Part 1: Election Security and Andi’s Novice Predictions
When I started this project, I wanted to look at the upcoming election from a different perspective. So I chose a few states and started digging.
After six weeks of research, I can say without hesitation that I learned much more than I expected to, so now I want to share what I learned and let you draw from it what you will. At the end of this analysis I’ll post my predictions on the Electoral College map, but foreground is everything in this instance, so let’s start … at the beginning.
Most of you who follow my articles understand that I am proud of my eclectic independent nature. In keeping with this trait, I decided to pick the states apart a bit differently than most people would.
I started by looking at the manner by which each of the states cast and count their ballots and what their audit procedures are. Then I dug into the numbers of people who plan to vote by mail, in person, before 11/3.
My approach was based, in part, on the election issue that concerns me the most: Hacking or tampering with election systems. My concerns are well founded and have been confirmed by different sources, including the Republican controlled Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee concluded in part, in 5 volumes of reports that, in actual fact, it was Russia who gained access to different parts of election equipment and systems in all 50 states.
“Russian efforts exploited the seams between federal authorities and capabilities, and protections for the states. The U.S. intelligence apparatus is, by design, foreign-facing, with limited domestic cyber security authorities except where the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can work with state and local partners. State election officials, who have primacy in running elections, were not sufficiently warned or prepared to handle an attack from a hostile nation-state actor. DHS and FBI alerted states to the threat of cyber attacks in the late summer and fall of 2016, but the warnings did not provide enough information or go to the right people. Alerts were actionable, in that they provided malicious Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to information technology (IT) professionals, but they provided no clear reason for states to take this threat more seriously than any other alert received.”
The political climate made it more difficult for states to fully understand the threat, as the Obama Administration decided caution was better than blowing an air horn of alert. Obama told Putin privately that if Russia continued to hack our systems, we would destroy the Russian economy. He was assuming a Clinton victory. Big mistake.
For a specific, albeit small example, the National Academy of Sciences found (Ch 4):
The databases containing voter registration lists often are connected, directly or indirectly, to the Internet or state computer networks. This connectivity raises concerns about unauthorized access to or manipulation of the registrant list or disruption of the registration system. Incidents of external intrusions have been reported recently.
In Illinois, Russian actors targeted and breached an online voter database in 2016 by exploiting a coding error.For 3 weeks, they maintained undetected access to the system. Ultimately, personal information was obtained on more than 90,000 voters.
In California, hackers penetrated state registration databases and gained access to the personal information of a large number of voters.
In Georgia, more than 6.5 million voter records and other privileged information were exposed due to a server error. The security vulnerability had not been addressed 6 months after it was first reported to authorities, even though it could have been used to manipulate the state’s election system
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2018. Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Now that you know that I only want AMERICANS to decide our President … onward.
Before I get to the state details, I want to explain the systems and give you some definitions from my research, and from NCSL. Please make a note that there are still only THREE main companies that provide election equipment to U.S. States: ES&S, VRS, and Dominion (the old Diebold).
Electronic Poll Books (EPB): Electronic copies of voter registration lists — typically housed on a laptop computer or electronic tablet — that poll workers use to check in voters during early voting and on Election Day, as opposed to relying on traditional paper voter registration lists. The issue with EPB can be as simple as a malicious actor gaining access and randomly changing one or two numbers of individual addresses, making voter registration nearly impossible.
Hand Marked Paper Ballots (HMPB): As the name suggests, they are paper ballots marked by hand that provide a paper trail, and can be counted in different ways.
Ballot Marking Device (BMD): A device that permits voters to mark a paper ballot. A voter’s choices are usually presented on a screen in a similar manner to a DRE, or perhaps on a tablet. However, a BMD does not record the voter’s choices into its memory. Instead, it allows the voter to mark the choices on-screen and, when the voter is done, prints the ballot selections. The resulting printed paper ballot is then either hand counted or counted using an optical scan machine. BMDs are useful for people with disabilities, but can be used by any voter. Some systems produced print-outs with barcodes or QR codes instead of a traditional paper ballot. Security experts have pointed out that there are risks associated with these types of systems since the bar code itself is not human readable.
Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE): A voting machine that is designed to allow a direct vote on the machine by the manual touch of a screen, monitor, wheel, or other device. A DRE records the individual votes and vote totals directly into computer memory and does not use a paper ballot.
Optical/Digital Scan: Scanning devices that tabulate paper ballots. Ballots are marked by the voter, and may either be scanned on precinct-based optical scan systems in the polling place (“precinct count system”) or collected in a ballot box to be scanned at a central location (“central count system”). Most older optical scan systems use infrared (IR) scanning technology and ballots with timing marks on the edges in order to accurately scan a paper ballot. Newer systems may use “digital scan” technology, whereby a digital image of each ballot is taken during the scanning process. Some vendors may use commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) scanners along with software to tabulate ballots, while others use proprietary hardware.
Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT): A permanent paper record showing all votes cast. Voters who use DRE voting machines with paper trails have the opportunity to review a paper record of their vote before casting it. Voter-marked paper ballots and VVPATs are used as the vote of record for counts, audits and recounts.
There are states that still use DRE with no VVPAT. Thankfully, not nearly as many now as in 2016. But this is but one of a few surprising things I learned.
As most of you know, all computers are “hackable.” If you doubt that (and have access to HBO) look up a documentary, “Kill Chain,” and watch it. I was most unnerved by the time it took to hack an Optical Scanner, and change the outcome. However, that is why a paper trail is so important. It might also seem like a huge effort to make any substantive changes … enough to change the outcome of any given race. Spoiler alert … it’s not. A few carefully placed changes is all it takes.
Now that I have gotten the gloom and caution covered, it’s time to lighten up and dive into the dark of a few chosen states. I believe they will be crucial to the eventual winner and determine the next occupant of our nation’s finest public housing. If you want to dive into the security part of any state, one good reference is here.
As I mentioned earlier, I am taking a different approach. To begin the fun, I’ll end this first part with Arizona, and follow with other states in the coming days.
ARIZONA: 11 Electoral College Votes
Has one Senate race in 2020: Incumbent Senator Martha McSally (R) lost a Senate race to a Democrat, so she was appointed to fill the remainder of John McCain’s term. She is facing Mark Kelly (D) who is the husband of former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona’s 8th district.
ARIZONA VOTING INFORMATION:
As of 8/4/2020, there are 3,989,214 registered voters in Arizona, and (as of 10/12) 2,424,824 of them are located in Maricopa County alone.
There are 1,494 precincts, and 738 of them are in Maricopa County.
100% Hand Marked Paper Ballots with BMD
Ballot arrival deadline is Nov. 3
85% of voters will cast ballots prior to election day; 58% voters plan to vote by mail; 13% of voters plan to vote in person before 11/3. Arizona has a “Permanent Early Voting System” that has been in place for a long time, runs well, and explains the projected numbers.
Mail-in ballots are only sent to people who opt into the system
While the state has a post-election audit requirement, the law also specifies that an audit can only be carried out if the political parties designate at least two election board members to carry out the audit. The names of these people must be provided, in writing, to the recorder or officer in charge of elections by 5 p.m. on the Thursday preceding the election.
Since the audit requirement was passed in 2006, Maricopa County has always had a sufficient number of board members provided by the political parties to conduct the audit. However, this may not always be true of the state’s other 14 counties. The state’s post-election audits are conducted through manual hand count.
In each county at least two percent of precincts are tested, or two precincts total, whichever is greater. Audits examine up to five contested races, though for a general presidential election audits must include the presidential contest, one statewide ballot measure if any exist, one contested race for statewide office, one contested U.S. House or Senate race, and one contested race for state legislative office. The precincts and contests included in the audit are randomly selected.
Audits do not examine provisional ballots, conditional provisional ballots, or write-in votes. An audit escalates in the event that preliminary outcomes are found to be incorrect. Unlike other aspects of the election process, state law does not require post-election audits to be recorded by live video for public viewing. Party representatives who observe the hand count may bring their own video cameras to record the proceedings.
However, in Maricopa County, audits are open for observation and the results are immediately available for public review through the Arizona secretary of state’s office and website. Audits are conducted prior to certification of official election results. The results of an escalated audit may reverse the preliminary outcome of an audited contest if an error is detected.
The last time Arizona voted for a Democrat for POTUS was 1996. In my opinion, 2020 will be another Donkey Clan year in the Grand Canyon State. Maricopa County has a large population of Hispanic-Americans from Mexico, and as a geographic group, they tend to be slightly more liberal than other voters.
However, I think the state as a whole may be looking for moderation. President Trump’s favorability rating keeps falling. That’s the only POTUS poll issue I look at. In 2018, they elected Democrat Krysten Sinema to the U.S. Senate. She is one of two open LGBT Senators, and she is not affiliated with a religion.
The other Senate race in Arizona is also telling. Looking at the polls (for the Senate, not POTUS) even the most conservative gives Mr. Kelly the win.
Usually, I would say this is a tough one. But because I am a novice in predicting (we’re not in Virginia anymore) I’ll say they are all tough. I’m sure I’ll be wrong on some, if not all states. But I’m looking at things besides polls to get a feeling of what a state might do. Local stories and comments are very telling, and even if I am way wrong, I can’t resist trying to hang with the pro predictors.
I’ll continue with two or three more states as I gather all my notes and type them up. In any case … it’s the final stretch, thankfully.