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

 

Building Teams to Secure Our Elections

Haleh S contributed to this article

A webinar presented by the Secure Elections Network titled “Elections Officials: Building a Team to Secure Our Elections” on May 19 at 5 PM, will feature speaker Tina Barton, an election security advocate and the City Clerk of Rochester Hills, Michigan. In her presentation, “Building Networks/Working Together to Build Election Security,” Barton will describe her community work and ideas for creating a team of election officials and advocates to secure the 2020 elections.

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. Barton also oversaw Michigan’s first risk limiting audit pilot project after the 2018 midterm elections.

The Secure Elections Network (SEN) 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. You can watch SEN’s past webinars here. And read our articles about prior SEN 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: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Ion Y contributed to this article

The 2020 election may be the most consequential election of our lives, and we must ensure that it’s secure and that all our votes are counted. Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), electronic marking devices that don’t make a lasting paper record of a vote, are used in 20 states statewide; another 23 states, including California, use them in some counties. However, despite their rising popularity and claims about their safety, BMDs have serious weaknesses we need our state officials to be aware of.

The Secure Elections Network, made up of leaders and members of Indivisible groups in several states, including California (that’s us – Indivisible East Bay), are presenting a free webinar about BMDs. Join us for “Ballot Marking Devices: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” on April 28 at 5 PM. You can register here

The agenda and speakers include:

  • Introduction:  Jon Foreman, Indivisible Montgomery Maryland
  • Program: Andrew Appel, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University and expert on voting machines and technologies, will present an Analysis of Various BMD Systems
  • Discussion and questions

For more info about the webinar, email stephanie.chaplin20@gmail.com.  And see the Secure Elections Network’s past webinars here.

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

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 if this issue has been rectified since. 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 have the same concerns.

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

Graphic of Polling place equipment in California, November 2018 © Verified Voting 

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.

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