Campaign 2016 voting threats & a view from Canada

With just days to go before Campaign 2016 wraps up [?],we present an omnium gatherum roundup of election stories.

Voting machines prove all-too-hackable

We have always opposed voting by anything other than paper ballots. Our reasons are two-fold:

First, the paper ballot provides a permanent physical record of the votes as they were marked by hand by each voter and can be recounted manually to verify each vote cast.

Digital data, as we all know by now, is susceptible to hacking, and voting machines are notably vulnerable, as The Verge reports:

Like most municipally-contracted technology, voting machines are terrible in basically every way. They’re expensive, old, prone to failure, and unpleasant to look at. As you might expect, they’re also not that hard to break into. Computer scientists have been demonstrating that for at least 10 years, generally by physically cracking open the machines and installing election-rigging software. Election boards have been slow to respond, and the demonstrations have just gotten better as the years go by.

Princeton computer scientist Andrew Appel, one of the main figures doing those demos, has argued that no voting machine is entirely immune. “It’s a general principle about computers,” he wrote earlier this year. “They run whatever software is installed at the moment.” That fatalism holds true in the everyday practice of security as well: once your opponent has physical access to your device, the fight is pretty much over.

The important question isn’t “can this machine be hacked?” but “can we verify whether it’s working properly on Election Day?” Voting machines aren’t doing too well on that front either. The key safeguard is a paper trail — either a paper ballot scanned into an optical reader, or a touchscreen interface that prints out a paper receipt when a vote is cast. That record prevents voting tallies from being changed after the fact, allows an audit if the result is disputed, and enables frequent checks to make sure votes are being accurately recorded. But according to a Brennan Center study, a full 20 percent of Americans’ votes this November will be cast on systems without that paper trail, which give election officials few protections if a machine is compromised.

Supremes effectively disenfranchise rural Arizona

A United Press International story covers another kind of election threat, and one that may have a huge impact on a swing state with a large number of poor, rural voters, folks who have more claim to the right to vote than most of the rest of us.

Ironically, this is one case where the highest court in the land has made voting on paper a threat to democracy:

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Republicans and ordered a law in Arizona banning ballot collecting by third party groups can stand in Tuesday’s election.

Republicans in Arizona passed the ballot collection law, making it a felony punishable by up to a year in jail and a $150,000 fine for someone to turn in a ballot that is not their own. Exceptions were included for family members, roommates and caregivers.

Democrats fought the law in court, arguing it would disproportionately affect minorities. Some minority communities and Native Americans in rural parts of the state have come to rely on third party groups to deliver mail-in absentee ballots, then collect them and drop them off at a polling place on Election Day. Many of the most rural Indian reservations do not have reliable mail service.

Republicans argued the practice, which they refer to as ballot “harvesting,” invites voter fraud.

Trumpies, including militia, announce poll-watch plans

UPDATE: You knew this one was coming, via the Guardian:

As opinion polls tightened this week between Trump and Hillary Clinton ahead of Tuesday’s presidential vote, there are concerns of chaos following his claims, without serious evidence, that the election could be “rigged” and his refusal to say if he will accept the outcome.

The Democratic party has launched a series of legal challenges around the country alleging voter intimidation, and on Friday in the battleground state of Ohio a judge issued a temporary restraining order against Trump’s campaign and his unofficial adviser Roger Stone. The ruling said anyone who engaged in intimidation or harassment inside or near Ohio polling places would face contempt of court charges.

Republican leaders in some battleground states are reporting a surge of volunteers signing up to serve as official poll watchers, and in an unprecedented move, the Trump campaign itself has since August been requesting that volunteers sign up as “election observers” to “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!”. Stone, meanwhile, has said he has helped recruit people to do “exit polls” to tackle voter fraud.

The nation’s most prominent anti-government militia and a neo-Nazi group have also announced plans to send their members to monitor for voter fraud outside the polls.

There’s lots more after the jump, including terrorism threats in New York and the view from the north. . .

Pre-election terrorist threats in the Big Apple

And speaking of threats to the election, consider this from United Press International:

With four days to go before the 2016 presidential election, federal and local authorities across the United States are preparing for potential trouble on or near the day of the landmark vote.

Authorities are discussing strategies to deal with any threat that may arise between now and Tuesday, officials said Friday. Any number of problems are being looked at, ranging from those related to the election to terrorism.

CBS News cited intelligence sources Friday in reporting that the FBI and local authorities are paying attention to the possibility of an al-Qaida terror attack on Monday and three states that reportedly could be targeted — New York, Virginia and Texas.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on his radio show Friday that he was aware of the potential threat, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state will be prepared to handle anything that comes up.

On a somewhat lighter note. . .

Meanwhile, Canadians are fascinated and horrified in equal measure by the campaign underway south of the border, as BBC News reports:

Canadians are obsessed by the rise of Trump – horrified and fascinated in equal measure by what is happening south of the border.

We’ve recently elected a very different kind of leader as our prime minister in the person of Justin Trudeau. Under his leadership, Canada took in 25,000 Syrian refugees while Trump was calling for the banning of all Muslims wanting to enter the US.

So we are perplexed and not a little anxious about the tone and the language of his bid for the presidency.

Not a day passes that the Canadian media don’t analyse, bewail and condemn. Social media is full of outrage, laments and bitter jokes. We cannot, it seems, get enough of the Trumpster.

The obsession is not all that surprising. Years ago, Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre, while he was prime minister, remarked that when the United States sneezes we get pneumonia.

Whatever happens in America affects Canada deeply and Trump’s talk of ripping up Nafta — the longstanding free-trade deal that has been hugely beneficial to the Canadian economy — has sent ripples of near-panic through the marketplace.



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