Maybe Now, We’ll Take Electronic Voting Hacking Seriously?

This column by Bruce Scheier raises a very good point about the November elections (boldface mine):

Even more important, we need to secure our election systems before autumn. If Putin’s government has already used a cyberattack to attempt to help Trump win, there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again — especially now that Trump is inviting the “help.”

Over the years, more and more states have moved to electronic voting machines and have flirted with Internet voting. These systems are insecure and vulnerable to attack.

But while computer security experts like me have sounded the alarm for many years, states have largely ignored the threat, and the machine manufacturers have thrown up enough obfuscating babble that election officials are largely mollified.

We no longer have time for that. We must ignore the machine manufacturers’ spurious claims of security, create tiger teams to test the machines’ and systems’ resistance to attack, drastically increase their cyber-defenses and take them offline if we can’t guarantee their security online.

Longer term, we need to return to election systems that are secure from manipulation. This means voting machines with voter-verified paper audit trails, and no Internet voting. I know it’s slower and less convenient to stick to the old-fashioned way, but the security risks are simply too great.

I hate writing about this because it’s seems tin foil helmet-ey. But several statisticians have looked at the presidential results from 2008 and 2012, both between Democrats and Republicans, as well as among Republicans, and there are some really weird patterns that would be consistent with tampering. One Wichita State University researcher filed a suit to get Kansas, which uses electronic voting machines that also have a paper record, to release voting data to investigate this:

A Wichita State University mathematician sued the top Kansas election official Wednesday, seeking paper tapes from electronic voting machines in an effort to explain statistical anomalies favoring Republicans in counts coming from large precincts across the country…

Clarkson, a certified quality engineer with a Ph.D. in statistics, said she has analyzed election returns in Kansas and elsewhere over several elections that indicate “a statistically significant” pattern where the percentage of Republican votes increase the larger the size of the precinct.

While it is well-recognized that smaller, rural precincts tend to lean Republican, statisticians have been unable to explain the consistent pattern favoring Republicans that trends upward as the number of votes cast in a precinct or other voting unit goes up. In primaries, the favored candidate appears to always be the Republican establishment candidate, above a tea party challenger. And the upward trend for Republicans occurs once a voting unit reaches roughly 500 votes.

“This is not just an anomaly that occurred in one place,” Clarkson said. “It is a pattern that has occurred repeatedly in elections across the United States.”

The pattern could be voter fraud or a demographic trend that has not been picked up by extensive polling, she said.

I do not know why this trend is there, but I know that the pattern is there and one way to establish that it is or is not election fraud is to go and do a physical audit of paper records of voting machines,” she said.

Clarkson wants the hard copies to check the error rate on electronic voting machines that were used in a voting station in Sedgwick County to establish a statistical model…

Clarkson became more interested in the issue after reading a paper written by statisticians Francois Choquette and James Johnson in 2012 of the Republican primary results showing strong statistical evidence of election manipulation in Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Clarkson said she couldn’t believe their findings, so she checked their math and found it was correct and checked their model selection and found it appropriate. Then she pulled additional data from other elections they hadn’t analyzed and found the same pattern.

First, we need as many paper trails as possible. Second, the Democrats, for once, can’t be caught with their pants down: they need to have legal teams ready to go to impound the machines (along with analysts who can examine the code).

Even if Clinton blows out Trump (not likely, but it could happen), Democrats should still investigate. It’s too important not to do so.

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15 Responses to Maybe Now, We’ll Take Electronic Voting Hacking Seriously?

  1. armchairdeductions – Author, erstwhile consultant, patron saint of the impecunious, and adult survivor of Cluster B matriarchal mayhem.
    John Danley says:

    Deep inside every electronic voting machine lies a tiny, flickering, Russian vacuum tube with a light code that translates все градом козырная.

  2. I’m a computer professional, so wanting an independent group to test the security of the software is common practice, especially for such an important piece of software. As more devices are hooked to the Internet (the Internet of Things), it’s shameful how easy they are to break in to. If you really want to start wearing clothing made of tinfoil, read about how power stations, manufacturing, and other large machines are shamefully easy to crack remotely and cause to overload or otherwise fail, causing damage and possibly death. Also, all those wi-fi enabled lightbulbs(!!) are insecure enough to be a gateway into your home wireless network, and now they’ve got all the personally-identifying information they want to masquerade as you.

  3. … especially now that Trump is inviting the “help.”

    Why would Putin give a flying fart what Trump wants?

    • I don’t think Putin had anything to do with the hacks. I believe that is a smoke screen to get the public to feel sorry for Clinton. It also turns the light from her emails to shine it on Putin. Pretty clever trick but I don’t buy it. Pay attention to the email, does it matter where the leak originated? No one is saying the emails are not genuine.

  4. DMC says:

    Oregon went entirely paper and vote by mail and we haven’t had any problems with it. It takes the mass tampering possibility right off the table.

    Putin might prefer Trump because he’s made a case for a less bellicose attitude towards Russia, as opposed to Clintonova’s Neo-con “let’s bring back the Cold War” policy. Didn’t the whole Ukraine crisis go down on her watch as SoS? This is why some very astute people consider Trump the lesser evil. Sure he’s an obnoxious and a ravingly deluded narcissist but Hillary’s even more of an interventionist than The Peace Laureate and just seems more likely to to get into some confrontational situation that could suddenly escalate out of control.

    • “Didn’t the whole Ukraine crisis go down on her watch as SoS?” No. This question is absurd. Things don’t just begin and end when they enter the news cycle, or when we become aware of them.

    • linus bern says:

      The notion that Trump is less interventionist, or less bellicose is unfounded.

      A) We don’t really know what Trump thinks on any topic, because his positions are muddied by lies, contradictions, and ignorant nonsense.

      B) The Ukraine crisis may have happened while Hillary was SoC, but she didn’t invade the Ukraine, Putin did, so it is not a great example of her preference for war, since the US did not go to war over it.

      C) Trump has talked about carpet-bombing indiscriminately in the middle east, hitting Iraq and simply taking the oil, and even responded to homegrown terrorism in France by saying we are too afraid to use violence (does he think we should invade Belgium, since that is where they mostly originated?). He has acted like starting a trade war with China would be no big deal, apparently unaware that hot wars often start as trade wars.

      Hillary may be too interventionist, but Trump is a loose cannon who reacts without thinking, and a thin-skinned bully that he lashes out wildly at perceived slights without caring what the consequences are, because he is driven almost entirely by his own ego and the need to appear strong. If he felt humiliated by a foreign country, there is no telling how he would respond, except that it will not be with intelligence, diplomacy and restraint.

      • linus bern says:

        P.S. Hillary may have voted for the Iraq invasion, but she now regrets that decision, and probably learned from it. Trump’s running mate, who will apparently be in charge of foreign policy, still thinks it was the right decision. No regret, no learning from it.

  5. Point one: Hardening our election infrastructure is a very good idea. Audit Ready Paper Trails, double plus good.

    Point two: the election-theft conspiracy theory people – known by the habit of screeching about fraud and theft, every time an election goes against them, but never fronting any credible evidence that fraud has actually occurred (unlike local District Attorneys, who handle this kind of stuff every cycle and actually get convictions) – have totally jaded the American Public on the subject. Boy Who Cried Wolf and all that, which I know all too well because I actually do work on election security and I am weary of having to clean away their hysterical nonsense before I can get people to look at what the actual evidence actually is.

    Point three: Clarkson is a nutter, and you do your own reputation no favors by championing her cause. I have examined her spreadsheets – freely available, all you have to do is to write and ask – and while she may be an excellent parts manager for Boeing she is clearly out of her depth when dealing with elections. That J-curve is real in some of the returns, and it looks interesting, but anyone with a sophomore level understanding of Statistics can tell you that’s not a proof of anything. What she presents is not even the beginning of a statistical proof. At this point, given the work that she and her enthusiasts have produced, it’s as much a proof that mole men from the center of the Earth have taken over Kansas (have you seen their productivity crash?) as that the Republicans have cleverly hacked the eVoting process to steal elections they were going to win anyway.

    • Gingerbaker – Vermont – Trying to think independently about renewable energy and ending the burning of fossil fuels. I am a photographer, a drummer, a husband, a Dad, a GrandPa, a brother, a son, a friend.
      Gingerbaker says:

      “but never fronting any credible evidence that fraud has actually occurred ”

      You can’t be serious. Or you are very poorly informed. There is plenty of evidence fraud has occurred, and it easily rises to the standard that U.N. inspectors would deem credible.

  6. Jim Sweeney
    Jim Sweeney says:

    Orange County, CA has voting machines with voter-readable paper records, and voters also have the option of paper ballots. Ideally, at least one randomly chosen precinct should be audited in every election to assure that the electronic tally has zero errors.

  7. Pingback: Maybe Now, We’ll Take Electronic Voting Hacking Seriously? — Mike the Mad Biologist | Queering the Nerd

  8. Gingerbaker – Vermont – Trying to think independently about renewable energy and ending the burning of fossil fuels. I am a photographer, a drummer, a husband, a Dad, a GrandPa, a brother, a son, a friend.
    Gingerbaker says:

    Is there a single compelling reason why 100% paper ballots should not be used? All over the world, they are used in modern countries and they have their results within a day or two in national elections.

  9. E.A. Blair says:

    I’m a poll worker in Wisconsin, and the procedure here is for voters to mark paper ballots which are electronically scanned and tabulated. The ballots are warehoused for ten years against the possibility of an audit or recount which can be done either by rescanning or by hand. The ballots are printed on a type of paper that cannot be erased without leaving evidence of the alteration that can be visually verified. Furthermore, any such erasure or alteration is rejected by the scanner. This also prevents overvoting (voting for more than one candidate for the same office, which also causes a rejection). If a ballot is rejected for any reason, voters have can take a new ballot and try again while the rejected ballot is torn in half and invalidated. Each voter gets three chances, and if all three are rejected, that person’s vote is forfeit.

    I’ve been working elections here for ten years and have never seen any attempt at voter fraud, nor have I seen any ballots spoiled by anything other than honest error. Contrary to what our evil Republican governor and GOP members of the state legislature claim, rampant fraud does not seem to be a problem except in voting wards where Republican officials steal ballots, which has happened (but was caught).

  10. Rick Cooley – Wilkes-Barre, PA – New at this.
    Rick Cooley says:

    Reblogged this on Rcooley123's Blog and commented:
    New technology invites new ways to commit election fraud. May the buyer – and voters- beware. – RJC

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