Paper ballots are crucial to the future of election integrity, a panel of seven distinguished experts all agreed at a congressional briefing on Strengthening Election Cybersecurity yesterday, May 15. And bipartisan cooperation is vitally necessary toward this goal.
Paper is essential to elections, in the form of paper ballots used for voting on optical scanners, with voter-verified auditable paper trails (VVPAT) as generated by some touchscreens an alternative, but ditching the DREs (direct-recording electronic voting machines ) altogether is vitally necessary. The problem is that most states can't afford to purchase new machinery. The nationwide cost of replacing systems more than ten years old and hence out of date (running on Windows XP if not older operating systems) as well as beyond their usability limits and lacking security, would be around $100 to $200 million--a price low by most governmental standards, said James Woolsey, former CIA Director and Chair of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. If the federal government can't provide it, certainly wealthy "angels" can, or NGOs or foundations. Like the Koch brothers or George Soros, he later joked.
But too much public alarm over cybersecurity, or any other issues at the voting level will reduce voter confidence. That fact was not disputed.
So many issues were touched on and there was only an hour and a half for each panelist to speak and audience questions to be taken. The event was so stimulating I wish it had lasted longer.
The distinguished panel was moderated by Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School. She was joined by Ambassador Woolsey; Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.), a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a contributor to Fox News; Lawrence Norden, deputy director of NYU's Brennan Center for Justice; Susan Greenhaigh, election specialist at the Verified Voting Foundation; James Scott, senior fellow at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology; and Alex Halderman, professor of computer science and technology at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Greenberg began the discussion with a theme that all agreed was necessary to any progress on cybersecurity, bipartisan cooperation. So far, legislation addressing election integrity and machinery has been sponsored and cosponsored by Democrats. All the members of the new congressional caucus on fair elections that was formed last year are Democrats. President Trump promises to include Democrats among the consultants included in his proposed Commission on Election Integrity, which is really about "scientifically" rationalizing away Hillary Clinton's 3 million popular vote victory over him in Election 2016 (click here). Whom will he appoint? Perhaps Ambassador Woolsey, who humorously described himself as a Lieberman-style Democrat?
Professor Halderman, well known among election integrity activists for successfully hacking into Internet voting machinery introduced for possible use in the District of Columbia in 2010, noted that 52 different election system models are used in this country. All are subject to virusing singly or contagiously or at an even wider range if central tabulators are used, even those not connected to the Internet.
Countrywide our decentralized technologies, have systems varying in most cases from county to county. A few are centralized statewide, but municipalities are very wary of interference by the central government. Hacking is hardly impeded, however. Expert hackers like Russia, Guccifer, Anonymous, or even ISIS choose the most vulnerable models in the most critical, battleground areas.
In Michigan, he said, 75 percent of counties outsource management of their systems to outside providers, making the whole state vulnerable to hacking. He praised and advocated the use of paper in elections, comparing it to the old-fashioned magnetic compasses airplane pilots use when their computers fail. In 2016 more than 70 percent of votes were on paper ballots, most of which weren't resorted to even where final tallies were close, which is when paper ballots are most useful in providing exact and accurate vote counts.
Further, we must have risk-limiting audits--that is, post-election audits of a number of ballots statistically valid in the context of the total number of votes--a system that must be in place by Election 2020 "or we'll be sitting ducks."
Ambassador Woolsey, who said that he wasn't a cyber expert, demonstrated deep expertise on the art of "disinformation," a form of deception in which Russians excel other countries and on which they devote a huge amount of taxpayer money, all to deceive the West. An example was pro-communism propaganda, which they spread among 30 million Western Europeans successfully, as apparent in their election results, despite all of the post World War II aid the United States supplied to them. We are the world's biggest target and Russia's favorite one.
Dr. Scott, next to speak, the author of the newly published best-seller Hacking Elections Is Easy, addressed the problems of malicious software, espionage, and disinformation. Iranians have yet to invade U.S. systems, aiming, along with others, at state-level tabulators, which are most vulnerable to outside invasions. Hackers have an easy time keeping the "backdoors" of the machines "open" to such penetration.
Hammertoss is a "backdoor" program used by the Russian group APT29 that receives its instructions or commands from Twitter or other popular websites and mimics the behavior of legitimate software as it invades systems and extracts data from them--the most complex form of manipulation.
An easier form of malware, used in the United States, is fractionalization or decimalization [discovered by Bev Harris's associate Bennie Smith], which, with predetermined agendas according to polling where it is used, assigns "weights" to each vote, either less than one or more than one but never zero (to my knowledge) or two. The votes total exactly the number predetermined--more votes in white areas, fewer in nonwhite areas, of course, and the software is entirely undetectable. Results will have been manipulated by assigning 1 vote-plus-a Fraction to a number of desirable voters (depending on bias of the programmers) and reducing, by Fraction, the votes of a greater number of voters to less than 1. If equally weighted, the majority would have won, but with the Fraction allocations, they lose. The software is entirely undetectable except in rare cases where an operator carelessly leaves a Fraction in the results, which a practiced operator will "close" to whole numbers after the program has done its job. Dr. Scott anticipated that it would be used in "one or two swing states" in the next federal election. Dr. Scott anticipated that it would be used in "one or two swing states" in the next federal election. I couldn't help but compare the ante-bellum system that assigned two-thirds of a vote to every slave, though slaves couldn't vote. The point was to make the number of votes in the less-populous slaveholding South comparable to that of the industrial Northern states.