The Verified Voting Blog

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

Amid Cybersecurity Concerns, France Abandons Plans for Internet Voting in Upcoming Elections

Earlier this month, the French government announced that it was cancelling plans to allow citizens abroad to vote over the Internet in legislative elections this June. Calling allegations of Russian hacking in western countries worrisome, the National Cybersecurity Agency of France (ANSSI) described the current risk of cyberattack as “extremely high,” and advised “that it would be better to take no risk that might jeopardize the legislative vote for French citizens residing abroad.”

In February Emmanuel Macron's En Marche (Onwards!) party alleged that their campaign was the target of 'fake news' put out by Russian news agencies and they had been victims of cyberattacks. Following these allegations, outgoing president Bernard Hollande called a meeting of the French Defense Council and asked for a report on “specific monitoring and protection measures, including in the cyber domain, to be taken during the election campaign.”

In February Emmanuel Macron's En Marche (Onwards!) party alleged that their campaign was the target of 'fake news' put out by Russian news agencies and they had been victims of cyberattacks. Following these allegations, outgoing president Bernard Hollande called a meeting of the French Defense Council and asked for a report on “specific monitoring and protection measures, including in the cyber domain, to be taken during the election campaign.”

Technology Experts’ Letter to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp

On March 3rd it was reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigations is conducting a criminal investigation into an alleged cyber attack of the Kennesaw State University Center for Election Systems. According to the KSU Center for Election Systems’ website, “the Secretary of State authorized KSU to create a Center for Election Systems, dedicated to assisting with the deployment of the Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting technology and providing ongoing support.”[1] The Center is responsible for ensuring the integrity of the voting systems and developing and implementing security procedures for the election management software installed in all county election offices and voting systems.

The Center has access to most if not all voting systems and software used in Georgia. It also is responsible for programming these systems and accessing and validating the software on these systems. It is our understanding that the Center also programs and populates with voter records the electronic poll books used in polling places statewide. A security breach at the Center could have dire security consequences for the integrity of the technology and all elections carried out in Georgia.

In order for citizens to have faith and confidence in their elections, transparency is crucial, including about events such as the KSU breach, and its extent and severity. While we understand that this investigation is ongoing and that it will take time for the full picture to emerge, we request that you be as forthcoming and transparent as possible regarding critical information about the breach and the investigation, as such leadership not only will be respected in Georgia but also emulated in other states where such a breach could occur.

Our Voting System Is Hackable by Foreign Powers | David Dill

The FBI, NSA and CIA all agree that the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 presidential election by hacking candidates and political parties and leaking the documents they gathered. That’s disturbing. But they could have done even worse. It is entirely possible for an adversary to hack American computerized voting systems directly and select the next commander in chief.

A dedicated group of technically sophisticated individuals could steal an election by hacking voting machines in key counties in just a few states. Indeed, University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman says that he and his students could have changed the result of the November election. Halderman et al. have hacked a lot of voting machines, and there are videos to prove it. I believe him.

Halderman isn’t going to steal an election, but a foreign nation might be tempted to do so. It needn’t be a superpower like Russia or China. Even a medium-size country would have the resources to accomplish this, with techniques that could include hacking directly into voting systems over the Internet; bribing employees of election offices and voting-machine vendors; or just buying the companies that make the voting machines outright. It is likely that such an attack would not be detected, given our current election security practices.

Give Us The Ballot | Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The following passage is excerpted from a speech that Dr. King delivered before the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington, on May 17, 1957, three years after Brown v. Board of Education and eight years before the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

Three years ago the Supreme Court of this nation rendered in simple, eloquent and unequivocal language a decision which will long be stenciled on the mental sheets of succeeding generations. For all men of good will, this May 17 decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of segregation. It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of distinguished people throughout the world who had dared only to dream of freedom. It came as a legal and sociological deathblow to the old Plessy doctrine of "separate-but-equal." It came as a reaffirmation of the good old American doctrine of freedom and equality for all people.

Unfortunately, this noble and sublime decision has not gone without opposition. This opposition has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words as "interposition" and "nullification." Methods of defiance range from crippling economic reprisals to the tragic reign of violence and terror. All of these forces have conjoined to make for massive resistance.

But, even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic traditions and its is democracy turned upside down.

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.
Three years ago the Supreme Court of this nation rendered in simple, eloquent and unequivocal language a decision which will long be stenciled on the mental sheets of succeeding generations. For all men of good will, this May 17 decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of segregation. It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of distinguished people throughout the world who had dared only to dream of freedom. It came as a legal and sociological deathblow to the old Plessy doctrine of "separate-but-equal." It came as a reaffirmation of the good old American doctrine of freedom and equality for all people.

Unfortunately, this noble and sublime decision has not gone without opposition. This opposition has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words as "interposition" and "nullification." Methods of defiance range from crippling economic reprisals to the tragic reign of violence and terror. All of these forces have conjoined to make for massive resistance.

But, even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic traditions and its is democracy turned upside down.

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.

A Democracy Worth the Paper — Ballot — it’s Written on | Mark Halvorson and Barbara Simons

As the CIA digs deep to investigate foreign influence on our election, we should recognize that we don’t need cybersecurity experts to tell us if our votes have been accurately counted. Citizen observers can do the job, if we fix the way we vote and the way we verify those votes.

Our democracy is in crisis because we have introduced computers into our voting systems without proper safeguards. First and foremost, every vote must be cast on a paper ballot marked by the voter. In addition, we must require that at least a random sample of those paper ballots be counted by hand to determine if the electronically reported election results are correct.

About 25 percent of the 2016 votes, including almost all of Pennsylvania, were cast on paperless, computerized voting machines. Since software can contain bugs, programming errors, and even malware, we never should have allowed paperless voting machines to record and count our votes, because there is no way to verify that votes are properly recorded and counted inside the machines. Voting on a paperless electronic voting machine is like speaking your vote to a stranger behind a screen and ­­­­­trusting him to cast it for you, without ever seeing the person or how he marked your ballot.

Furthermore, even states with paper ballots tabulate almost all of them using computerized optical scanners. Paper ballots provide no protection unless they are manually checked after the election to verify or correct the computer-declared results. There are only two ways to independently verify electronic tallies (that is, to confirm whether or not the person behind the screen was honest and accurate): post-election audits and recounts done by hand by examining the original paper ballots.

Election Security Is a Matter of National Security | David Dill

State-sponsored cyber-attacks seemingly intended to influence the 2016 Presidential election have raised a question: Is the vulnerability of computerized voting systems to hacking a critical threat to our national security? Can an adversary use methods of cyber-warfare to select our commander-in-chief?

A dedicated group of technically sophisticated individuals could steal an election by hacking voting machines key counties in just a few states. Indeed, University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman says that he and his students could have changed the result of the presidential election. Halderman et al. have hacked a lot of voting machines, and there are videos to prove it. I believe him.

Halderman isn’t going to steal an election, but a foreign power might be tempted to do so. The military expenditures of a medium-size country dwarf the cost of a multi-pronged attack, which could include using the internet, bribing employees of election offices and voting machine vendors, or just buying voting machine companies. It is likely that such an attack would not be detected, given our current election security practices.

What would alert us to such an attack? What should we do about it? If there is reason to suspect an election result (perhaps because it’s an upset victory that defies the vast majority of pre-election polls), common sense says we should double-check the results of the election as best we can. But this is hard to do in America. Recount laws vary with each state. In states where it is possible to get a recount, it often has to be requested by one of the candidates, often at considerable expense.

In the recent election, it is fortunate that Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, citing potential security breaches, recently requested a recount of the 2016 presidential vote in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and plans to do so in Michigan. Donald Trump unexpectedly won these three states by very narrow margins, and their recount laws are favorably compared with some of the other swing states.

Want to Know if the Election was Hacked? Look at the Ballots | J. Alex Halderman

You may have read at NYMag that I’ve been in discussions with the Clinton campaign about whether it might wish to seek recounts in critical states. Thatarticle, which includes somebody else’s description of my views, incorrectly describes the reasons manually checking ballots is an essential security safeguard (and includes some incorrect numbers, to boot). Let me set the record straight about what I and other leading election security experts have actually been saying to the campaign and everyone else who’s willing to listen. 

How might a foreign government hack America’s voting machines to change the outcome of a presidential election? Here’s one possible scenario. First, the attackers would probe election offices well in advance in order to find ways to break into their computers. Closer to the election, when it was clear from polling data which states would have close electoral margins, the attackers might spread malware into voting machines in some of these states, rigging the machines to shift a few percent of the vote to favor their desired candidate. This malware would likely be designed to remain inactive during pre-election tests, do its dirty business during the election, then erase itself when the polls close. A skilled attacker’s work might leave no visible signs — though the country might be surprised when results in several close states were off from pre-election polls.

Could anyone be brazen enough to try such an attack? A few years ago, I might have said that sounds like science fiction, but 2016 has seen unprecedented cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the election. This summer, attackers broke into the email system of the Democratic National Committee and, separately, into the email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, and leaked private messages. Attackers infiltrated the voter registration systems of two states, Illinois and Arizona, and stole voter data. And there’s evidence that hackers attempted to breach election offices in several other states.

In all these cases, Federal agencies publicly asserted that senior officials in the Russian government commissioned these attacks. Russia has sophisticated cyber-offensive capabilities, and has shown a willingness to use them to hack elections. In 2014, during the presidential election in Ukraine, attackers linked to Russia sabotaged the country’s vote-counting infrastructure and, according to published reports, Ukrainian officials succeeded only at the last minute in defusing vote-stealing malware that was primed to cause the wrong winner to be announced. Russia is not the only country with the ability to pull off such an attack on American systems — most of the world’s military powers now have sophisticated cyberwarfare capabilities.

[caption id="attachment_108182" align="aligncenter" width="800"]The pink counties predominately use optical scan paper ballots, which can be examined to confirm that the computer voting machines produced an accurate count. Blue counties use paperless voting systems, which require forensic analysis. The pink counties predominately use optical scan paper ballots, which can be examined to confirm that the computer voting machines produced an accurate count. Blue counties use paperless voting systems, which require forensic analysis.[/caption]

Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.

Voting Experts Call for Nationwide Audit to Verify Election Results

Days after an unexpected outcome in the presidential election, a leading voting security group is reinforcing its call for a national post-election manual audit to validate computer-generated election results. In the months leading up to the election federal authorities issued unprecedented warnings regarding the computer security of the U.S. election system following revelations that over 20 states’ voter registration systems and a Florida voting system vendor were targeted by foreign cyber attacks. Federal officials acknowledged that the system vendor and four states’ voter registration databases were compromised by hackers including Illinois and Arizona.

“This national election was held under an unfortunate cloud of uncertainty due to documented attacks on U.S. election systems and claims of rigging before votes were even cast,” said Verified Voting President Pamela Smith. “In order for democracy to work, we all need to believe in the system that elects our leaders. Voters must have assurance their ballots will be counted the way they intended to cast them—especially in a time when so much doubt has been cast on the electoral process. Luckily, there’s an easy way to do this: a post-election audit that manually examines a random sample of the ballots.”

Almost all ballots cast in the U.S. are tabulated by computers; software is vulnerable to errors, bugs, malware and attacks. The security breaches identified in the months before the election led national security experts in both the federal government and private sector to issue unprecedented warnings about the cyber security of U.S. voting systems. In an extraordinary move, the Department of Homeland Security partnered with state and federal election officials in an effort to shore up voting system security following the disclosed attacks.

A nationwide audit of about 1.4 million ballots–just over 1% of the votes cast– could give 95% confidence that each state’s result is right. About 25% of Americans voted on equipment that does not produce an auditable paper record, mostly in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, and New Jersey. But votes cast by the other 75% are on paper ballots or paper records voters have the chance to check, and those can and should be checked in every election.

Still time for an election audit | Ron Rivest and Philip Stark

A Washington Post–ABC News poll found that 18% of voters — 33% of Clinton supporters and 1% of Trump supporters — think Trump was not the legitimate winner of the election. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has called on Congress to investigate the Russian cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee and the election. There are reasons for concern. According to the director of national intelligence, the leaked emails from the DNC were “intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” The director of national intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Security Agency concluded that the Russian government is behind the DNC email hack and that Russian hackers attacked U.S. voter registration databases.

We know that the national results could be tipped by manipulating the vote count in a relatively small number of jurisdictions — a few dozen spread across a few key states. We know that the vast majority of local elections officials have limited resources to detect or defend against cyberattacks. And while pre-election polls have large uncertainties, they were consistently off. And various aspects of the preliminary results, such as a high rate of undervotes for president, have aroused suspicion.

Computers counted the vast majority of the 130 million votes cast in this year's election. Even without hacking, mistakes are inevitable. Computers can’t divine voter intent perfectly; computers can be misconfigured; and software can have bugs. Did human error, computer glitches, hacking, or other problems change the outcome? While there is, as yet, no compelling evidence, the news about hacking and deliberate interference makes it worth finding out.

Election integrity: Missing components to remedy

This oped appeared originally at the The Hill on November 8, 2016.

Our election systems’ vulnerabilities received unprecedented bipartisan and media attention from mid-summer onward, sparked by the apparently Russian origins of hacks into the Democrat’s communications systems. If tampering with the U.S. election process was a goal, then election technologies used for voter registration and vote tabulation, and the Internet itself, were hypothesized as additional potential targets. Further disclosures added fire to the considerable smoke.

While correction of U.S. election vulnerabilities may appear to be largely a simple matter of upgrading the election technologies, including voting devices and voter registration databases, that focus alone would be window dressing.  It would conceal and permit continuation of a broad array of vulnerabilities warranting reassessment and remedy.  Indeed, a full cyber risk assessment of our “mission critical” election processes would highlight a broad range of soft points that include many not yet a part of public and policymaker scrutiny. Outdated technology may appear to be the easiest correction, yet it is not. Other weak links in the process will defeat secure and resilient elections processes unless they, too, are redressed—like any weak chain.

Our election systems’ vulnerabilities received unprecedented bipartisan and media attention from mid-summer onward, sparked by the apparently Russian origins of hacks into the Democrat’s communications systems. If tampering with the U.S. election process was a goal, then election technologies used for voter registration and vote tabulation, and the Internet itself, were hypothesized as additional potential targets. Further disclosures added fire to the considerable smoke.

While correction of U.S. election vulnerabilities may appear to be largely a simple matter of upgrading the election technologies, including voting devices and voter registration databases, that focus alone would be window dressing.  It would conceal and permit continuation of a broad array of vulnerabilities warranting reassessment and remedy.  Indeed, a full cyber risk assessment of our “mission critical” election processes would highlight a broad range of soft points that include many not yet a part of public and policymaker scrutiny. Outdated technology may appear to be the easiest correction, yet it is not. Other weak links in the process will defeat secure and resilient elections processes unless they, too, are redressed—like any weak chain.

The illustrative list below elucidates some agenda items relevant on the eve of casting, counting, and reporting tallies -- and on checking the accuracy of vote tallies if hacking may have occurred.