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Yeah, we’re still talking about the risk to our elections

And when we talk about these things, we talk to Dan Wallach.

When we think about those who defend the territorial integrity of our nation and state, we tend to imagine well-equipped members of the U.S. armed forces, or perhaps a square-jawed detachment of Texas Rangers. Increasingly, however, the twenty-first century battle for control of the American homeland is being fought in the computerized elections systems overseen by our humble county clerks.

Here in Texas, votes in federal and state elections are tallied independently by 254 local officials, one in each county seat, from big cities like Houston and Dallas to tiny courthouse towns like Tahoka and Floydada. If a hostile country decides to hack an election in Texas, that means pitting Russia’s (or Iran’s or North Korea’s or China’s) most skilled hackers against a group of officials and volunteers who may not even know their way around an iPhone.

“We’re asking county clerks, and for that matter local poll workers, to defend against a nation-state adversary,” says Dan Wallach, computer science professor at Rice and expert on election security issues. “That’s not a fair fight.”

Wallach, a graduate of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson as well as U.C. Berkeley and Princeton, has made it his mission to assist local election administrators by helping to develop and advocate for the adoption of foolproof, verifiable election systems and policies in Texas. From 2011 to 2015, Wallach served on the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board; before that he led the National Science Foundation–funded ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections). Most recently, he’s been seen testifying before the Texas Senate on issues related to election security.

“From a security perspective, the systems that we use, these electronic voting systems, were never engineered with the threat model of foreign nation-state actors,” Wallach says of the status quo in Texas. “I have no idea if anybody’s planning to exploit them, but there’s no question that the vulnerabilities are present.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is that remedies are within reach, if Texas is willing to invest money and other state-level resources to improve election security. Experts like Wallach have identified best practices that can make elections reliably secure for the current threat horizon. Wallach proposes what amounts to a three-step plan for improved election security: better machines, better oversight, and better contingency planning.

The rest of the story delves into those three steps; it begins of course with auditable voting machines that include printed ballots. Speaking from my perspective in the IT security field, I can confirm that every big company that wants to stay in business past tomorrow zealously captures, indexes, and monitors its systems’ log files, both to look for real-time anomalies and to provide a written record of what happened in the event of a breach or other failure. It’s just standard practice in the real world. Why our state government is so resistant to it for our election systems is a question for which they really need to be held accountable. I would also note that the $350 million price tag to replace every obsolete voting machine in the state, which apparently we can’t do unless the feds pick up the tab, is something we could easily afford if we wanted to do it. For now, assuming we don’t get a state government that’s willing to do this, our best bet is to work towards a federal government that will do it, presumably after 2020. And hope like hell in the meantime that nothing goes horribly wrong.

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29 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    http://entrepreneursays.com/2018/10/21/texas-democrats-caught-mailing-pre-filled-voter-registrations-to-non-citizens-with-the-citizen-box-marked-yes-or-no/

    “The Texas Democratic Party has been sending pre-filled applications to non-citizens with the citizen box marked “yes,” according to new complaints filed Thursday by the Public Interest Legal Foundation. The organization notified district attorneys and the Department of Justice, and included a signed affidavit from a man who claims that several relatives who are not citizens received the mailing, according to the Washington Times.”

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    “There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections, in part because they’re so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved,” Obama said.

    “There’s no evidence that that has happened in the past or that there are instances in which that will happen this time,” he continued. “And so, I ‘d advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”

    https://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/obama-trump-election-rigged-229933

    Was Obama lying then?

  3. brad says:

    Bill, your consistent disingenuousness remains impressive.

    This is the same Washington Times that continues to deny climate change, promotes conspiracy theories like Obama being born in Kenya and the repugnant Seth Rich murder lies, and has favorable coverage of holocaust deniers and white supremacists.

    Let me go read the National Enquirer to get some better journalism.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    Brad:

    Why not read about it from the source, PILF, a non partisan, non profit group? They’ve got pics of the actual pre filled out voter applications.

    https://publicinterestlegal.org/blog/complaint-tx-democrat-party-sent-altered-voter-registration-forms-to-noncitizens/

  5. Cindy says:

    So now you’re quoting PILF? Yeah, with their record of pushing for purges of voter rolls, you’re gonna have to do better than this to convince anyone you’re not trolling.

  6. Manny Barrera says:

    Bill you know that was paid by the Koch Brothers or other Billionaire manipulating the system.

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    Mamany,

    Link?

  8. Jules says:

    Here’s a link to dispute Bill’s caravan paid by Soros/Democrats claim. Maybe the trump economy is actually the Soros economy? Could all the jobs trump is taking credit for actually be people being paid by Soros????

    “merely asking questions”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/20/world/americas/migrant-caravan-video-trump.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&fbclid=IwAR29aWRa37rRnF4mjlX5F0AJ5dFBOeOwMuxVuXuM1p65mdQ8zIKn8-FlMkc

  9. Manny Barrera says:

    Bill you believe everything your man god says, I can tell you I am less likely to lie than Trump. Just take my word for it.

    You, however, are just like Trump, lie, after lie, after lie.

  10. Bill Daniels says:

    Jules,

    Three things to consider: First is, check the clothing and appearance of the caravan participants. If you walked away from your home with no money and just a small bag with your belongings, after a few days, you’d look pretty ragged and dirty. These folks look clean and well dressed, especially the ones with “the future is female” shirts. I’m sure they are big sellers in Guatemala and Honduras.

    Second, check the speed of the caravan. Say they walk 4 miles an hour and walk 10 hours a day. Do the math. they are walking for the photo ops, but riding on buses and trucks. It’s not organic and certainly not self funded. Think about the logistics it would take to keep thousands of people in fresh clothes, eating well, and clean over weeks and weeks.

    The final thing I’ll leave you with is, every time these folks encounter an obstacle, like border guards or federales, they use their children and women as human shields. Despicable. And the most despicable thing is, whoever is funding and organizing this WANTS some dead kids for a photo op, just like the dead baby photo op for the migrants coming from Libya.

  11. Bill Daniels says:

    Manny,

    I spelled your name wrong in a previous post, a fat fingered typo. Not intentional. Sorry about that.

  12. Manny Barrera says:

    Bill, whether you are a Libertarian as you claim or a Republican, the people are being paid by the Koch or other similar groups of people that support the Republican Party. Another one of their dirty tricks, so your eyes are not deceiving you.

    Spanish TV has interviewed hundreds of them and all indications are that the Republicans are behind it. That is an advantage of understanding Spanish, I watch Mexican news.

  13. Bill Daniels says:

    Manny,

    It is possible the open borders Koch bros. are behind it. We should find out and punish whoever is funding an actual invasion of the US. Agreed?

    We also, absolutely must not let one of those people in. Using kids as human shields is unAmerican.

  14. C.L. says:

    The US can’t allow 7,000 folks to cross the border into this country in one fell swoop, regardless of them coming across at McAllen or Tijuana or Vancouver or Halifax. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I think we could probably all agree that this is never going to happen under the current Administration (and shouldn’t happen under any future one). There is an immigration process in place if you want to come to this county and everyone, regardless of them walking or taking a bus or flying in from Dubai, regardless of where they’re emigrating from, needs to follow it.

  15. Manny Barrera says:

    Actually Bill, from what I have read the most likely reason is that the government of Honduras created this mess. The president is backed by the Trump administration even though it seemed he stole the election.

    There are groups that form in the Central American Countries usually in the few hundreds. A TV station down there controlled by the government wanted to punish an activist so they said that he was paying for the food and water for the trip and started that rumor via the TV station. Soon that few hundred became thousands, thus the caravan making its way here.

    They organize in small groups for protection as they travel here.

    Yes C.L. they can’t just walk across, in fact most of them will turn themselves in asking for asylum. There is a drought that is occurring in Honduras and most people are barely able to survive, add the right wing government killing many of the poor peasants.

  16. C.L. says:

    @Manny … Right or wrong, The Cheeto in Chief isn’t going let these folks step foot on American soil.

  17. Manny Barrera says:

    C.L.

    There are laws that allow them to seek asylum. In fact they are allowing quite a few of them in, you can find entire families with ankle bracelets here in Houston. The Russian Cheeto can’t stop it unless he becomes a dictator or gets the laws changed.

  18. C.L. says:

    @Manny…. Mark my words, he ain’t gonna let it happen. There’s not a border station anywhere between Tijuana and McAllen that’s capable of handing 5K+ folks at a time.

    Cheeto has already planted the seed with CBP, ICE, etc. – ‘The advancing crowds have ISIS members amongst them’, they’re ‘bad hombres’, etc. Wouldn’t surprise me if he considers it an imminent invasion, with orders given for ‘live fire’, ie, repel the invaders. Nothing shocks me with this clown, anymore.

  19. Bill Daniels says:

    Cindy:

    How about the local DFW CBS station? Are their politics OK? The Texas Democratic Party is sending voter registration applications to DEAD PEOPLE. Hmmm.

    https://dfw.cbslocal.com/2018/10/22/voter-registration-application-dallas-woman-died/

  20. Bill Daniels says:

    Manny,

    Trump has already declared a national emergency with regard to the migrant horde. That means Trump is in the driver’s seat. C.L. is right. They. Aren’t. Coming. In.

    It’s going to be high stakes drama. Hopefully, our military is staging non lethal means to repel these people, LRAD’s rubber bullets, tear gas, etc. But in the end, if they will not stop, it’s going to come down to live rounds. Personally, I’d have sharpshooters aiming at the organizers. Take out some of the leadership and that should encourage the rest to either go back where they came from, or apply to stay in Mexico, which they went out of their way NOT to do, when it would have been so easy and orderly to do so, at that bridge migracion checkpoint on Mexico’s southern border.

    I’d make a case for making an incursion onto the Mexican side to stop them before they get close to the border, since Mexico seems incapable of even enforcing its OWN immigration laws. This whole group is violating Mexican law with impunity.

    And just to get it out there, when you bring up the “muh women and children” argument, this time its 4-8K people. How many will there be in the next group? This cannot be allowed to succeed, ever again.

  21. voter_worker says:

    Bill, you reminded me of gun advocates jumping on people describing a cache of weapons as an “arsenal” and mocking them for hysteria. I’m going to do the same with you. Five or ten thousand people on foot is not a “horde” although they might possibly be called that if they were armed Mongols on horseback working for Genghis Khan. Was the crowd at Toyota Center last night a “horde”? Your call. By the way, coming on here and advocating homicide (even couched as a “last resort”) is not cool. Last but not least, you and Trump seem to be overlooking legal restraints in effect on domestic use of US military personnel. https://definitions.uslegal.com/p/posse-comitatus-act/

  22. Manny Barrera says:

    Bill like all racists that are full hate for anything that does not look white, in your case, killing non white people is doing society a favor.

    Those day are gone Bill when the criminals, that would be the Texas Rangers, had carte blanche to kill Indians and Mexicans.

    By the way Bill you would be surprised how many Brown skin folks are in the military, they may decide to aim it at people like you.

  23. Jules says:

    Bill is devoid of humanity. I ignored him for a while, I will go back to that. If I were Charles, I would seriously consider blocking him. His misogny, racism, ignorance, and hate are not amusing.

  24. Bill Daniels says:

    In the end, if it looks anything like the, uh, group? Gathering? Whatever you want to call them, if they storm the border like they did to Guatemala and Mexico, that’s an invasion force, pretty much the sole reason our military was created….to defend against invasion. We must defend our homeland from invasion. This qualifies.

    Gathering: “We’re coming in.”

    Trump: “No, I’m sorry, I can’t allow that.”

    Gathering: “We’re coming in and you can’t stop us.”

    Trump: “Uh, no, no you can’t come in and I will stop you.”

    Manny and Mainstream, how do you see this playing out? Just because our border has been de facto wide open in the past doesn’t mean we can’t start enforcing it now.

    No means no, and what’s that phrase? My body, my choice? It’s OUR border and our choice. Trump often says and does things as negotiating tactics. What is there to negotiate? How much foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to end?

    They have no leverage, there’s nothing to negotiate. They were told not to come. They were offered asylum in Mexico, which they had to actively work to disregard. Had they just gone across the bridge, they would all have been registered as asylum seekers in Mexico, but that’s not what they want.

    What’s y’all’s solution? I really want to know. What’s you solution next month when it’s half a million? A million? We let them in last go round, and surprise, surprise, it’s even bigger this time.

  25. Bill Daniels says:

    Mainstream:

    We can’t (and absolutely should NOT) use the military for domestic law enforcement, but we absolutely use the military to defend against foreign threats. A ‘gathering’ of foreigners intent on storming our shores is a foreign threat.

  26. voter_worker says:

    Bill, the solution in place at the moment is to process them as asylum-seekers and at the same time treat them as human beings. A corollary more long-term strategy would be to attempt to make amends for our disastrous policies towards certain Central American countries during the previous century by doing what we can to strengthen their economies. But none of that figures into the nationalist paradigm, does it? The people walking 2000 miles to seek a better life are not a threat, foreign or otherwise, and using our military against them is not a solution to anything. Apologies to other readers for lengthening this severely off-topic thread; no further comment.

  27. Mainstream says:

    Bill: I don’t know how I got drawn into this discussion, but my prediction is that the caravan will result in a backlash of strong Republican turnout for the mid-terms and that the government of Mexico will whittle down the caravan prior to its arrival at our Southern border. If not, the “gathering” will be camped out on the Mexican side of the border for an extended period of time while a trickle of asylum applications are processed, and the Mexican government will not like the chaos which that causes. I am confident our border enforcement can prevent a mob from surging across the border unlawfully.

  28. Manny Barrera says:

    Well Mainstream at least you answered one question I was not 100 percent certain on. How many Republicans are racist was the question I was concerned with.

    Nothing else from me on this thread.

  29. Mainstream says:

    Yeah, Manny. Support for control of our national borders = racism, in your warped way of thinking.