Let Me Grab My Tinfoil Hat

Darn this tinfoil chin-strap, it’s hard to keep everything in position. Okay, I think I’ve got it. Ready?

The dominant parties that run the US have a long history of vote suppression; it’s so bad that I refer to the US as a “pseudo-democracy.” Both parties have participated in various voter disenfranchisement scams, ranging from flat-out “no, you don’t get a vote, slave” to more complicated maneuvers such as annexing Puerto Rico as a territory but not giving citizens on the island a vote (because: brown). The electoral college was another voter suppression technique – basically completely mooting the popular vote and leaving the real decision-making power in a committee of plutocrats. [stderr] There’s suppression going on everywhere in the US political system: the ‘Justice’ system rotates people through, strips them of their franchise* – and has taken over 6 million voters off the rolls. In Florida, 1 in 5 voters has been disenfranchised. You can hardly look at any part of the US political system where voting takes place, and not see fingerprints of suppression all over it. It’s so bad that people from both parties openly talk about suppression but do nothing because they intend to use it if they’re able to gain the power.

I believe those are established facts.

Now, let me venture out on a limb. I do not believe that there is necessarily a plot conceived in a smoky room somewhere, but I do not believe that this is accidental, anymore: [ars]

Judge to Georgia voting officials: You’re terrible at digital security

“Advanced persistent threats… and ordinary hacking are unfortunately here to stay.”

Computer security practitioners have been worried about the security of election machines since the 1960s. My colleague Avi Rubin at Johns Hopkins has been hammering on flaws in Diebold voting machines since the late 1990s. If you’re curious, Avi’s analysis of one voting machine is that: they did everything wrong. The systems configurations are wrong, the cryptography is wrong, the software is wrong, it’s a litany of wrong, wrong, wrong. My opinion on Avi’s work has always been that it’s really good but it’s cautious; there are aspects to voting machines that I dislike less than he does – I tend to ask questions like “what happens if someone threatens someone who is operating the polling place?” That sort of thing has happened a lot in the US, and recently, too (the 1950s).

Every DEFCON I’ve gone to, lately, they’ve got electronic voting machines and people hack them to bits.

And now the big story is Russian hackers. That has been an ongoing problem since forever.

“The State’s posture in this litigation – and some of the testimony and evidence presented – indicated that the Defendants and State election officials had buried their heads in the sand.”

I think that they’re leaving the situation open so that they can cancel an election, if it doesn’t come out right. Or, they can take advantage of the flaws in the system to post a bunch more votes if they need to make sure the right person wins. That is the level of creeping political paranoia that I have reached.

In Asterix in Corsica, there’s a running joke about Corsican elections: they have all the ballot boxes full with the votes before the election is held – it saves time – and the challengers don’t even bother looking at them; they just jump right to a knife-fight. We won’t be invited to participate in that, either.

In Season (?3?) of House of Cards, Frank Underwood pulls out a raft of tricks to steal an election, including declaring a fake state of emergency in order to close the polling-places in districts that he doesn’t want the votes collected from.

There is no other plausible reason for why the voting machines have been allowed to remain so bad. In a future election, we’ll see them invalidated “because of the Russians” and the Supreme Court will decide the election just like they did in Florida when they gave Bush the win. Russian hackers will be “Hanging chads 2.0” The Republicans are ‘all in’ to hang onto power and the Democrats are sabotaging their own candidates to prevent a socialist insurgency. Either party could find it convenient to toss a crucial state out and force a “mulligan.”

I think that they’re leaving the situation open so that they can cancel an election, if it doesn’t come out right.

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[* You can strip someone of the ability to vote, but can you take away their right to vote?]

“A state voting commission is walking down a sidewalk and sees a banana and says ‘oh, no, Russians are going to hack us again!”

Good explanation of the House of Cards election-stealing scenario [vulture]:

Voter suppression comes into major play.
The fact that voter-ID laws might’ve prevented thousands of voters from hitting the polls in Wisconsin and elsewhere still haunts Hillary Clinton. In House of Cards, voter suppression becomes the reason Conway doesn’t end up president on Election Night. Underwood has Doug Stamper threaten the Ohio governor to go on national television and say he was pressured into closing his polls, and is now imposing a statewide voting suspension. This triggers a ripple effect of other states contesting the outcome of the election. At first, six states refuse to certify their votes. By the night’s end, almost all 50 states end up filing voter-suppression lawsuits. The whole time, of course, Underwood stalled in giving his concession speech. It’s a total clusterfuck that leaves Conway literally speechless – his wife is the one required by protocol to break the news to the country that her husband cannot legally be declared the winner – and the Underwoods are more pleased with themselves than ever.


  1. says

    For this election, would an attack on voter registration be the most likely hack? I’m not sure how many voting machines are connected to the Internet for this election. But voter databases are accessible from the Internet.

  2. says

    William Brinkman@#1:
    For this election, would an attack on voter registration be the most likely hack?

    Who cares? They can just scream “Russian hackers!” and invalidate a district’s votes. That’s the real game – hacking? Pfff! Who cares about actual hacking?

  3. Curt Sampson says

    There is no other plausible reason for why the voting machines have been allowed to remain so bad.

    I can think of another plausible (to me, far more plausible) reason. Reliability is widely practiced in the IT industry as, ‘Can I think of any situation in which this could possibly work? Yes? Our job is done! Release it!’ So, Hanlon’s razor: it’s just stupidity.

    Keep in mind that the folks writing the software in many of these machines thought that Windows and Visual Basic would be a good way of doing this. (I’m guessing they had difficulties with writing voting machine software in PowerPoint, and then Excel, and so were finally forced to reach for more powerful tools.)

  4. says

    Does anybody here follow the news from Russia? Or am I the only one?

    Each time there’s an election happening in Russia, I end up thinking, “The vote rigging was awful this time, it’s even worse than the last time.”

    Anyway, they recently held a gubernatorial election in the country’s far eastern Primorsky region. It was between Kremlin-backed United Russia candidate Andrei Tarasenko and his Communist challenger Andrei Ishchenko. Of course, the Kremlin-backed candidate “won,” even though it seems like the voters preferred the other candidate. This time the rigging was ridiculously blatant. By the time 99% of the votes were counted, the wrong candidate was leading. However, at the end, Tarasenko won—he received almost every single one of the final 20,000 votes counted.

    Russians employ all the obvious vote rigging techniques, like stuffing the ballot boxes with extra ballots and afterwards sending the “right” people to count them exactly as necessary. But they also do various creative things:

    – Are there CCTV cameras installed in the polling stations? You need to stuff the ballot boxes, but you don’t want to get caught on camera? That’s an easy problem to solve—just “accidentally” place some balloons or various other props right in front of the camera completely blocking its view.
    – It’s time to count the votes, but there are still some “wrong” people inside the building? The answer is simple, just organize a firefighter practice in the polling station on the election day evening. The firefighters will barge into the building ordering everybody to evacuate. Once the building is empty, it’s time to count the votes.
    – 99% of the votes are already counted and the wrong candidate is winning? No worries, even this situation can still be salvaged. Just make all the remaining votes go to a single candidate. Yes, this technique is so damn blatant, that the election results might get cancelled altogether. But that’s also fine—this way the election will be rerun and the next time you can try again and do a better job with the ballot box stuffing.
    – Votes in some region are already counted and the central election committee has already received the protocols from all the polling stations in all the regions. No worries, just loose all the protocols that show a result you don’t like. Once the original protocols are lost, the central election committee can write new ones, this time with the “correct” result.

    I think that they’re leaving the situation open so that they can cancel an election, if it doesn’t come out right. Or, they can take advantage of the flaws in the system to post a bunch more votes if they need to make sure the right person wins.

    It sounds plausible. However, the problem is that there is no sufficient proof for your theory. We already know that gerrymandering and denying black people the opportunity to vote are all intentional, and that’s done in order to make sure the right person wins. However, your theory goes further than that, and we no longer have evidence for this.

    Thus I have to suspend judgment about whether the cause for American election problems is intentional malice or incompetence.