Multiple vulnerabilities and loopholes leave Michigan voters exposed to election fraud.
“I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this – who will count the votes, and how,” (Joseph Stalin, circa 1923). Often this quote is loosely interpreted as, “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
Donald Trump has made clear in multiple speeches that he is under no illusion about being up against a rigged system, and that we cannot expect to correct such a system by relying on the trustworthiness of those who rigged the system in the first place. No, in order to reform a corrupted system, a critical mass of known trustworthy people must be placed inside the system, which often requires overwhelming the system at the ballot box. The problem with doing so is that we are required to rely upon a process where, in spite of clearly demonstrated key weaknesses and vulnerabilities, those charged with protecting the integrity of the process insist upon blaming the messenger rather than correcting the problems.
At the core of the democratic process that underpins our constitutional republic, is the confidence the voters have in the end-to-end integrity of the process. If that trust is ever credibly undermined, then how long would it take, and at what effort and cost, before public confidence in the process is again restored (assuming that it ever could be)? And, given how critical free, fair, and accurate elections are to every level of representative government in America (local government included), how scary is it to honestly contemplate that hypothesis?
Recently, an eight-minute video has been circulated through various social media networks. The video shows the end result of what has become known as the “Hursti Hack.” The hack involves (a) modifying the vote counters on the memory card used to run a Diebold Election Systems AccuVote-OS optical scan voting machine, and (b) modifying the card’s operating system script to print a false “zero report” on machine start-up. Harri Hursti’s own report of his findings cites that the exploited vulnerability is, “…an exceptionally flexible one-man exploit requiring only a few hundred dollars, mediocre technical ability, and modest persuasive skills (or, in lieu of persuasive skills, just a touch of inside access) …” directly leveraging “… the mother of security holes …” incorporated directly into the design architecture of the proprietary operating system, without which the voting machine cannot function.
An independent follow-up analysis performed by the University of California, Berkeley, on behalf of the California Secretary of State Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board (CASoS-VSTAAB), found that, “Memory card attacks are a real threat … Harri Hursti’s attack does work,” and that “…anyone who has access to a memory card of the AV-OS …” can modify the contents of the card, and thus the election results of the machine in which that card is used, needing “…no passwords, no cryptographic keys, and no access to any other part of the voting system …” to do so. Once complete, the tampering is forensically untraceable, and cannot be detected, let alone corrected, other than by hand-canvassing the original paper ballots, which is almost never done in actual practice. The UC-Berkeley analysis of touch-screen voting systems is even more damning, and effectively makes the case for sticking with systems that require original paper ballots for voter input.
Given that the Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandated that all states and localities upgrade their voting machines, registration processes, and poll worker training, one would think that public officials would insist on voting systems designed with security as a central requirement, and that vendors would be eager to not only design such systems, but to definitively prove that such systems could meet rigorous security testing. Alas, an Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology analysis, published on August 28th of this year, concluded:
More often than not, electronic voting systems are nothing but bare-bone, decade old computer systems that lack even rudimentary endpoint security. As an exponential “security free” attack surface, compounded by the absence of cyber hygiene, black box technologies, and an expansive threat landscape, an adversary needs only to pick a target and exploit at will. Fundamental cybersecurity hygiene dictates that organizations assume their technology is vulnerable until proven otherwise. Despite proven vulnerabilities and a demonstrated lack of security, manufacturers and officials have not improved e-voting systems. Easily exploitable voting machines will continue to plague America’s democratic process so long as manufacturers are able to profit from and covertly obfuscate the vulnerabilities inherent within electronic voting systems. A lack of penetration testing, security-by-design, and comprehensive physical access controls result in lackadaisical security, which enables, rather than hinders, an attack. The antiquated black-box systems become easier to compromise as vulnerabilities are discovered and left unpatched, and as the ubiquity of technology and the internet introduces new attack vectors to the stagnant security posture of the expanding e-voting threat landscape. Nation states, hacktivists, cyber jihadists, insider threats, or anyone with an interest in swinging a local, state, or federal election currently have carte blanche access for the manipulation of America’s democratic process.
. . . which means, in short, that those invested in maintaining the status quo appear in no hurry to actually correct the root architectural problems that have resulted in security deficiencies so easily exploitable that they don’t even require a designed backdoor to access. And until We the People pressure our local and state election officials to upgrade the voting system security (or engineer replacing them with officials who will), we can then safely assume that nothing will change with regard to the insecurity of our voting machines.
If you’ve paid attention to the work of Project Veritas, then you’ll know that James Ananich, Jocelyn Benson, Brian Dickerson, Michael Duggan, Timothy Greimel, Stephen Henderson, Morris Hood, Nancy Kaffer, Marshall Mathers, and David Robertson all have something in common; that something being that during Michigan’s statewide primary election back on August 2nd, each of them was impersonated by undercover reporters from Project Veritas, who demonstrated that a loophole in Michigan’s Election Code (specifically MCL 168.497c(2) and MCL 168.523(2)) enables anyone with knowledge of a registered voter’s basic information, to fraudulently obtain a ballot in that voter’s name.
Yet another critical element of ensuring the integrity of the democratic process is a reasonable means of ensuring that those applying to cast a ballot actually are who they say they are, and actually live in the precinct where they wish to vote. Toward this end, the Michigan Secretary of State maintains a master Qualified Voter File, which is regularly updated and distributed to county and local clerks. Also toward this end, MCL 168.497c provides that prospective voters are to present valid identification in order to initially register to vote, and MCL 168.523 provides that voters must also present valid identification in order to receive a ballot at their polling location.
The problem with each of these is the common proviso that anyone who happens to not have appropriate identification when registering to vote, or filing a change of address, or requesting an absentee ballot, or applying to vote in person, can still complete the process . . . by signing off on an affidavit swearing that they are who they say they are . . . because they say so. Bad enough we allow the affidavit loophole at the polling stations, but even integral to the entire process? Do we really think it wise that there is no point at which we actually require a prospective voter to affirmatively prove identity, citizenship, and residence (or are we okay with enabling identity theft)? And, just to complicate matters, even though MCL 168.523 specifies that a voter who fails to present suitable identification is subject to challenge under MCL 168.727, the advisory opinion of the Michigan Supreme Court (Docket # 130589, filed 18 Jul 2007) is that such a challenge must have some supplemental justification before being issued. That’s right, a legal loophole wide enough to sail a battleship through, yet well-trained and duly-credentialed election inspectors and/or poll challengers are required to provide some supplemental justification in order to challenge such a voter. Is it my imagination, or does this actually fail the common-sense test?
Contrary to the subsequent posturing of public officials otherwise, Project Veritas convincingly demonstrated that Michigan’s election process has a glaring and well-known single point of failure, by which anyone with sufficient organization can, by way of en masse identity theft, steal enough precincts to effectively steal an entire election. And unless such a failure is the intent, the system in fact did not work as designed.
Voter identification reforms enacted in Arizona (2004) and Indiana (2005) have become the reference standard for other states desiring to enact similar reforms. (The Indiana law has been subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court.) At the core of both the Arizona and the Indiana reforms is the absolute requirement for anyone wishing to register to vote to affirmatively prove identity, citizenship, and residence in order to complete the registration process. Additionally, if a prospective voter happens to show up at their local polling place without appropriate identification in hand (but is on the local voter roll), then that voter casts a provisional ballot (kept in a separate bag, and not scanned by the voting machine), and then has five or six calendar days to report to the County Clerk with appropriate identification in hand, or the provisional ballot is discarded. Since then, at least eight additional states have enacted similar reforms (and three more have court appeals pending). Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson included advocacy for such reforms as a key plank in her campaign platform, but in six years of a republican-controlled legislature, and a “republican” governor, I don’t recall such reforms having seen even a committee hearing, let alone a floor vote.
Before I get started on this section, some full disclosure is in order, in that this will include a firsthand account of the events being discussed. On the day of this year’s statewide primary elections (Tuesday, August 2nd), I was credentialed by the Michigan Republican Party as a poll challenger in Nelson Township, Kent County.
To clarify a point, at least under Michigan’s election laws, the terms “poll watcher” and “poll challenger” are not interchangeable. A poll watcher, under the Michigan Election Code, has no “behind the table” access, has no authority to actually do anything about any observed irregularities, and is confined to the “public area” of the polling station while the polls are open. However, a poll challenger, under the Michigan Election Code, is specifically credentialed to be behind the table while the polls are open, has broad authority to act on pretty much any irregularity in the polling station, and can do just about anything except handle the ballots or the poll book. The MIGOP instructs its poll challengers to not allow themselves to be referred to as only watchers, as doing so tacitly surrenders the authority and access that they need in order to do their jobs.
I’ve been a poll challenger on behalf of the Michigan Republican Party since and including 2010. It’s been my experience that the initial reaction to my presence, by the election inspectors in the precinct to which I’ve been credentialed (especially the Precinct Chair), will tell me much about how I can expect the day to go. Laura Hoffman, the incumbent Nelson Township Clerk, was prohibited by MCL 168.677(3) from serving as an election inspector in Nelson Township that day, because she was facing a primary challenge. However, because Precinct 2 was using a room at the township office building as the polling station, it was Mrs. Hoffman who let me in at 05:45 that morning . . . and she seemed quite not-pleased to see me. Her rearrangement of the tables behind the table containing the poll book and the ballots, nominally to provide me with a working area, kinda sorta made that clear . . . a full hour before the polls would even open that day.
Around 4:30 that afternoon, I issued my third challenge of the day, this time for an address mismatch (which MCL 168.523(2) stipulates as mandatory). The Precinct Chair, Arlene Cook, left the polling room to seek guidance from Hoffman as to how to handle an address mismatch. When Hoffman entered the polling room, she promptly stepped behind the table, physically interposed herself between me and the poll book operator, told me that she would not allow my challenge to be entered into the poll book, and then assisted Cook in issuing a ballot to the voter I had just challenged.
Because of this incident, and because Hoffman had been observed, by both myself and the other challenger credentialed to Nelson Township (Kent Boersema), in the AV Count Room, while there were voted ballots either exposed or in unsealed bags, a criminal complaint was filed, resulting in the Michigan State Police requesting a copy of my annotated post-action report as evidence in an election fraud investigation. Because of the criminal complaint, plus evidence that the absentee vote count was mishandled, Jami Norton petitioned for an every-precinct recount, and paid the $750 required by MCL 168.867(3) to effect the recount ($125 × 6, because the absentee ballots were counted separately from the three precinct polling stations, thus doubling the number of precincts to be counted). About the only thing that Matt VandeBunte got right in his hatchet-job write-up in the Grand Rapids Press was that the recount petition was prompted by alleged irregularities in the absentee ballot handling, other than that . . .
Now, on the day of the recount, the process was personally overseen by Mary Hollinrake, the current Kent County Clerk (according to Jason Briscoe, one of the three witnesses present for the process). The hand count of the three polling station bags matched the election night machine tapes, so no big deal there. However, the bag containing the absentee ballots wasn’t sealed properly (more correctly, the transport container for the bag wasn’t sealed), and so, Sue deSteiguer, the Kent County Elections Director, who was conducting the recount, cited MCL 168.871(1)(c), and declared the absentee precincts “unrecountable,” which, under MCL 168.871(3), means that the machine tape absentee counts stand as is, without recourse (other than to refund Norton’s $475 for those three precincts). Briscoe confirmed this with the State Board of Canvassers.
You’re reading that correctly. A recount that was prompted by irregularities in the handling and reporting of the absentee ballots, could not be legally completed because the transport container for the absentee ballots was found to be improperly sealed. This means that Hoffman’s claim of vindication, as reported in Justin Hicks’ follow-up article in the Grand Rapids Press, leaves out a critical detail. The unreported truth is that Mrs. Hoffman wasn’t actually vindicated; rather, the honest reality is that a technical flaw in the Recall Chapter of Michigan’s Election Code likely saved her seat. Whether or not I personally suspect that an honest and proper recount of those absentee ballots would have ultimately vindicated Mrs. Norton is irrelevant . . . because now we will never actually be certain. My personal take is that Hoffman and deSteiguer using a cooperative press to openly denigrate the key material witness in a MSP criminal investigation tells me all I will ever need to know.
Between provably vulnerable voting machines and known legal loopholes, I submit that public confidence in Michigan’s democratic process is either a minor miracle, or collective ignorance.
Those with a vested interest in maintaining the political status quo have the easier road, as the deck is most definitely stacked in favor of the professional establishment, and it has always been thus. But all of the shenanigans in the book cannot account for one basic reality of human nature . . . the pendulum always, eventually, swings back. Sooner or later, those who have maintained their positions of power through corrupting the process, or allowing others to corrupt the process, will find themselves on the business end of the one thing that their flimflam cannot – ever – account for.
Call it the silent majority, the sleeping giant, the monster vote, or whatever else you please, the truth is that all We the People have ever needed, whether at the local, state, or national level is an actual transformational leader to rally around. Once that’s done, all of the cheating and mudslinging in the world won’t save the cheaters . . . it never has.
Actually, substantively reforming a rigged system has always come from the outside . . . always.