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Monday, July 03, 2017

Trump's "voter fraud" claims: A reaction from Maryland

From the Maryland Attorney General, Brian Frosh:

Bravo. But we must emphasize that there is a distinction between voter impersonation fraud -- a Republican propaganda meme which serves as a cover for denying the vote to minorities -- and computerized election fraud, or hacking the vote. Even Josh Marshall, as cautious a blogger as there is, now seems to be open to the latter possibility. Concerning the Department of Homeland Security's refusal to provide a forensic examination of voting equipment, Marshall wrote (a few days ago):
Computer scientists have been critical of that decision. “They have performed computer forensics on no election equipment whatsoever,” said J. Alex Halderman, who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week about the vulnerability of election systems. “That would be one of the most direct ways of establishing in the equipment whether it’s been penetrated by attackers. We have not taken every step we could.”

Voting machines, especially the electronic machines still used in several states, are so insecure that an attack on them is likely to be successful, according to a report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice out Thursday morning. David Dill, a voting systems expert and professor of computer science at Stanford University quoted in the report, said hackers can easily breach election systems regardless of whether they’re able to coordinate widely enough to alter a general election result.

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t try to hack voting machines and I don’t know what would stop them,” Dill told TPM. “Any statement that says ‘We haven’t see evidence of X’ also means ‘We haven’t lifted a finger to investigate.’”

DHS told TPM Wednesday afternoon it was confident in “multiple checks and redundancies in US election infrastructure” and referred to the testimony of Liles and Jeannette Manfra, DHS undersecretary for cybersecurity, who said US electoral systems were fortified by “diversity of systems, non-Internet connected voting machines, pre-election testing, and processes for media, campaign, and election officials to check, audit, and validate results.”

The new Brennan Center report, however, details the dangers of voting machines that aren’t properly secured, particularly the effect on public confidence of a very public successful hack, whether or not it managed to swing an election. “In the current hyper-partisan environment,” the authors noted, “evidence of this kind of hack could lead to accusations by each side that the other is rigging the election.”
As I've said often in the past: Examination of election machines (including tabulators and all other devices) for signs of tampering or hacking or malware ought to be routine. Anyone who argues otherwise ought to be viewed with deep suspicion.

I have also said -- many, many times -- that we need a paper trail, counted by human beings. The old-fashioned way is still the best. If computers are to be used at all on election day, they should provide only an unofficial "quick and dirty" tally.

Another point: I am not at all averse to the idea of instituting a new identification card system designed to alleviate fears (whether valid or invalid) of voter impersonation or multiple voting. We should also consider adopting the European practice of staining a voter's finger after a vote, to insure that he or she cannot vote a second time. Any new scheme of this sort would be welcome, as long as the intent is to make voting easier for everyone.

The Republicans do not seek that goal. They've made that fact crystal clear.
I write code for a living. Back in 2004 I started digging in to these electronic voting machines and I can tell you that they are not secure, they are not checked for tampering, and they are incredibly easy to hack (not that I've ever tried myself). The code in these things is incredibly simple, and back in 2004 the central tabulating computers were on Windows XP (usually unsecured) with the results being tabulated in non-password protected Excel files. I suspect things haven't improved much, because obviously there isn't a will to do this on the part of politicians and businesses that stand to gain from it. I also recall that the major voting machine manufacturers back then were dominated by Republican CEO's, and I would not be at all surprised if they have "back doors" or even wireless remote connections not revealed to the municipalities that purchase them.
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