The Verified Voting Blog

This blog contains posts authored by the Verified Voting Team and by members of the Verified Voting Board of Advisors.

What Would an Attack on the U.S. Elections Look Like?

Election Experts to Discuss How Hackers Might Target Voter Rolls, Registration in the 2018 Elections, What Signs to Look For and How to Respond. For more information, please contact Aurora Matthews, aurora@newheightscommunications.com, (301)-221-7984.

What
Press call to discuss election day security preparedness and “What Would a 2018 Election Hack Look Like?”

When
Monday, October 15, 2018, 1pm EDT

Where
Dial-in number: 408-638-0968;
Meeting ID: 363 129 912
Webinar link: https://zoom.us/j/363129912

Verified Voting, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and Public Citizen will hold a telepresser and webinar on Monday, October 15 to discuss what a hacking of the 2018 election system might look like. Hackers have different avenues they could take either by altering voter registration rolls, disrupting websites or changing vote counts. Detecting an attack might be obvious, such as disappearing votes, or subtle, like voting tallies not matching exit polls.

Speakers will give examples of what systems hackers might target, and how election officials will be able to determine if a hack occurred, as well as how to respond to hacks. There are several actions voters and election officials can still take ahead of the election to ensure minimal disruption to voting, even if a hack or computer error occurs. The call will also address what states have done since 2016 to improve election security. Speakers will include:

  • Marian K. Schneider, President at the Verified Voting Foundation and former Deputy Secretary for Elections and Administration, Pennsylvania Department of State
  • Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program
  • Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign

This briefing comes as states have had wide ranging responses to calls to implement additional election security following the 2016 elections.

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  Read the rest

Jefferson: The Myth of “Secure” Blockchain Voting

In the last couple of years several startup companies have begun to promote Internet voting systems, this time with a new twist – using a blockchain as the container for voted ballots transmitted from voters’ private devices. Blockchains are a relatively new system category somewhat akin to a distributed database. Proponents promote them as a revolutionary innovation providing strong security guarantees that can render online elections safe from cyberattack.

Unfortunately, such claims are false. Although the subject of considerable hype, blockchains do not offer any real security from cyberattacks. Like other online elections architectures, a blockchain election is vulnerable to a long list of threats that would leave it exposed to hacking and manipulation by anyone on the Internet, and the attack might never be detected or corrected. Read the rest

Wisconsin Proves It’s Not Too Late for States to Take Key Election Security Steps Before November

Wisconsin’s action last week requiring a post-election audit will help secure the November vote and should be followed by states that lack such protections, according to Public Citizen and Verified Voting.

On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) took a key step to secure the vote by requiring an audit of November’s election results before they are made official. The commission voted to randomly select five percent of voting machines in the state to be audited the day after the 2018 general election. For the audit, municipal clerks will hand count ballots from randomly selected machines, comparing what’s on the paper ballot to what the machine recorded. They will do this across four races before the vote count is finalized. (See WEC meeting minutes pages 34 and 49.)

Verified Voting Testimony before the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee

Written Testimony of Verified Voting.org President Marian K. Schneider before the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee Public Hearing on Senate Bill 1249 and Voting Machine Demonstration, September 25, 2018. Download as PDF.

Thank you Chairman Folmer, Minority Chair Williams, and members of the Committee for allowing Verified Voting to submit written testimony in connection with the Senate State Government Committee hearing. We write to address the security risks presented for Pennsylvania’s counties and the need to expeditiously replace aging and vulnerable electronic voting systems. We urge the Committee to recommend that the Commonwealth appropriate adequate funding to permit counties to replace their aging electronic voting systems as soon as possible.

Verified Voting is a national non-partisan, non-profit research and advocacy organization committed to safeguarding elections in the digital age. Founded by computer scientists, Verified Voting’s mission is to advocate for the responsible use of emerging technologies to ensure that Americans can be confident their votes will be cast as intended and counted as cast. We promote auditable, accessible and resilient voting for all eligible citizens. Our board of directors and board of advisors include some of the top computer scientists, cyber security experts and statisticians working in the election administration arena as well as former and current elections officials. Verified Voting has no financial interest in the type of equipment used. Our goal is for every jurisdiction in the United States to have secure and verifiable elections.

There are two basic kinds of electronic voting systems in use in Pennsylvania: Direct recording electronic (DRE) or optical scan systems. Both types of systems are computers, and both are prepared in similar ways. The primary difference is that an optical scan system incorporates a voter-marked paper ballot, marked either with a pen or pencil or with a ballot marking device and that ballot is retained for recounts or audits. Optical scan systems leverage the speed of the computer to report unofficial results quickly. The presence and availability of that paper ballot provides a trustworthy record of voter intent and allows jurisdictions to monitor their system for problems, detect any problems, (either hacking or error), respond to them and recover by, if necessary, hand counting the paper ballots. Seventeen counties in Pennsylvania already benefit from the security protection of paper ballots.

Four ways to defend democracy and protect every voter’s ballot | Douglas W. Jones

This article was originally posted at phys.org.
As voters prepare to cast their ballots in the November midterm elections, it's clear that U.S. voting is under electronic attack. Russian government hackers probed some states' computer systems in the runup to the 2016 presidential election and are likely to do so again – as might hackers from other countries or nongovernmental groups interested in sowing discord in American politics.

Fortunately, there are ways to defend elections. Some of them will be new in some places, but these defenses are not particularly difficult nor expensive, especially when judged against the value of public confidence in democracy. I served on the Iowa board that examines voting machines from 1995 to 2004 and on the Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the United States Election Assistance Commission from 2009 to 2012, and Barbara Simons and I coauthored the 2012 book "Broken Ballots."

Election officials have an important role to play in protecting election integrity. Citizens, too, need to ensure their local voting processes are safe. There are two parts to any voting system: the computerized systems tracking voters' registrations and the actual process of voting – from preparing ballots through results tallying and reporting.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine releases report on “The Future of Voting”

Today the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report on election security, “Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy.” The Committee for The Future of Voting, which includes Verified Voting Board member Ron Rivest and Advisory Board member Andrew Appel, released the report at a public event in Washington, DC, where the report’s findings and key recommendations were discussed. Included in the Committee’s recommendations, which echo many of Verified Voting’s policies, were:

  • Human-readable paper ballots, made available for all elections as soon as 2018
  • State-mandated risk-limiting audits
  • Increased funding to state and local governments for cybersecurity and election infrastructure

In addition to Ron Rivest and Andrew Appel, Verified Voting’s own Barbara Simons, David Dill, Philip Stark, Matt Blaze, Doug Kellner, and Alex Halderman reviewed the report ahead of its release.

To read the full report and recommendations, visit nap.edu/FutureOfVoting Read the rest

The Myth of “Secure” Blockchain Voting

Several startup companies have recently begun to promote Internet voting systems, but with a new twist – using a blockchain as the container for voted ballots transmitted over the Internet from the voter’s private device. Blockchains are a relatively new system category a little akin to a distributed database. Proponents of blockchain voting promote it as a revolutionary innovation providing strong security guarantees that enable truly secure online elections. Unfortunately, these claims are false. Blockchains do not offer any real election security at all.

Several startup companies have recently begun to promote Internet voting systems, but with a new twist – using a blockchain as the container for voted ballots transmitted over the Internet from the voter’s private device. Blockchains are a relatively new system category a little akin to a distributed database. Proponents of blockchain voting promote it as a revolutionary innovation providing strong security guarantees that enable truly secure online elections. Unfortunately, these claims are false. Blockchains do not offer any real election security at all.

Internet voting has been studied by computer security researchers for over twenty years. Cyber security experts universally agree that no technology, including blockchains, can adequately secure an online public election. Elections have unique security and privacy requirements fundamentally different from and much more stringent than those in other applications, such as e-commerce. They are uniquely vulnerable because anyone on Earth can attack them, and a successful cyberattack might go completely undetected, resulting in the wrong people elected with no evidence that anything was amiss.

Audit Language of the Secure Elections Act Falls Short of Standard for Effective Election Cyberdefense

Marian K. Schneider: “Verified Voting cannot in good conscience support the Secure Elections Act unless the previous audit language of the bill is restored

The following is a statement from Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting, formerly Deputy Secretary for Elections and Administration in the Pennsylvania Department of State, regarding the Chairman’s mark of the Secure Elections Act. For additional media inquiries, please contact christy@newheightscommunications.com.

“Voter-verified paper ballots and manual post-election audits provide robust assurance that election outcomes are not manipulated in a cyberattack, and the most important thing elected officials can do to effectively secure the voting process is to require this combination of safeguards, together.

Unfortunately, the Chairman’s mark of the Secure Elections Act falls short of this standard. Unlike previous versions of the language, including the House companion bill introduced last month, the Chairman’s mark removes language that would have required audits to be conducted ‘by hand and not by device.’ This omission would permit software-based audits of digital records that do not provide a meaningful verification of the software that counted the votes. Cybersecurity experts agree that a manual inspection of the actual ballots marked by voters is essential to detecting interference or programming errors.

Verified Voting cannot in good conscience support the Secure Elections Act unless the previous audit language of the bill is restored and the SEA ensures that elections are defended by effective audit processes.” Read the rest

Pamela Smith: Testimony Submitted to the Little Hoover Commission

Election security is not an on-off switch, where a thing either is secure or it is not. Rather it involves incrementing layers of effort, analysis, systems and procedures, all created or conducted by people, all while balancing costs and priorities. Such incremental measures harden a system, making it more secure than before and solving for problems when they occur. Perfect security is not attainable, but diligence in the pursuit of secure elections is.

As hard as we try, there will always be another vulnerability discovered; this should not discourage our effort. We should take those steps, and not make it easy for tampering to occur, even while recognizing that there’s no such thing as a completely tamperproof system. Instead, our focus should be on reducing and mitigating for vulnerabilities, and on recoverability, such that no matter what happens, we can say to the public “We take these steps to ensure all will be able to have confidence in the accuracy of the outcome and that everyone who wanted to participate was able to do so.”

Voters need to know elections are working the way they should, or they won’t have the confidence to participate. Ensuring voters know we are taking all possible steps to secure the vote is a way to remove the obstacle of “lack of confidence” and we do this to protect and support all the other things we do to make it possible for every eligible person to vote.

This work cannot be the responsibility of elections officials alone; lawmakers must also support this effort by finding ways to ensure those hard-working officials have the resources they need to meet both the demands of running elections generally, and the special requirements of addressing today’s intense security threat environment and meeting the inevitable issues that arise with resilience.

Verified Voting’s Guide to RLAs in One Infographic

Verified Voting debuted its latest infographic, “A Flowchart for Conducting Risk-Limiting Audits,” at the National Association of Secretaries of States (NASS) 2018 Summer Conference in Philadelphia. In addition to sharing this with election officials at the conferences this summer, Verified Voting is working closely with jurisdictions to demonstrate how to implement robust post-election audits. Check it out below:

The infographic is part of a series of visuals Verified Voting is creating. This piece breaks down RLAs in a flowchart, and follows the release of “Safeguarding Our Elections: The Solutions to Vulnerabilities in Election Security,” this past June. You can download the infographic here or find it on our Twitter or Facebook. Read the rest