Top election-security experts are urging election officials to put contingency plans into place at polling stations in case critical systems are disrupted during voting on Nov. 8. Their warnings come one week before Election Day, at the end of a presidential race that has seen charges of politically motivated email hacking by Russia as well as a widespread internet outage of unknown origin.
In a teleconference panel Tuesday, Professors Candice Hoke and Douglas W. Jones, authorities in election technology, emphasized that voter-registration databases are most vulnerable to a possible cyberattack, and they encouraged election officials – and even voters – to take precautions.
Their deepest concern was echoed by the third member of the panel – human-rights activist, author and former chess champion Garry Kasparov: Even a small disruption to systems on Election Day could sow doubt in the election results and undermine the authority of a newly elected president. “It does not require massive disruption to create that cloud of uncertainty,” Hoke said. “A few technical events can add to doubt.”
With Russia clearly demonstrating an intent to interfere in U.S. politics in the hack of Democratic National Committee emails, all three panelists worry that whoever wins this presidential election, the real loss will come in Americans’ faith in their democratic systems. “Imagine people who will not be able to have their votes because the voter registration database was hacked,” Kasparov said. “That will create enough doubt about the U.S. elections and democracy as an institution.”
Tuesday’s panel was moderated by Bill Buzenberg, Editorial Director of PutinTrump.org.
Long-term, Hoke and Jones stressed that nationwide election infrastructure should be shored up as part of identifying elections as a key part of U.S. national security. But with one week to go until the election, these are their recommendations for what can be done right now.
What state and local elections officials can do:
Have paper records as back-ups for electronic voter-registration databases (so-called e-poll-books). Hoke notes that these databases are vulnerable because the software is easily manipulated. And she points out that a number of precincts, especially in major urban areas, now use electronic poll-books to access their registration databases, and those poll-books require constant access to the internet and so would be inaccessible in the event of a direct denial of service attack, as occurred Oct. 21. “Those locations that are using e-poll-books: They need to have a paper backup of every database in every location in case their e-poll-books happen to be down for whatever reason.”
Have a contingency plan for what to do if systems go down at a polling station. “The DDOS attack [Oct. 21] may not have been related to the election, but if I were Russia and I wanted to test my weapon in the election, that’s what my weapons test would look like,” Jones said. “Local elections officials need well-defined fallback plans for pollbook failures,” Jones said, and he noted that this could be as low-tech as having a blank sheet of paper where every voter can sign in and write down their addresses. He acknowledges that’s a tremendous amount of work for both poll-workers and voters, creating long lines and slow voting. “But turning away a voter from a polling place simply because the hardware is messed up – that’s just a violation of a fundamental principle of democracy that says you don’t turn away voters.”
States should have security experts assess their system’s vulnerabilities before Election Day, and consider hiring electronic security experts to be on hand for quick action if a disruption is reported. “Retain forensic security teams around the state ready to go into action if there are questions or incidents so they can be investigated immediately and proof can be obtained,” Hoke said. “We should have forensics teams ready to go on Election Day.”
What voters can do:
Voters should double-check their voter registration online before Election Day to be sure the precinct’s recorded information is correct. “Every state has an online voter-registration checking portal and there are some national portals available through the League of Women Voters and the Verified Voting Foundation,” Jones said.
Voters should take official identification to their polling places, even if it’s not required by law. If the electronic records indicate that a voter’s precinct is different or the registration is missing, an ID would be required to cast a provisional ballot or for same-day registration. “Having it there in case there’s a mess-up is important,” Jones said.
If at all possible, voters should take advantage of early voting opportunities. “Encourage as many voters as possible to use early voting opportunities,” Hoke said. “If systems should go down … on Election Day, there are no alternatives. That’s the best contingency.”
The panelists urged states and voters to take these last-minute precautions seriously because they believe that the integrity of the vote and American democracy is at stake in this election.
Kasparov: “My greatest fear is that the election would not be considered valid by tens of millions of Americans because there would be so much doubt and uncertainty, and whoever wins will not be a legitimate president in the eyes of half of the country.”
Jones’ greatest fear: “There will be a cloud of uncertainty caused by a mix of conspiracy theories from left and right and allegations of Russian involvement, and that mixture will create really entrenched distrust and entrenched unwillingness to accept the outcome, whatever the outcome is.”
Hoke: Since I’m located in Ohio … Close election totals are bad enough. Then, just a few incidents or technical events can further add to questions and doubt.”
In light of last month’s large-scale cyberattck on internet infrastructure – as well as previous DNC email hacking that U.S. intelligence officials believe to be instigated by Russia – two top election technology experts are warning about the potential for further disruption on Election Day. Specifically, they call for election officials to have back-up voter registration documentation in paper form ready on Nov. 8. Their warnings came in interviews with PutinTrump.org, and are expected to be repeated during a teleconference with media representatives today, a week before the election.
“The most vulnerable part of the entire election system is the threat to voter registration databases,” according toCandice Hoke, Marshall College of Law professor and a widely recognized national authority on laws governing election technologies, including voting devices and voter registration databases. Hoke said another internet disruption, such as the dedicated denial of service attack (DDOS) that occurred on Oct. 21, could eliminate voter names from any registry in a specific precinct, preventing those voters from casting their ballots normally or forcing them to use provisional ballots.
“Have a back-up plan. Don’t rely on the internet or local laptops for running the election,” ProfessorDouglas W. Jones, said in discussing the vulnerability of elections at the local and state level. Jones agrees there are real possibilities for serious disruption if hackers target centralized voter-registration databases. Such targeting might have already happened, Jones said, but there is no way to know about it in advance or to prove it. On a widespread scale, he added, the potential effects could be “destabilizing the government or delegitimizing the presidency,” although he doesn’t think such targeting would change the outcome of the election.
An attack on voter-registration databases, Jones said, could drastically slow down voting, lead to much longer lines for voters, and require provisional ballots that may or may not be counted. Jones is a computer scientist at the University of Iowa where his research focuses primarily on computer security, particularly electronic voting. Together with Barbara Simons, another election expert on electronic voting, Jones has co-authored a book entitled Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?
Both Hoke and Jones also say hackers may be able to target election software while it is being updated, which could lead to vote “flipping” – causing the tally for one candidate to suddenly becomes the vote total being counted for another candidate under the direction of pirate software. There is no way to prove such a flip took place without a paper trail, which many voting locations no longer have.
Jones believes Russia has both the motivation and capability to disrupt the American election by creating chaos through disrupting the internet or with email leaks via WikiLeaks – allowing them to inject their own partisanship, weighing in on one side of the election. However, he said, it takes many weeks of computer forensics to prove that they are the culprits.
According to a report on CNN quoting the Department of Homeland Security, 46 states have asked DHS for assistance to bolster their election systems against cyber threats. “As rhetoric has swirled that next week’s election could be ‘rigged,’ and as the U.S. government has publicly accused the Russian government of meddling in the election by hacking Democratic political groups, concerns about attempted cyberattacks on election infrastructure have increased,” the CNN report said. Despite the charges of “rigging” the election, most experts believe it would be extremely difficult to alter or affect the outcome of national elections.
Professor Candice Hoke founded and directed the Center for Election Integrity, and served three terms on the American Bar Association’s Advisory Commission on Election Law. Professor Douglas W. Jones has testified before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the United States House Committee on Science and the Federal Election Commission on voting issues. Jones was the technical advisor for HBO’s documentary on electronic voting machine issues, Hacking Democracy.
Additional sources noted inline. Photo via Creative Commons
Last Friday’s massive online attack that caused widespread internet outages for companies such as Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times, made Garry Kasparov angry. Although investigators haven’t said publicly who they think instigated the attack, Kasparov, the former Soviet chess champion and critic of Vladimir Putin, believes the Russians may be behind the latest sophisticated cyber assault.
“This was just a general rehearsal for Election Day,” he warned in an interview with PutinTrump.org. “They want to see what they can do to cause panic and confusion around vote counting on Election Day.”
Kasparov said that an attack of this scale requires a giant state actor with the necessary resources behind it to carry off such an assault on the internet’s infrastructure. That state actor, he believes, is Russia.
More ominously, Kasparov believes there is at least a “50-50 chance” that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump knows in advance about a coming Russian online assault on Election Day. Although he doesn’t have proof, Kasparov believes that is why Trump made his remarkable statement during the third presidential debate: that he won’t commit to accepting the results of the election if he believes it was rigged against him. His refusal to accept the results could sew confusion on Election Night and cast doubt on the integrity of American democracy, which is precisely what Kasparov says the Russians want to do.
As technology site Slash Gear and others have reported, “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are apparently both investigating, in fact, though no official indication has been given as to potential actors. Neither organization has made a statement on the investigation yet.”
Kasparov is troubled by Trump’s consistent support for Putin. Trump has never backed away from his favorable statements about Putin, despite the urging of many Republican office holders. Nor has Trump ever acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials have said the Russians are behind the email hacking of the Democrats, with the resulting stolen emails later released in a steady stream by WikiLeaks.
Kasparov says he follows Russian news carefully, and so far, “Trump has faithfully followed Putin’s propaganda line.” For example, Trump’s disparaging comments about a rigged U.S. election offers Putin a “golden opportunity to spread rumors and confusion about the American election,” Kasparov says – and a besmirched American democracy in the eyes of the world would be a Russian success.
Kasparov speculates that Trump’s questioning the election might be part of a plan where the Russians are able to hack the results and otherwise disrupt Election Day vote-counting in many states – giving Trump the excuse he needs to refuse to accept the results of the voting. Even an attack on the American electrical grid with widespread power outages would result in the potential for confusion and doubt about voting and vote counting, Kasparov says, giving Trump a reason to assert the election results are not valid. And if Trump does not concede, against the tradition of all previous losing presidential candidates, Trump could make the winner look less legitimate and himself seemingly a victim of a stolen election.
As security expert Ryan Duff said in Newsweek last week, it doesn’t take much of a hack to sow doubt: “You only need to mess it up a little bit, and as soon as people don’t have faith in it, the whole system can start to crumble,” said Duff, a former U.S. Air Force tactician now working in the private sector. “You don’t even need to sway it one way. You just have to make people think it could happen.”
Kasparov points to recent Kremlin practice of interfering in European political life by supporting ultra-nationalists and radical left-wing groups around elections, and also buying favors from mainstream European politicians. A chance to discredit American democracy would be a big win for Putin, and last Friday’s online dress rehearsal shows what can be done.
Kasparov acknowledges he has no proof of the collusion between Putin and Trump for an Election Day disruption, but he says: “It is better to warn people now about what is about to happen, than to keep silent and be sorry later on November 9 that there was massive Election Day hacking. … This threat is too high to ignore.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has built his candidacy on flouting the rules of the political establishment and, increasingly, measures of basic human decency. He has called for preposterous domestic policies, flagrantly lied to voters, and insulted women and minorities. Yet one of the greatest threats his candidacy poses is in the realm of foreign policy. His words and actions so far underline how dangerous a Trump presidency would be for America, and the world.
Trump has had every opportunity to criticize Russia’s unprecedented cyber interference undermining the integrity of the American election. He has never done so.
Trump has had every opportunity to walk back his warm words and rhetorical embrace of Russia’s strongman leader, Vladimir Putin. He has never done so.
Trump has had every opportunity to release his taxes and show that he is not financially in hoc to Russian oligarchs who are believed to have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in his developments. He has never done so.
Trump has had every opportunity to support Western sanctions against Russia for its blatant military takeover and annexation of Crimea, and then for its continued incitement of war in eastern Ukraine. He has never done so.
Trump has had every opportunity to say he believes wholeheartedly in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance and its charter that commits each signatory to come to the aid of any NATO member when attacked, such as the vulnerable Baltic states experiencing renewed Russian saber rattling. He has never done so.
And Trump has had every opportunity to denounce Russia’s ceasefire violations in Syria and possible war crimes from its bombing of civilians in Aleppo on behalf of the Assad regime. He has never done so.
In fact, in each of these instances, Trump has specifically avoided taking positions in line with long-standing American foreign policies, even repudiating traditional GOP stances, including those articulated forcefully against Russia by his running mate, Mike Pence. “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree,” Trump said in the second debate referring to the stand Pence had taken.
Instead, in every case, Trump has aligned himself with a hostile foreign power and indeed espoused policies that further Putin’s clandestine geopolitical agenda. It is the only consistent element in his rhetoric, which is otherwise filled with contradictions and flip-flops.
Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, his threat to jail his political opponent, and his racist, misogynistic and xenophobic campaign are all reasons not to vote for the Republican nominee. But what the Republican candidate is saying – and just as importantly not saying – about America’s foremost foreign adversary is arguably the most serious issue in this election. It ought to be alarming to every student of history, citizen soldier, and American patriot who believes in the idea of a strong and independent United States. Though imperfect and divided at home, the U.S. is, and must remain, a moral force for decency and the rule of law in a troubled world.
Trump would jettison all of that, seemingly without a considered thought, all on behalf of someone who says nice things about him. Words do matter, and Trump is disconnected from basic mainstream American foreign policy in ways that no candidate for president has ever been before.
And it must be noted that puppet-master Putin – the man Trump thinks is a great role model – has consolidated his power by steering his country into a dictatorial ditch using massive misinformation, a crackdown on independent media and free speech, prison or murder for his political enemies and journalists, restrictions on ethnic minorities and LGBT communities, among other domestic policies, let alone foreign policies that all Americans abhor.
If Trump now tries to change his tune and contradict his oft-repeated statements about sanctions against Russia, the war in Syria, or NATO’s future, it is hard to see how any such last-minute conversion in the waning days of the campaign could ever be believed. It is more likely he will go into the election adhering to a pro-Putin stance that is completely at odds with America’s core values and status as leader of the free world.
Trump has had plenty of chances to correct his course and to re-set his un-American – even anti-American – line. His refusal to do so speaks volumes about the direction he would take this country if elected.
Journalist Bill Buzenberg (@NoPutinTrump) is editorial director ofwww.putintrump.org and former head of the Center for Public Integrity and NPR News.
The third presidential debate featured the expected fireworks between the candidates – and Republican Donald Trump repeated his claim several times that “I don’t know Putin,” despite his previous statements bragging about a relationship with the Russian strongman.
But the most extraordinary moments came when moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace pressed Trump for specific answers on two critical issues around national security and democracy: the interference of the Russian government in the U.S, presidential election and Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting this year’s election results.
Russian interference in the election:
Democrat Hillary Clinton said this question might be the most important one in the debate. She raised the issue first when Wallace read a quote from one of her speeches on border security – a quote that came from hacked Democratic National Committee emails that have been released by WikiLeaks. In the debate, Clinton used the opening to denounce interference by a foreign power in the presidential election: “What’s really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions.”
A heated exchange followed – which included Clinton claiming Trump would be Putin’s “puppet as president” and Trump firing back, “You’re the puppet!” But throughout, Trump again refused to acknowledge that U.S. government officials have accused the Russian government of orchestrating the hacking attacks – repeating a stance he made in the second debate. Trump on Wednesday night: “She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else. … And our country has no idea.”
Wallace, to his credit, set the record straight: “The top national security officials of this country do believe that Russia has been behind these hacks.” And he pressed the point with Trump: “Even if you don’t know for sure whether they are, do you condemn any interference by Russia in the American election?”
Trump still refused to say that Russia is behind the hacks – but he did say he would condemn interference “by Russia or anybody else.” And then for good measure, he repeated: “I don’t know Putin.”
Undermining American democracy:
With all of Trump’s talk over recent weeks claiming that the election is rigged, Wallace reminded the Republican that both his running mate Mike Pence and his daughter Ivanka had said this week that Trump “will absolutely accept the result of this election.”
Wallace: “Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely – sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Trump: “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time.”
Wallace: “But, sir, there is a tradition in this country – in fact, one of the prides of this country – is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”
Trump’s response was like a cliffhanger from one of his reality shows: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?” It was a remark that critics charge undermines American democracy.
After the debate, world chess champion and Putin critic Garry Kasparov tweeted: “Trump refusing to accept election results & his loyalty to Putin are the same plan to weaken US. He’s Putin’s stooge.”
Once again, Trump was given the opportunity to name Russia as interfering in the American election, and to criticize Putin, and he declined to do so. And he was given a chance to say that he fully supports U.S. democracy no matter who wins, and he failed to do so. At this late point in the 2016 campaign, both of these remarkable statements have to be considered deeply held positions taken by Trump in the face of the evidence against Russia and against the history of 44 peaceful presidential transitions throughout American history. By taking these stands, Trump is once again rejecting values held across the American political spectrum.