A Meeting, A Hearing, and Lots of Nonsense

In the last two weeks there was a meeting of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee on “Cyber and Voting Machine Attacks”.  In total there were seven “experts” giving their opinions along with many of the committee members giving theirs. For the most part, solid facts and reason were missing.  The general plan seemed to be officials going overboard in reassuring the public.

One speaker was featured in both meetings, the Louisiana Secretary of State.  He claimed, perhaps half joking, that it would take so many conspirators to rig an election that they would be better off just voting for their candidate — that got a lot of laughs, apparently at the expense of those who think our elections are vulnerable.  He also claimed that hacking was hard to do since it takes programming skills.  Actually programming skills are quite widely known and there are several ways to hack elections that do not require programming skills.

Another was the Secretary of State of West Virginia.  She is widely known as a strong proponent of Internet voting. Readers may recall that she came to Connecticut to tout a pilot of Internet voting that was wisely not continued by the West Virginia Legislature. She also declined to describe new voting security measures she has taken, lest they become known.  The EAC Committee seemed to agree with that failed theory, known as Security Through Obscurity.

Ironically, that same Secretary of State from West Virginia was given an award at the meeting by the EAC, partially for her strides in security.

Overall there was too much focus on cyber risks, from foreign powers, and from Russia.  In the Committee meeting it was accepted that Russia hacked the DNC, although to our knowledge has not been proven.

There were two highlights.

  • The statement and comments by Dan Wallach from Rice University, the only true expert on election security present in either meeting.
  • The opening remarks  by the Science and Technology Chair. He made a very clear statement of the importance of fair elections to democracy.

<Dan Wallach’s prepared remarks>

<Video of the EAC Meeting>

<Video of the Science and Technology Committee Meeting>
Lest some accuse me of being alarmist, let me reiterate and add to my position recently expressed in a letter to the Hartford Courant:

The truth is that there is no more or less risk to elections this year than in the recent past. The bad news is that the risks of election skullduggery are significant and do not come only from one adversary.

The risks come from foreign adversaries, domestic interests, partisans, independent hackers, and election insiders including vendors.  Elections can be compromised without access to the Internet, without coding, and without altering computers. Political insiders, especially, have the motives and opportunities.

In any one election race the risks are low to moderate, yet the stakes are high.  The closer the vote, the less certain the peoples’ votes were reflected in the declared winner.  It is too late to do much before November, yet we should not rest once the election is over and decided.  The time for deliberate action is in the months and year or two after a presidential election.

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