Often these officials lack the necessary technical knowledge about aspects of election security that advocates ask about. This misunderstanding often causes hostility between them, although in reality both sides want the same things — secure electoral processes.

Another cause of mistrust and confusion between advocacy groups and election workers is that every state’s election process and registration is different. For example, in some states — such as Barton’s (Michigan) — local officials run elections, whereas in other states county clerks do so. Barton also noted that most election officials’ main complaint is a lack of resources, including the scarcity of election workers who are knowledgeable about information technology (IT). In her community, most election workers are retired adults who have been out of the workforce for years. They work long hours on election days and a lot of expectations are placed on them, but they’re not IT experts and this is one cause of negative and adversary interactions between the election workers and poll monitors.

Let’s work together, not against each other

When asked by one of the Secure Elections Network members how to overcome the mistrust and open a dialogue with election officials, Barton suggested person-to-person, face-to-face introductions. She said that advocates should simply go meet the officials. She emphasized that one of the best ways to build trust is for advocates to start by asking how they can help. She believes that when we work together toward a shared cause, whether or not we have the same political views, we will respect one another more and help solve problems together rather than finger-pointing and blaming. She also noted that activist groups could help under-funded counties which don’t have the resources to hire enough election workers or hire workers who are IT knowledgeable. Every election official in the country needs help with setting up and explaining basic IT, and knowledgeable advocates who want to improve things can be of real use.

The Secure Elections Network is made up of leaders and members of several Indivisible groups nationwide, including Indivisible East Bay. For more info about the webinar, email stephanie.chaplin20@gmail.com. Watch “Building a Team To Secure Our Elections” webinar here. You can watch SEN’s past webinars here. And read our articles about prior webinars: Ballot Marking Devices 101 and Indivisible Webinar to Secure Our Elections  

If you want to learn more about the work that IEB’s Voter Rights & Election Integrity team is doing, and how you can help, email us at info@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.  For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

Haleh S. is an Engineer turned Lawyer, turned Activist

 

Ballot Marking Devices 101

By Ion Y and Haleh S

The redacted Mueller Report is out, and we’re all trying to grapple with how the Russians interfered in our 2016 elections. But even at a whopping nearly 500 pages, the report reveals only one aspect of election interference; as we look to 2020 we need to be aware of other ways our elections might be compromised, hacked, and manipulated.

The Secure Elections Network, made up of leaders and members of Indivisible groups in several states, including California (that’s us – Indivisible East Bay), is trying to help as many people as possible understand how elections can be compromised. An April 28 webinar “BMDs: The Good, the Bad, and the Uglyaddressed concerns about the security of Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), computerized voting devices that enable voters with disabilities to vote when they’re unable to hand mark a paper ballot. In an attempt to simplify the purchase of voting machines, a number of states and counties are now considering BMDs for use in casting all votes. However, BMDs suffer from some fundamental security problems that make them particularly vulnerable to hacking. The webinar explains the particular nature of the issues with BMDs, and importantly, explains what can be done to alleviate them.

Background – Hacking BMDs

All voting systems, electronic and otherwise, are potentially subject to hacking. The primary trait of electronic voting systems is that they make everything about the process of casting and counting votes faster than doing the same things by hand. This includes real benefits such as votes being counted and tallied faster, more cheaply, and much more accurately. On the downside, they also make tampering with votes possible at a much larger scale and much more cheaply – and, critically, they make tampering much, much harder to detect: discarded boxes of ballots or erased marks are at least possible to observe, but altered bits on disk look no different from unchanged ones. It is possible to digitally add verification that catches accidental errors, and this is widely used, leading to the higher accuracy of tallies. But any part of a digital system can be hacked, which means that just as votes can be altered electronically, electronic verification can be altered as well. And electronic hacking is particularly pernicious because while a physical ballot would have to be destroyed or physically erased, altering a digital result leaves behind no obvious trace. The overall lack of verifiability may be BMDs’ most severe problem: a voting system that is cheap and error-free but whose results can never be trusted ultimately undermines faith and trust in all elections.

Fortunately, there is a way to provide the benefits of electronic voting and also satisfy the issue of trust: using the voter’s original ballot as the basis for a risk-limiting audit (RLA), an election audit that can be used to double-check the results of the election with very high accuracy and very low cost. If the results of an audit don’t match the election results, tampering can be detected. Statistics can be arcane, but the method is sound, and done properly the odds of an election’s results not matching the audit can be made less likely than being struck by lightning multiple times on a sunny day.

For the audit process to work, the voter’s original ballot must be saved and the ballot must record the voter’s original intent. And this is where the difficulties with BMDs come in. Unlike a hand marked paper ballot, where voters mark their choices directly on paper with a pen, BMDs first tally the vote electronically and only afterward produce a paper copy of the vote. But the moment an electronic system participates there is an unverifiable step: hacking a BMD can cause the printed ballot to not match the choices a voter made, compromising the vote just as thoroughly as if there were no paper involved at all. Thus, the paper ballot must exist before the electronic system comes in.

The Webinar

Featured speaker Andrew Appel, professor of Computer Science at Princeton University and expert in voting machine security, explained to webinar participants the ways that electronic voting equipment is vulnerable to hacking. He mentioned other machines, like Direct Recording Electronics (DREs) and Precinct-Count Optical Scanners (PCOS), but the focus of the presentation was on BMDs. Professor Appel described BMDs’ weaknesses, how they can be used to steal an election, and how to run a safe election and avoid the problems BMDs produce.

There are several ways to hack an election machine, including:

  • Altering the machine’s software in its original form before it is distributed to polling places. It is not enough for a polling place to be secure if the manufacturer or distributor is hacked instead.
  • Inserting a memory card into the machine, once it is installed at a polling place.
  • Hacking machines via the internet if the machine has internet access (voting machines are not supposed to have internet access, but they often do).

As a result, according to Appel, elections are most secure when NO electronic or computer-based voting systems are used in the actual casting of ballots. Whenever an electronic device is used at any stage of voting – marking or counting – the chances of distorting the result increases. But while hacking can occur at the counting stage with any device, hacking can still be detected if everyone hand marks a paper ballot and the actual ballot is preserved for purposes of audits or recounts. BMDs, however, compromise the marking stage and leave no original ballot that can be verified in an audit as not having been tampered with electronically.

What makes BMDs particularly pernicious is that unlike a physical ballot, which would have to be destroyed or physically erased, altering a digital result leaves behind no obvious trace of an altered vote. BMDs provide a paper copy of a ballot, giving the illusion of auditability, without the actual benefit. Hacking a BMD is no more detectable than if voting was done completely electronically.

What is more, a little hacking goes a very long way: changing only 5% of the votes on a ballot is enough to change the outcome of an election. Most voters, however, will never detect such a small amount of changed votes; even when the voter is given a paper copy of their votes for the purposes of double-checking, only a tiny percentage of voters actually examine printouts from electronic voting machines. Worse, even if they do check and spot an error, there is nothing a poll worker can do to correct it other than voiding the bad vote and allowing the voter to vote again. There is no way to prove that the error was caused by a compromised voting machine instead of voter error. A hacked BMD could thus remain in use for years even if errors were detected. Appel emphasized the need for a process that is auditable, and thus that hand marked ballots are essential for trusting election results.

Why use BMDs at all? Access to the ballot is also necessary to democracy, and because some disabled voters are unable to use paper ballots federal law requires at least one BMD in every polling location. Some election officials thus favor using BMDs for all voters, to simplify purchasing and training, and to cut down on (perceived) costs. Some officials and elected representatives also believe, incorrectly, that any paper output is sufficient for an audit, and don’t understand the importance of the ballot being hand marked before any electronic device comes into play. As a result a large number of counties use BMDs and a number of states are considering requiring them for all voters.

Appel recommended using BMDs only as required and needed for disabled voters, and not for all voters, and minimizing the use of computer voting devices at all possible stages of the process, to ensure that elections are trustworthy. Appel’s ideal approach:

  • Hand mark a paper ballot for nearly all voters. If a BMD is required for accessibility, ensure the user verifies the vote’s accuracy and prints a paper copy.
  • Feed the paper ballot into the Precinct Count Optical Scanner, which scans and stores the vote electronically and saves the physical paper ballot in a box.
  • Paper ballots may be audited by counting a sampling of the votes and compared to the PCOS count, to verify.

On the issue of costs, Appel noted that BMDs are individually much more expensive to maintain than optical scanners. It is thus more secure and three to four times less expensive to mix predominantly PCOS systems with a much smaller number of BMDs for voters who need them, as compared to using entirely BMDs.

Appel suggested safeguards for voters in states (Georgia was a prominent example raised in the webinar) that are mandating purchase of BMDs by law, and thus have no choice but to use them. These included educating voters (perhaps by poll monitors) to check the accuracy of their votes before submitting them, and printing a copy of votes after using a BMD to preserve a paper record in case of an audit or recount. He emphasized, however, that these methods do not reliably deal with the fundamental problem: there is no way to perform an audit without a trusted record that can be proven to never have been interfered with electronically, and BMDs by definition do not provide such a record.

Voting in the East Bay

Contra Costa County uses paper ballot scanners on Election Day. It uses BMDs primarily for accessibility and it appears they’re not intended for use by default. However, in the 2018 election they were the only option to vote in person at the County’s early voting sites. It is unclear what the County is planning for the 2020 election. Alameda County uses paper ballot scanners, and for accessibility they have “touchscreen devices.” Although they’re not explicitly called BMDs, that is what they are, and they have the same concerns.

To look up what kinds of voting machines your county uses, see the California Secretary of State’s list of voting machines used by county. For an overview of the three types of voting machines you’re likely to use or read about see the Brennan Center’s overview of voting equipment.

Did you miss the webinar? You can watch it, and see the comprehensive slides from Professor Appel’s presentation, at this link. You can also see the Secure Elections Network’s past webinars at the same link.

Can you help work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team? Email: info@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack. For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

 

Haleh S. is an Engineer turned Lawyer, turned Activist

Featured photo: Quadriplegic voter using a BMD, photograph by Joebeone

Protecting American Votes & Elections Act

This action will appear in the Indivisible East Bay newsletter on July 26, 2018. 

Deadline: ASAP and ongoing — Even without Russian hacking, elections can be compromised if we don’t protect the ballots! Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S.3049, the PAVE Act, to require that all voters have the option to use hand marked paper ballots in federal elections. Paperless voting is vulnerable and problematic (see Georgia, South Carolina). The PAVE Act also requires Risk Limiting Audits for all federal races. Midterms are coming up, and we need to tell our Senators it’s time for them to support the PAVE Act, and to demand a 2018 implementation date (it’s currently 2020) for the hand marked paper ballot clause.

What to say:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want Senator _____ to support the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act, S.3049. We need to ensure that California’s voters are protected from malicious influence. We also need the hand marked paper ballot clause implemented for 2018 to cover the upcoming midterm elections.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

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

 

Want to learn more about, and help to work on, election integrity issues?

  • Watch the recording of the Indivisible Fair & Secure Elections Webinar at this link (here’s our background article about the webinar)
  • After you watch, you can connect with people from your state by filling out this form. The working group will follow up with an email to introduce you to other people in your state interested in taking action
  • You can also view the webinar slides and other resources at this link
  • 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
  • Help spread the word on social media! Follow IEB member and election integrity advocate Jennifer Cohn (@jennycohn1) on Twitter, and re-tweet her  excellent content. Read Jennifer’s blog.

 

Subscribe to the newsletter. See our newsletter archive.

Graphic copyright @equalandallied1

 

 

 

Indivisible webinar to secure our elections

July 30 update: watch the recorded webinar here.

The 2018 mid-terms are mere months away – do you trust that our local elections will be fair, and that our election processes are secure? Indivisible National and several election security experts in Indivisible chapters around the country will present a webinar on July 15 to give Indivisible members and chapters critical information about how our elections can be undermined, and tools and strategies to hold our election officials accountable. 

The Safeguard Our Elections Working Group, made up of members of Indivisible groups in Maryland, Washington state, Hawaii, and California (that’s us – Indivisible East Bay), will present the free webinar, “Fair and Secure Elections: What’s at Stake and How to Take Action” on Sunday July 15 at 5 PM (PDT).

In March 2018, Congress allocated $380 million for states to secure elections against cyber attacks, and Indivisible chapters must press our state leaders to ensure that our states receive the grant money and use it wisely. The webinar will show us how to assess our states’ vulnerabilities and advise us how to lobby our state authorities to secure the elections.

The agenda and speakers include:

  • Introduction:  Jon Foreman, Indivisible Montgomery Maryland
  • Challenges and Threats and State Report Cards: Liz Howard, Counsel for the Democracy Program (Cybersecurity & Elections), Brennan Center for Justice
  • How States Can Act / Take Action Locally – Successful example of lobbying and getting action: Lisa Gibson, Indivisible Hawaii
  • How States Can Act / Take Action Locally – Rejection of public input on election security grant and Email voting insecurity : Kirstin Mueller, League of Women Voters – Washington State
  • Key Vulnerable States – Competitive states in next election and What to do at the state and local levels: Aquene Freechild, Campaign Co-Director, Democracy Is For People Campaign, Public Citizen
  • California – and We’re not Even a Red State: Melanie Bryson, Indivisible East Bay (California)
  • Looking Forward – Funding for 2019 and beyond: Congressman Jamie Raskin, Maryland, District 8
  • Discussion / questions

We Indivisible-ites are rightfully focused on taking back the House and Senate in the 2018 mid-terms. To ensure that our hard work isn’t in vain, we need to also learn how our election processes are vulnerable, and what actions we must take to ensure that each state has fair and secure elections. Indivisible must hold local officials accountable, just as we do our members of Congress! Learn how:

  • See the agenda and find more valuable background information here.
  • Sign up for the free webinar here.
  • Can you 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
  • For more info about the webinar, email Stephanie Chaplin: stephanie.chaplin20@gmail.com or Jon Foreman: jonforeman@gmail.com