IEB Meeting with Sen. Harris staff June 2019

Meeting with Senator Kamala Harris’ staff, June 25, 2019
From Sen. Harris’ office: Daniel “Dino” Chen, Deputy State Director 

Read Indivisible East Bay’s pre-meeting memorandum

TOPICS DISCUSSED:

  • Iran & the Middle East: We thanked Senator Harris for cosponsoring the Protection Against Unconstitutional War on Iran Act and demanding the status of mobilizing troops for war from the Administration. Dino said he’d check with the DC team regarding the Senator’s position on nuclear force
  • National Defense Authorization Act: we thanked the Senator for voting no. Dino will get back to us regarding the Senator’s position on the Udall-Paul Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to prevent illegal military action in Iran. (As of publication, Sen. Harris voted for the amendment, according to Senate records)
  • Migrant Detention Centers: Advocates expressed concern regarding lack of Congressional oversight of federal detention centers, especially private ones. Dino indicated that the Senator was a leader in a rapid response network to provide legal counsel to detainees and that her “number one priority” right now is addressing the immigration crisis. He’ll get an answer for us on our request for a commitment from the Senator to vote NO on any emergency response bill that does not specifically address migrant youth. He’ll also find out if there is still Congressional oversight if migrants are transferred to Fort Sill, OK.
  • Election Security: We discussed the $600 million appropriation in the House to enhance election security that Senate leadership is unwilling to take up.
  • American Family Act: We thanked the Senator for cosponsoring
  • Impeachment: Dino indicated that the Senator would support opening impeachment proceedings. He did not commit to whether or not the Senator would ask Speaker Pelosi to start these proceedings.
  • Census: Sen. Harris agrees with us about the importance of building trust in under-represented communities and ensuring we are set up for a complete count in the 2020 census.  Dino recommended that advocates connect with their local Complete Count Committee to support these efforts.
  • Public Appearances by Senator Harris: We expressed concern about the Senator’s lack of presence in the community in her official capacity, and asked that her team consider organizing periodic town halls/forums to help her connect with constituents. Dino said they’re trying their hardest to get her to the Bay Area but it’s hard because they aren’t allowed to coordinate with the campaign, who obviously want her in key primary states.  She is, however, almost confirmed to attend the Lake Tahoe Summit.
  • Healthcare: Dino indicated that next month’s focus will be on health care, and they’ll be doing some story banking on that subject.

 

– By IEB member Zach

IEB Meeting with Sen. Feinstein Staff June 2019

Meeting with Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Staff, June 20, 2019
1 Post St., San Francisco

From Sen. Feinstein’s office: Jim Lazarus, State Director; Abigail Ellis, Field Representative; two interns

Read Indivisible East Bay’s pre-meeting memorandum

TOPICS DISCUSSED:

  • Climate Change & Infrastructure: Climate change and rising sea levels (a consequence of climate change) affect infrastructure, including roads and bridges. We asked whether Sen. Feinstein is working to include climate change in infrastructure legislation; Jim Lazarus said not that he knew of, but that he’d let the Senator know about our concern.
  • Iran and the Middle East/AUMF Repeal & Defense Appropriations Bill: Lazarus expressed frustration that Sen. Feinstein has tried repeatedly to contact Secretary of State Pompeo, who hasn’t returned any of her calls. He said that Feinstein supports the nuclear treaty with Iran and does not support the US withdrawal from it OR the unilateral use of force without authorization from Congress. Ellis said that Feinstein supports the repeal of the 2001 AUMF; Lazarus continued that in political reality, there will be a defense appropriations bill, and it will probably include a compromise on the AUMF repeal.
  • ICE and CBP Detention Facilities/Border Supplemental Appropriations Bill: We presented background information and recommended that the Senator view the recent argument of a Justice Department lawyer before a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel that CBP needed the authority to deny children sleep as well as access to basic hygiene. Lazarus agreed to do this. Feinstein’s staff has visited the detention facilities, and she is extremely concerned about how the children are being treated; Ellis said that the facilities are exploiting loopholes, which the Senator wants to close via legislation. As far as her staff knows, her thinking on the role of ICE has not changed.
  • American Dream and Promise Act: We asked Sen. Feinstein to move to proceed to a floor vote on the bill. Lazarus asked if anyone asked Sen. McConnell, and we pointed out that by Senate rules, any Senator can make a motion for a floor vote.
  • Judicial Nominations: We have asked Sen. Feinstein to vote NO on the floor on Trump’s judicial nominations even if she votes YES in the Judiciary committee. According to her staff, she has to maintain relationships and cooperation with some Republicans: for example, when Sen. Feinstein might seek support from some Republican Senators for judicial nominations she favors, especially of nominees from California—or of other legislative goals she supports.
  • Election Security: The Senator is concerned about election security. We urged Sen. Feinstein (and other Democratic Senators) to push back on Sen. McConnell, and were skeptical of Lazarus’ explanation that the GOP opposes election-security legislation because it traditionally favors “local control” and fears possible overreach from federal government standards for elections.
  • American Family Act of 2019: We expressed disappointment that Sen. Feinstein still hasn’t joined 38 of her colleagues in cosponsoring this legislation to help families with children. Lazarus said he didn’t know of any concerns keeping her from cosponsoring and implied she might be exploring alternatives.
  • Investigations & Oversight: We expressed concern that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are not obtaining adequate information about the Mueller investigations and the previous FBI counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in our 2016 election. Lazarus was unable to tell us what Sen. Feinstein is doing to ensure that the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which she is the ranking member, will finally obtain all the information it needs. 

 

– By IEB member Phil

Meeting with State Sen. Skinner, June 2019

Indivisible East Bay Meeting with State Senator Nancy Skinner, SD 9

June 28, 2019

From Sen. Skinner’s Office: State Senator Nancy Skinner, Margaret Hanlon-Gradie 

All notes reflect remarks by Senator Skinner unless otherwise noted.

Overview, some things that California can do to fight the federal government and make the state and local communities more livable:

  • Addressing wealth disparity; we used the budget to extended medical from undocumented children all the way up to 25-year-olds; we missed getting coverage for undocumented seniors because the Governor blocked it on budget concerns; we had a bill for student health programs to provide Plan B, but were vetoed by Brown – we’ve passed it again, and are confident Newsom will sign it.
  • Hanlon-Gradie: We plan to put out an ICE raid warning in two weeks.
  • ICE is contracting less with sheriffs because of monitoring and inspecting by the state. Yolo County had a juvenile in solitary for 9 months – our bill gave powers to the AG to inspect the jails and got that fixed. Caging kids may play to some in Trump’s base, but hurts him with the overall electorate.

Issues concerning sheriffs:

  • Aware of current sheriff eligibility bill that would require sheriffs to have gone to police academy. 
  • AB1185, bill for oversight over sheriffs, is up for a July 2 committee vote; worried about the Appropriations Committee – Anthony Portantino of La Cañada-Flintridge needs to be lobbied to pass it through committee.
  • Budget for deportation concerns: added $20MM to the general legal defense fund for tenant and immigrant defense, like East Bay Community Law Center. The more money that’s available in the big pool, the more will go to immigration defense.
  • Elected vs. appointed sheriffs: as it stands, appointed sheriffs won’t get put on the ballot because of the sheriffs’ power. Was unaware that sheriffs and district attorneys have no term limits; generally opposes term limits but would consider a bill to let counties impose them.

Election Security and voting rights:

  • IEB: could CA have an omnibus election security bills like HR1? Skinner: Lobby Lorena Gonzales (AD80) – she wants to be Secretary of State and this is an issue that could distinguish her.
  • Same day registration: Agrees with IEB that Motor Voter is not enough.
  • ACA 6, Constitutional amendment, parolee voting rights: Supports, and also supports SB310, which would allow former felons to serve on juries – a civil rights issue because a black man has a hard time getting a jury of his peers. (Some question about actual sponsorship of these bills.)

Miscellaneous legislation:

  • AB1593 (plastic pollution reduction): already included in budget; AB1080 (single use plastic ban bill): already in the senate as SB54 (and there’s a duplicate clause in a another bill before the senate) 
  • Supports AB1022 (anti hunger response training)
  • Supports tax credit for children but suggests we support Autumn Burke tax credit, which is similar 
  • AB5 (codifying and expanding the CA Supreme Court Dynamex case prohibiting employers from misclassifying employees as contractors vs. employees): Skinner supports the bill and is very unhappy that the Governor is going to block it. She suggests we lobby the Governor. 
  • SB168, creates a Chief Officer of Climate Resilience: Skinner will consider co-authoring.

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

 

Make the candidates speak out

Deadline: through June 26, and even after – Do you have a favorite Presidential candidate yet? Do you know where the candidates stand on the big issues – and if you do, do you know it from their own statements?

Many of the candidates, to our dismay, haven’t taken a stand or enunciated a plan on some of the major issues facing us: climate change, endless war, women’s or LGBTQ+ rights, and more. We know: you’d probably vote for Godzilla over the Current Occupant. But we’re betting you’d rather make a more refined decision.


What you can do:

Let’s call (or email, or tweet, or your platform of choice) them on it.

Step one: Check what they say – or don’t say.

Below you’ll find a list of some of our top priorities – not meant to be exclusive! – and a list of the candidates’ websites. Do some cross-referencing. Start with your own favorite candidate, if you have one, and move on to others from there: What do the candidates say about your key issues, in how much detail, and how easy is it to find? A general rule for candidates’ sites: the easier something is to find on a site, the more important it is to the candidate.

Step two: Tell the candidates what you think.

To say what we all know: Candidates have been known to change their positions based on pressure. Are you pleased with the priority they’re giving your issues and what they’re saying? Thank them. Have they failed to address an issue? Demand that they address it, and tell them what you hope they’ll say. Have they taken a position you don’t like? Tell them. Especially tell the candidates if their position, or lack of a position, makes the difference between you supporting them, opposing them, or considering supporting someone else. After all, it’s all about getting your vote!

We’ve made it easy for you to contact the candidates. Click on their names in the list below to get to their campaign websites, which have ways you can contact them; we also list their campaigns’ facebook pages and twitter accounts.

Step three: Get your friends involved.

Got friends who don’t like the Current Occupant? Of course you do! Invite them to join you in the research. Encourage each other to speak up. You don’t even have to favor the same candidate to all support the work of pushing the candidates to take positions you want on the issues you care about.

And use your own social media. Try this cool tool from Indivisible National: you record a video telling the presidential candidates what you want to hear from the debate stage, and they’ll format and subtitle it and send you a link that you can spread by email and on your social media.

Step four: Let us know how it’s going!

We’d like to know who you’ve contacted on what issues, and if you hear back from them. Email us at info@indivisibleeb.org


Our (non-exclusive) list of priority issues, in alphabetical order:

  • Climate change
  • Cybersecurity
  • Economic justice
  • Education
  • Election security
  • Endless war
  • Healthcare
  • Immigration
  • Impeachment
  • Incarceration
  • Judiciary
  • LGBTQ+ rights
  • Reproductive rights
  • Science and technology
  • Social justice
  • Voters’ rights
  • Women’s rights


The
candidates, in alphabetical order (their names are links to their campaign websites).

 

Graphic “Debate picture” by Blok Glo

 

 

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 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

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 

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: