Election Integrity News
Drawn from various sources and updated frequently by our editorial team, the Election Integrity News is a compilation of the latest developments in the area of election integrity. That means stories covering everything from the administration of elections, the security of the vote, voter suppression, gerrymandering, money in politics, and much more.
If a story catches your eye that you think would make for an interesting item, send it to us at FairElectionTips@whowhatwhy.org.
January 4, 2018
Good News for the EAC
Congressmember Gregg Harper (R-MS) will not seek re-election at the end of his term in 2018. That’s good news for the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a cash-strapped, independent agency born out of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The EAC and its technical advisor, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, offer states help meeting HAVA requirements, including drafting election systems cybersecurity guidelines.
As chair of the House Administration Committee, Harper oversees federal elections matters. Last year, Harper, a main critic of the EAC, introduced a bill to terminate the commission. Harper has called the agency “a waste of taxpayer funds” and said it has “outlived its usefulness, mismanaged its resources, and cost taxpayers millions.” Presumably to Harper’s chagrin, the EAC will host a public meeting on January 10 to discuss voting system cybersecurity for the 2018 midterm elections. Congress has introduced numerous bills in the current legislative session to help states shore up their voting systems in the wake of Russia’s scans and probes last year of over 20 state voter registration systems.
Booz Allen Predicts Manipulation of Voting Machines in 2018
Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the top contractors of the federal government, forecasts a “bumpy ride” for the 2018 midterm elections. The government-services company predicts that in 2018 we will likely see “the first confirmed instance of an election being directly manipulated at the voting machine or election infrastructure levels.” Russian hackers interfered in the 2016 US elections by probing voter registration databases. But those databases do not tally ballots cast by voters. In the Top 9 Cybersecurity Trends for 2018 report, Booz Allen predicts that in 2018 malicious hackers (“espionage groups, local political parties, and political hacktivists”) may “change vote totals, not just voters’ preferences and enthusiasm.” Booz Allen points to “rampant poor security” of voting machines, in particular, the supply-chain risk of procuring voting machine components from vendors based in nation states that are adversarial in nature. More alarmingly, the report predicts that state election boards “will be generally slow to take steps to secure electronic votes for a multitude of reasons, including costs and a lack of uniform security standards.”
New Algorithm Offers Easy and Accurate Way to Show Effects of Voter ID Laws
A recent collaboration between Stephen Ansolabehere of Harvard and Eitan Hersh of Tufts has created an easy-to-understand algorithm that demonstrates the true impact of voter ID laws. The hope is that this algorithm can be used in court to demonstrate the negative impact of voter ID laws.
Created while working as expert witnesses in a Department Justice case against voter ID laws in Texas, the aim was to create an algorithm which was both accurate and easy to comprehend. In the past, algorithms are dismissed by judges as too difficult to understand and therefore it’s results, although statistically correct, are not accepted.
Ansolabehere and Hersh’s algorithm scans government records by address, date of birth, gender, and name to understand which combination offers the most accurate result. They used the records that contained Social Security numbers to check their results. The results? 98 percent of the records that were matched using Social Security Numbers could also be matched using any three of a voter’s address, date of birth, gender and name. The ease and accuracy of this algorithm should be a useful tool to prove the discriminatory nature of Voter ID laws.
Virginia House of Representatives is Republican — For Now.
Republican David Yancey’s name was pulled out of a cobalt-and-white ceramic bowl (made by a local artist), breaking a tie in his race against Democrat Shelly Simonds and keeping Virginia’s House of Representatives red — for now at least. Yancey was originally declared the winner but a recount showed Simonds actually won by one vote. The following day, a three-person panel ruled that a previously discarded ballot was legitimate, creating a 50-50 tie.
The option still remains for the unlucky Simond’s to follow another provision of the law and challenge the results. A federal lawsuit is also an option. In the meantime the House is a 51-49 split in favor of the Republicans, allowing them to select a speaker and set an agenda.
January 3, 2018
Bogus Voter Fraud Commission Dies, but Delusion Lives On
Trailing Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes in the November 2016 election, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in May 2017 to create the “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.” The 11-member commission (7 Republicans, 4 Democrats) was established to investigate rampant voter fraud, which Trump alleged cost him the popular vote. If evidence of such fraud was found, the commission was tasked with finding ways to combat the problem. Election integrity experts worried that this would lead to more voter suppression measures. On January 3, Trump signed another executive order killing the commission.
The commission was made up of hardcore right-wing conservatives Vice President Mike Pence, Kris Kobach (Secretary of State of Kansas), Ken Blackwell (former Ohio Secretary of State), Hans von Spakovsky (Fellow, Heritage Foundation) and J. Christian Adams (President, Public Interest Legal Foundation, publisher of Alien Invasion II: The Sequel to the Discovery and Cover-up of Non-Citizen Registration and Voting in Virginia).
Having convened just twice, the commission never really had a chance to accomplish its mission — whatever that was. In a rare display of bipartisan unity, at least 20 secretaries of state refused to comply with its sweeping request for sensitive (although technically public) voter data, including addresses, birth dates, last four digits of Social Security numbers, felony convictions, political party affiliation, and voting histories. This information is historically provided for and used by political campaigns, not in the service of special presidential commissions. The commission spent its time and resources defending no fewer than 15 paralyzing lawsuits, including actions brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and even by Matthew Dunlap, one of the four token Democrats sitting on the commission! Other challenges included the arrest of Ronald Williams II, the commission’s researcher, on child pornography charges, and the sudden death by aneurysm in October of David Dunn, another one of the Dems serving on the commission.
Nevertheless, don’t imagine Trump is letting go of this one. He’s now handed off the group’s bogus mission of investigating illegal voting to Kirstjen Nielsen, his Secretary of Homeland Security, to “determine next courses of action.” And Kobach, a longtime voter-fraud mythmaker, wants Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Homeland Department, to compare its own immigration data to the state voter registration databases “to ferret out illegal [non-citizen] voters on state voting rolls” and ultimately keep Democratic-leaning constituents from casting votes.
December 29, 2017
DHS to States: “Take-A-Number”!
Deeply concerned state election officials face up to nine months for a “soup-to-nuts” scanning and probing of their election computer networks from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). After the Russian targeting of states’ digital voter rolls, the DHS designated election and voting systems part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure.” As a result, state election commissions can now request a free, DHS risk and vulnerability assessment.” But time is running out. Some states with a high Take-a-Number ticket stub, will not have enough time for DHS to conduct “an intensive, multiweek probe of [their] entire system” before the primary elections.
December 12, 2017
African-Americans Face Many Challenges to Cast Ballot in Alabama Special Election
Intimidating police checks at the polls, strict voter ID laws, and faulty machines were just some of the obstacles facing African Americans attempting to vote in the tightly contested Alabama Senate special election race last Tuesday. As the dust settles and the Democrats start to sober up from Doug Jones’ surprising victory, the voter suppression tactics are also becoming clearer: “Inactive voters” turned away from the polls, ballot confusion, and understaffed polling stations were all impediments to voters.
December 11, 2017
Alabama Supreme Court Allows Digital Ballots to be Destroyed
Just when you thought the courts might defend democracy by ordering election officials to preserve digital ballot images in the event of a recount, the Alabama Supreme Court ensured this was not the case. The court’s decision to block the lower court’s ruling to preserve the images came down just hours before the polls opened, leaving no time for a pre-election appeal — although there will be a hearing on December 21st (allowing more than enough time for all digital ballots to be destroyed). The current voting system in Alabama includes digitally scanned paper ballots, with the image replacing paper, as the official ballot. While paper ballots are kept for 22 months, it’s thought that they would only be consulted in the (rare) case of a state-wide recount.
December 10, 2017
New Hampshire Enmeshed in Voting Rights Controversy
The definitions of seemingly simple words like “resident,” “inhabitant,” “domicile” and “residency” could change the future of voting in New Hampshire. Last week, the state Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee approved an amendment that would change the statutory definitions of these common terms, and some fear, reduce voter participation. Republicans see the amendment as a way to clarify the status of transient residents like military members and college students, while Democrats argue the measure is a direct attempt to increase barriers for voters.
December 9, 2017
Major Reform Could Come to Democratic Caucuses in Iowa
Absentee voting and public vote totals are slated to change the face of the Iowa caucus come 2020. Currently, Iowans vote in person in local caucuses, which mark the beginning of the presidential election cycle. Results are reflected in the number of delegates each candidate would send to the party’s state convention, not the raw vote totals, a protocol that these reforms would upend. The Unity Reform Commission panel of the Democratic National Committee has pushed for the reforms to voting procedure, citing hopes to encourage participation and bring increased transparency into the process.
December 8, 2017
White House Rejected Anti-Doxing Deal with Russia
Back in July, when Congress first learned about the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Kremlin’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrived in Washington with a radical proposal for both sides to cease meddling in future races. Facing re-election next March, Russian President Vladimir Putin may have orchestrated the agreement to deflect the US-backed mass democracy protests that dogged his victory in 2011. The Trump administration, however, repudiated the deal out of skepticism toward Moscow’s compliance and pressure to conform with the anti-Putin sentiment in the Capitol. Some analysts consider the decision a lost opportunity that could prove devastating come the 2018 midterm elections, as the US still has not developed robust safeguards to a renewed Russian offensive of last year’s magnitude. In addition to disseminating propaganda and fake news through an army of troll accounts, hackers also breached voter registration databases in 21 states.
December 7, 2017
Jury Finds Former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Guilty of Voter Fraud
Steve Curtis, the former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, and now a Denver Tea Party board advisor, was found guilty by a jury of voter fraud and forgery after he signed and submitted his ex-wife’s mail-in ballot. Curtis’ ex-wife, a resident of South Carolina, discovered her ex-husband’s crimes when she tried to register to vote with the county clerk in her new state.
November 30, 2017
Can Automated Registration Help Get Millions of Voters to the Polls?
In Close Elections, Missing Voices, and Automatic Voter Registration Projected Impact in 50 States, the Center for American Progress predicts that nationwide Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) could result in 22 million people joining the voter rolls in the first year of a program. AVR has the potential to shift close electoral contests; however, it remains to be seen whether the convenience and security offered by AVR drives people to the polling stations to cast their votes.
November 29, 2017
DHS Offers State Election Officials Federal Security Clearances
With just a few more months to go before the first state primaries begin in March 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun offering security clearances to senior state election officials. Three dozen state election officials, whose identities are being withheld, are now in the process of getting clearance to receive classified information about cyber threats by foreign adversaries. After much acrimony between the National Association of Secretaries of State, the body representing state election officials, and federal DHS officials, a constructive dialogue is underway allowing state officials to call upon federal help, shedding much of the initially perceived federal overreach of state election systems as “critical infrastructure.”
Congress Gets Briefed (Again) on Insecure Voting Machines
A full year since the 2016 election, Congress is still gathering testimony about insecure voting machines. On November 29, two House subcommittees held a joint hearing on the current state of cybersecurity of voting machines. Congress heard testimony from Christopher Krebs, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary National Protection & Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security; Tom Schedler, Secretary of State of Louisiana; Edgardo Cortés, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Elections; Matthew Blaze, Associate Professor, Computer and Information Science University of Pennsylvania; and Susan Klein Hennessey, Fellow in National Security Law, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution and General Counsel of Lawfare Institute. Blaze advocated to eliminate vulnerable direct recording electronic voting machines, outdated technology that offers no auditable paper trail. Hennessey told lawmakers that any attempts to use a top-down, federally imposed solution to make voting systems more resilient will not be warmly received by state and local election administrators. Instead, Hennessey recommended increased federal funding to states for election security and regulation of election technology vendors.
November 28, 2017
The FBI Asleep at the Wheel
The FBI knew for at least a year that about 80 current and former US government officials were phished by Fancy Bear, the Russian government-aligned hacking operation that targeted their personal Gmail accounts. The nation’s top law enforcement agency failed to inform all but two targeted officials, until the Associated Press revealed the cyber intrusion. Now Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) wants to know why the Bureau remained mum and whether its agents are prepared to deal with ongoing advanced persistent threats.
November 27, 2017
District Court Makes Room for More Minority Voter Suppression
A long-standing court-ordered consent decree prohibiting the Republican National Committee (RNC) from engaging in illegal voter verification and “ballot security” protocols was lifted by a US District Court judge on December 1. The consent decree arose during the 1981 election for New Jersey governor when the RNC and the New Jersey Republican State Committee were accused of intimidating black voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Rather than fight the charges, the Republicans, without admitting wrongdoing, agreed to refrain from any attempts to suppress the vote. Judge John Michael Vazquez, a US District Court judge in New Jersey, lifted the consent decree, but left open the possibility of reinstating it if voter suppression violations are found to have occurred in the 2016 elections.
November 26, 2017
Congress Quickly Running Out of Time to ‘Russia-Proof’ Next Election
For all the hand-wringing of Republicans and Democrats about Russia’s apparent interference in the 2016 election, Congress has done very little to make the voting process more secure, and time is running out to fix vulnerabilities for next year’s midterms. So far, it’s all talk and no action and, with the tax reform battle and a budget fight looming, it doesn’t look like lawmakers are going to address this issue anytime soon. At a recent Council on Foreign Relations event, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, noted that it’s up to states to determine how they run their elections. In other words, if you’re waiting for major federal legislation to “Russia-proof” elections, don’t hold your breath.
November 22, 2017
Trolled by a Russian? Enquiring Facebookers Want to Know
Bowing to public pressure, Facebook will launch a portal that allows you to see if you inadvertently collaborated with the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm responsible for posting propaganda (aka “fake news”). The new tracking feature, to be launched by year-end, will show users which Russian-trolled Facebook pages they “liked” or “followed” during the 2016 elections and will alert users when they’ve been trolled.
Civil Rights Groups Help Stop Voter Suppression Attempt
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and Demos, a public policy group, are helping state and county election officials to stick to their voter list-maintenance obligations under the National Voter Registration Act. The civil rights groups urged hundreds of election officials to reject threatening and misleading letters from the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a group attempting to launch a wide-scale voter purge effort by removing voters from registration lists.
November 21, 2017
Preventing Political Campaign Hacking—the “Harvard Way”
Bipartisan bedfellows Robby Mook (Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager) and Matt Rhoades (Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager) teamed up to write a 26-page “playbook” for political campaign operatives to deter cyber attacks in future elections. After Mook and Rhoades experienced firsthand the fallout from hacking of their operations, they joined Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where they intend to defend digital democracy.
October 26, 2017
GAO to Investigate Possible Fraud by Voter Fraud Commission?
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a/k/a the Pence-Kobach Voter Fraud Commission, has ignored several congressional requests for information about its motives and operations since its inception by President Trump’s executive order in May. Now, prompted by a recent letter from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the US Government Accountability Office — a nonpartisan, independent watchdog agency — has agreed to investigate the Voter Fraud Commission. However, “staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement,” it says — “in about five months.”
October 14, 2017
Zealously Guarded Election Officials Begin to See the Light
State and local election officials, who zealously guard control of state-administered elections, are implementing security measures for shoring up antiquated voting equipment, systems and protocols before the midterm and 2020 elections. West Virginia added a National Guardsman to its staff; Colorado and Rhode Island will use audits to verify that voters’ ballots were cast and counted in the way they intended; and Delaware will replace its outdated paperless voting system and move its digital voter list off its mainframe computer server.