Voters in the swing county of Northampton, Pennsylvania, mostly moved on after their new touchscreen voting machines glitched during a down-ballot judge’s race in 2019.
But when a similar issue cropped up earlier this month, it triggered a backlash within the county — one that has left state and local election officials in this key swing state racing to restore voter confidence ahead of what could be another contentious presidential election.
“We’re at the peak of mistrust of one another, but until that subsides, counties like ours need to be nearly perfect, and I think this system allows us to do that,” County Executive Lamont McClure told POLITICO before Northampton certified the vote on Tuesday, arguing the glitch resulted from human error.
The debate playing out in Northampton comes as election officials across the country are still contending with the consequences of Donald Trump’s 2020 fraud claims, which often centered around how votes are counted at the local level. With Trump a current frontrunner for the Republican nomination, that skepticism could only mount….
The 2019 election was the first time Northampton used the touchscreen voting machines from Election Systems & Software. That year, a programming glitch caused the ES&S machines to significantly undercount the votes for the Democratic candidate in a local judges’ race. Then on Nov. 7 this year, Northampton residents who showed up at their local polling station found that printouts from the same devices didn’t match the votes they had submitted digitally for two down-ballot judges contests.
Like in 2019, county officials and ES&S have said the errors did not affect any votes or alter the outcome of the races — both uncompetitive, up-down votes on whether to retain state judges. They argue the machines themselves are highly reliable and not to blame, saying the problem was caused by a one-off human error in the programming.
Response from the Coalition for Good Governance:
CGG and its legal and voting system security advisors are extremely disappointed in the quality of the report, because of its lack of depth, delayed timing, accuracy and limited scope. We are dismayed to see how little independent or robust investigation the GBI conducted over the course of the year they looked into the largest voting system breach in the nation’s history. They conducted only 15 generally short, limited interviews over the course of their 13 months investigation, and issued few subpoenas to attempt to get relevant documents. They seemed to generally rely on our Curling case documents, which should have been only the starting point for the state with their far more extensive discovery tools and authority, not to mention their significant financial resources.
The scope of the investigation is far too limited and focused primarily on a small number of Georgia-based witnesses or breach participants. GBI apparently did not investigate many of the individuals with prominent alleged roles in the breaches’ planning and execution, both inside Georgia and those operating at a national level. The August 2022 slow start of the investigation of the Coffee County breaches, now a household term, in the wake of the Fulton County District Attorney’s indictment is inexcusable.
Secretary of State Raffensperger and the Georgia State Election Board did not conduct a meaningful investigation themselves and waited until August 2022 to seek the GBI’s assistance looking into these massive system breaches. In April 2022, the Secretary’s office represented to the federal court that it had opened an ‘active and ongoing investigation’ in February 2022, but later admitted to reporters that their “first step” (a forensic analysis of the server) wasn’t taken until late June 2022. However, claims surrounding the Secretary’s knowledge of the breach and its investigation are conflicting and confusing. Secretary Raffensperger claimed that he had investigators “digging deep” on this intrusion in early 2021, but his office cannot seem to produce any such investigative files. CGG’s litigation discovery process has produced no records to substantiate that any state investigation was begun until late June, 2022. No evidence of any interviews or document request exists before Secretary Raffensperger lateraled this uncomfortable “investigation” to the GBI in August 2022. It is disturbing that the Secretary’s office made no attempt to preserve the email and video security records in Coffee related to these crimes, and such files were purportedly “lost” for an extended time, and still have not been fully produced….
Steven Rosenfeld for Washington Monthly.
They were running out of time and needed a Hail Mary.
Joe Biden had won the electoral college vote in the 2020 presidential election. And with less than three weeks before Congress was set to certify the results on Jan. 6, 2021, allies of then-President Trump met with him in the Oval Office to discuss taking desperate measures.
Following dozens of failed challenges to the election in court, and with plans to ask lawmakers to throw out some state results, Trump operatives including former national security advisor Michael Flynn drafted an executive order intended to allow the administration to seize voting machines. To the horror of White House lawyers, the president was being urged to sign it.
Named in two drafts of the order to help justify the seizure was Coffee County, Ga., where officials had refused to certify the results of the presidential election — a clear indicator there had been fraud, Trump’s allies argued. A last gasp in the frantic efforts to keep Trump in office, the eventual breach of election systems in the rural southeastern Georgia county would go on to become a critical part of the sweeping racketeering indictment filed in Atlanta in August alleging a broad conspiracy by the former president and 18 co-defendants.
Together, depositions and other court documents, testimony to the House Select Jan. 6 Committee and public statements made by those involved provideone of the most comprehensive accounts to date of what happened in Coffee County —and the role it played in the final days of the futile endeavor to ensure Trump remained in the White House.
As the now-infamous Dec. 18 Oval Office gathering devolved into a chaotic, hours-long shouting match between Trump operatives and the White House lawyers, Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani stepped in to wave the president off from signing the executive order. “Voluntary access” to a Georgia voting system was in the works, Giuliani told Trump, according to testimony before the Jan. 6 committee, making the order unnecessary.
It was part of a new strategy, Giuliani said on former Trump advisor Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast the next day, to use evidence obtained from voting machines to circumvent Republican governors — like Brian Kemp of Georgia — who were unwilling to continue investigating allegations of fraud. “Just push ’em aside,” Giuliani said.
It’s unclear whether Giuliani noted where in Georgia that access would be provided. But shortly before the contentious Oval Office meeting, he had met with an unnamed “whistleblower” a block away at the storied Willard InterContinental Washington. Giuliani associate Bernard Kerik paid for that person’s room…..
In rural Coffee County, Georgia, three and a half hours southeast of Atlanta, at least a few employees of the election office agreed. After a recount of Georgia’s votes was completed, on December 4th, the county’s elections supervisor, Misty Hampton, refused to certify the results, saying that the machines were unreliable. Days later, a local news outlet posted a video on YouTube in which Hampton is seen demonstrating how the machines could supposedly be used to flip votes. The video presented a potential source of evidence for Powell and others advancing claims of a Dominion conspiracy. But they would need to access the county’s voting software to find any smoking guns.
On January 7, 2021, the day after a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol building, several people paid a visit to the Coffee County elections office. A year and a half later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began formally looking into allegations that “computer trespass” had taken place that day. The delay seems to have been due to resistance from the Georgia secretary of state’s office, which, for months, denied that a breach had occurred. “There’s no evidence of that—it didn’t happen,” Gabriel Sterling, a top official with the office, said, in April, 2022. (When asked about the delay by The New Yorker, a spokesperson for the office said, “We took decisive action to address it and give voters peace of mind once we had solid evidence. Misty Hampton is no longer the elections director and all elections equipment has been replaced.”) As the secretary of state deflected, an elections-watchdog group, the Coalition for Good Governance, obtained discovery rights and began issuing subpoenas. The group’s computer-forensics expert confirmed that Coffee County’s elections server had been breached. The chair of Georgia’s state-elections board at the time, a former federal judge named William Duffey, pushed, more than once, for the F.B.I. to get involved. But the agency punted, deferring to the G.B.I., despite the smaller agency’s modest resources and inability to cross state lines.
A year after the G.B.I. investigation began, Powell and eighteen others, including Donald Trump, were indicted elsewhere in Georgia, in Fulton County, as co-conspirators under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (rico). Fulton County’s prosecutor, Fani Willis, aims to prove that there was collusion to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. Powell, who was charged with seven felonies and was facing up to twenty years in jail and six-figure fines, demanded a swift trial, which would have allowed her to get ahead of evidence likely to come out later, when others are tried. But, on Thursday, in a surprise move, she pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of intentional election interference. She will have to pay nearly nine thousand dollars in fines, be on probation for six years, and testify on behalf of the prosecution if called upon; she also has to write a letter of apology to the people of Georgia. Her plea stems from her apparent culpability in the theft and dissemination of voting-machine software, election data, and ballots in Coffee County.
The New Yorker recently obtained a copy of a nearly four-hundred-page summary report produced by the G.B.I., detailing the Coffee County scheme, which has not been made public. The report, much of it relying on information gathered by the Coalition for Good Governance, offers a fuller picture of both the breach at the election office and how that breach was connected to the larger effort to overturn the 2020 election. That effort centered on the work of Sidney Powell….
This fall, Powell’s lawyer, Brian Rafferty, asked Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the Fulton County rico case, to sever Powell’s case from that of Ken Chesebro, an attorney implicated in a separate scheme, involving fake electors, who also chose a speedy trial. (Chesebro pleaded guilty the day after Powell did so.) Powell’s case “boils down to one day, January 7th,” Rafferty said. “That’s it. The whole case is about whether or not that visit was authorized and what if any role she had in it, which is very little, if none.” The G.B.I. report complicates that argument, since it makes clear that the breach took place on more than one day, and that Powell paid for the initial activity. Her name, as the report shows, appears on the engagement letter with SullivanStrickler.
A few weeks later, Rafferty tried another strategy, this time asking the court to decide whether, under Georgia law, Coffee County officials “had authority to allow the forensic imaging of the machines” and “to conduct follow-up testing of them.” But, had Powell done due diligence, as the contract she signed with SullivanStrickler required, she would have known that the Georgia administrative code explicitly forbids anyone but employees of the election board to enter rooms where the election-management system or election equipment is stored. A few days after Rafferty made his new request, Powell pleaded guilty. (Neither Rafferty nor Powell responded to a request for comment.)
Lindell’s quest is decidedly quixotic, beyond the fringe to some, particularly in light of outsized voting-fraud claims made by right-wing election vigilantes, such as True the Vote, that have consistently withered under scrutiny and failed to materialize around Election Day.
But there is a method to Lindell’s mayhem, which is both relentless and accepted as bedrock truth by a subset of Trump’s most ardent and impressionable supporters. With this comes a real danger of inciting more threats to elections officials, distrust of elections, generally, and civil strife. Come 2024, thousands of like-minded local activists may be receiving deeply misinformed messages — via Lindell’s social media network that their local polls and county election headquarters might be under an active cyber-attack.
At the Springfield conference center, Lindell, the ringmaster, instructed everyone to look at the big screen. A video camera from a drone hovered above the building. The drone approached it and flew into its lobby, and then into the large meeting room. It landed on a table on the stage where Lindell sat in front of a banner with a badge-shaped “Election Crime Bureau” logo.
The room cheered as Lindell removed and displayed its cargo. He held up a small, dark gray, electronic gadget with a blue, wallet-size screen. The gadget, he said, would prove that computers and devices used at America’s polling places and election headquarters were connected to the internet, were going online and offline, and, thus, could be invisibly manipulated from afar by their political enemies – who he frequently called the “uni-party,” meaning anti-Trump Democrats and Republicans.
“What if I told you that there was a device that had been made for the first time in history that can tell you that the machine was online?” Lindell said. “And then you could tell what the device was, where it was at, what the name of it was – ES&S 60503 – and you knew the second it went online. Well, this is what we’ve been working on for over a year. And I’m going to show you.”
He played a short video with a British-accented narrator who described what he called the “Wireless Monitoring Device.”
As the narrator told it, this WMD — not to be confused with the common acronym for “weapon of mass destruction” — was more than a box listing WiFi signals like one’s phone. It would find and identify “access points,” “routers”, “printers,” “computers,” “phones” and other devices using WiFi. It would identify their makes, models and serial numbers. It would detect online commands that engaged polling station electronics.
It would not, however, interfere with data transmission. Rather, it would send, in less than a minute, all of the detected information to a nationwide hub – the “Election Crime Bureau.” This Election Crime Bureau, in turn, would send alerts and texts via an app to activists living near the surveilled sites.
“You get the gist of the reporting, right?” Lindell said. “You’re gonna sit in your easy chair on your phone or whatever. And you’re gonna see real-time crime coming. You’re gonna know what a box [election computer] goes live. You’re going to know when a router goes live, when a polling book goes live and everything, okay… We will now become a policing of our own election.”
Lindell would not reveal where the Election Crime Bureau was located nor who would be staffing it….
Back in March, the UCLA Law Safeguarding Democracy Project held a conference, Can American Democracy Survive the 2024 Elections?
Following the conference some of the participants met as an ad hoc committee to consider recommendations in law, politics, media, and tech for fair and legitimate elections in 2024. The goal was to convene a cross-ideological, interdisciplinary and broadly diverse group of election experts to consider ways to bolster both the actual fairness of the upcoming elections as well as public confidence in them.
Today, under the auspices of SDP, the 24 members of the Ad Hoc Committee for 2024 Fairness and Legitimacy released a new report: 24 for ’24: Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics, and Tech for Fair and Legitimate 2024 Elections.
Here are what I see as some of the key takeaways of the report:
- The United States’ election system continues to be under great stress, especially after the last election was conducted during a pandemic and with unprecedented attacks on the integrity of the election system. There are reasons to worry 2024 could be worse
- SDP convened a group that is really ideological diverse and is multidisciplinary, with scholars and leaders in law, media, politics and norms, and tech
- 24 leaders came up with 24 recommendations for fair and legitimate 2024 elections; all of these can be put in place before the 2024 elections
- Recommendations aimed not only at fair elections but at public acceptance of results across the political spectrum
- Recommendations made to journalists, social media companies, government bodies, election officials, bipartisan Congressional and state leaders committed to democracy and the general public
- Among key recommendations: states need to draft laws now to deal with how to handle election emergencies; courts need to resolve as soon as possible challenges to the qualifications of candidates to run for President under the Fourteenth Amendment; news organizations need to invest resources into training journalists on how elections are run, especially local and non-English language news outlets; election administrators need to harden their systems against “insider threats”—the actions of election workers or officials attempting to sabotage results
Below the fold, I share the summaries of the 24 recommendations; full recommendations are in the report itself. In upcoming weeks, we will look for opportunities to share our recommendations with specific constituencies to whom they are addressed.
In early news coverage, Zach Montellaro of Politico writes, “Election Experts Warn American Democracy is ‘Under Great Stress’ Ahead of 2024.” Read the full report for details.Continue reading We’ve Issued a Major New Report, “24 for ’24: Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics, and Tech for Fair and Legitimate 2024 Elections”
Lawfare deep dive by Anna Bower:
Days before the forensics team sets foot in Douglas, which is about 130 miles southwest of Savannah, voters had arrived at the elections office to mark their ballots in the state’s runoff election for the U.S. Senate, a race that would tip the balance of power in the upper house of Congress. Two months before that, some 15,000 people flocked to the polls in the rural county, as Joe Biden and Donald Trump battled for the presidency. Later, in a recorded phone call entered as evidence in litigation, Hall will claim that the forensics group “scanned every freaking ballot” cast in those races.
“They scanned all the equipment, imaged all the hard drives, and scanned every single ballot,” he will say in March 2021.
Throughout the month of January 2021, similar breaches occur on at least three other occasions, as additional outsiders are again given access to the state’s voting equipment. Forensic copies are subsequently accessed by more than a dozen individuals across several states, the court records show.
Until Monday, no individual involved in the apparent breach in Coffee County had been held accountable. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) has said that it has been investigating the matter for more than a year, prompting questions about the sluggishness of the investigation. An open records request submitted by Lawfare to Coffee County reveals that the GBI recently seized the desktop computer used by Hampton at the elections office—more than two and a half years after the breach. Meanwhile, at the federal level, there have been no public signs that the Justice Department or the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith has taken any steps to investigate the events in Coffee County, despite calls for them to do so.
A separate open records request submitted by Lawfare returned no responsive documents for subpoenas or other communications between Coffee County elections officials and federal law enforcement authorities. A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Yet, just over 200 miles from Douglas, in Atlanta, one prosecutor has taken a deep interest in the events in Coffee County.
In her sweeping indictment handed up on Monday, the Coffee County breach features prominently throughout. Powell, Latham, Hall, and Hampton are all charged under the mammoth indictment’s racketeering charge, which alleges that “several of the Defendants corruptly conspired … to unlawfully access secure voting equipment and voter data” and “stole data, including ballot images, voting equipment software and personal voter information.” According to the indictment, the “stolen data was then distributed to other members of the enterprise, including members in other states.”
In addition, Powell, Latham, Hall, and Hampton face charges of conspiracy to commit election fraud (Counts 32-33), conspiracy to commit computer theft (Count 34), conspiracy to commit computer trespass (Count 35), conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy (Count 36), and conspiracy to defraud the state (Count 37).
This looks most unfortunate.
You may be voting on a brand new type of voting machine soon – if your county decides to buy them.
On Wednesday, after a lengthy and somewhat contentious meeting, the New York State Board of Elections voted to certify the ExpressVote XL Universal Voting System.
It’s a touch-screen system that will display the entire ballot on a 32-inch screen. One of its selling points is that the system eliminates the need for interpretation of a voter’s intent, which we have seen frequently in New York.
But the new technology has several critics. Cybersecurity election experts have panned the touch-screen technology, and some states that had switched to touch screen, have now switched back to voter-marked paper ballots.
Additionally, Susan Lerner, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause, told Capital Tonight that New York already has the best kind of voting machines there are: voter marked paper ballots read by scanners.
Common Cause is also concerned that the ExpressVote XL uses Windows 10, which may become less secure as Microsoft is planning to end software updates for the operating system in two years time.
A former Republican attorney general candidate and another supporter of former President Donald Trump have been criminally charged in Michigan in connection with accessing and tampering with voting machines after the 2020 election, according to court records.
Matthew DePerno, a Republican lawyer who was endorsed by Trump in an unsuccessful run for Michigan attorney general last year, was charged with undue possession of a voting machine and conspiracy, according to Oakland County court records.
Daire Rendon, a former Republican state representative, was charged with conspiracy to commit undue possession of a voting machine and false pretenses.
Both were arraigned remotely Tuesday afternoon, according to Richard Lynch, the court administrator for Oakland County’s 6th Circuit.
Those charged in Michigan are the latest facing legal consequences for alleged crimes committed after embracing Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
You can find the order here and coverage here. USDJ James Moody remands the case for lack of federal question jurisdiction. Although the complaint includes a declaratory judgment claim under HAVA, the court concludes that there’s no private right of action under the statute and therefore no federal jurisdiction.
“My attorney has been informed that I have been indicted by DJ Hilson, the special prosecutor in Michigan, working at the request of (Attorney General) Dana Nessel,” Stefanie Lambert said Wednesday on a conservative podcast, where she bashed the pending criminal action.
“I’m not losing any sleep over this,” continued Lambert, a metro Detroit attorney who has worked for 2020 election deniers across the country. “I know that I’ve done absolutely nothing illegal. My clients have not done anything illegal.”
Powerful Georgia House Republicans joined the chorus of conservatives criticizing Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision not to upgrade Georgia’s Dominion voting machines before the presidential election.
A letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution panned Raffensperger’s proposal for increased penalties for election tampering, saying they would “pose no real improvement.”
It was signed by five prominent GOP legislators who pressed fellow Republican Raffensperger to take “urgent” action to launch a voter education campaign, increase training and expand risk-limiting audits of elections. The authors include four chairmen of Georgia House committees — Reps. John LaHood, Shaw Blackmon, Todd Jones and Rob Leverett — and a vice chairman, Rep. Victor Anderson.