The Manchurian Candidate and vote hacking

Hey, remember that time the KGB got their goon elected President of the United States? It's like if in The Manchurian Candidate, Laurence Harvey was going around saying "Chairman Mao is a good friend of mine, he's got some great ideas. Yuge ideas."

Russian Officials Were in Contact With Trump Allies, Diplomat Says

MOSCOW -- The Russian government maintained contacts with members of Donald J. Trump's "immediate entourage" during the American presidential campaign, one of Russia's top diplomats said Thursday.

"There were contacts," Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "We continue to do this and have been doing this work during the election campaign," he said.

Mr. Ryabkov said officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry were familiar with many of the people he described as Mr. Trump's entourage. "I cannot say that all, but a number of them maintained contacts with Russian representatives," Mr. Ryabkov said.

Want to Know if the Election was Hacked? Look at the Ballots.

How might a foreign government hack America's voting machines to change the outcome of a presidential election? Here's one possible scenario. First, the attackers would probe election offices well in advance in order to find ways to break into their computers. Closer to the election, when it was clear from polling data which states would have close electoral margins, the attackers might spread malware into voting machines in some of these states, rigging the machines to shift a few percent of the vote to favor their desired candidate. This malware would likely be designed to remain inactive during pre-election tests, do its dirty business during the election, then erase itself when the polls close. A skilled attacker's work might leave no visible signs  --  though the country might be surprised when results in several close states were off from pre-election polls.

Could anyone be brazen enough to try such an attack? A few years ago, I might have said that sounds like science fiction, but 2016 has seen unprecedented cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the election. [...] In all these cases, Federal agencies publicly asserted that senior officials in the Russian government commissioned these attacks. [...]

The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence  --  paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.

Former Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein intends to file for a recount in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

"After a divisive and painful presidential race, reported hacks into voter and party databases and individual email accounts were causing many [Americans] to wonder if our election results are reliable," Stein said in the statement. "These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified."

(Electronic voting machines have been a slow motion apocalypse for decades. It would be really ironic if Jill Stein ended up helping to keep Trump out of the White House, but hey, I'll take it. Petition.)

As additional votes have been counted in the presidential election, especially on the West Coast, Hillary Clinton's national popular-vote lead over Donald Trump now exceeds 2 million votes.

To put that popular-vote margin into perspective, Al Gore's popular-vote lead over George W. Bush in 2000 - when Bush won the Electoral College - was 547,000 votes. Also noteworthy: Clinton's 64-plus million votes is nearing in on the 65.9 million Barack Obama won in 2012.

Of course, presidents are elected by the Electoral College, not the popular vote, and what sunk Clinton's campaign was her performance in the key battleground states, particularly in the Midwest. And by Wasserman's count, Trump beat Clinton in 13 key swing states by a 48.5%-to-46.6% margin. In the non-swing states, though, Clinton is ahead of Trump 48.9%-to-45.6%.

Donald Trump, Voting Machine Truther, Should Demand Recounts to Prove He Won:

It is important to realize that there is a clear, non-partisan case for post-election audits of voting machines to be routine, rather than exceptional, and that there are alternatives to full recounts.

Interestingly, Trump has deleted a number of tweets he sent in 2012, including:

"He [Obama] lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!"'

"The phoney [sic] electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one!"

"More votes equals a loss...revolution!"

"This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!"

"The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy."

Yet on Tuesday, Trump tweeted:

"The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!"

Republicans were wildly successful at suppressing voters in 2016. Three GOP-controlled states demonstrate the effectiveness of disenfranchising the opposition.

Last week, the first election in 50 years without the full protection of the federal Voting Rights Act propelled Donald Trump to the White House. [...] There has been relatively little discussion about the millions of people who were eligible to vote but could not do so because they faced an array of newly-enacted barriers to the ballot box.

Their systematic disenfranchisement was intentional and politically motivated. In the years leading up to 2016, Republican governors and state legislatures implemented new laws restricting when, where, and how people could vote -- laws that disproportionately harmed students, the poor, and people of color. In several instances, lawmakers pushing such policies said explicitly that their goal was suppression of voters who favor the Democratic Party. [...]

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin's strict voter ID law in 2011, and it has been tied up in court battles for years. A federal court held that the law unconstitutionally burdens low-income people of color, but ultimately the Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect for the 2016 election. [...]

Federal courts struck down most of the [North Carolina] law after finding that it was passed with the intention to suppress African-American voters "with almost surgical precision." [...] Republican-controlled county elections boards tried to find a way around the verdict. No longer able to cut a full week of early voting, the state GOP instructed the boards to make "party line changes to early voting": cutting hours and locations. [...]

In the final weeks leading up to the election, voting rights groups discovered that Wisconsin officials at local DMV offices were giving false information to voters attempting to get the proper ID, putting those officials in violation of a federal court order. [...]

In total, roughly 1.5 million Florida residents (almost 2.5 percent of the state's population) are disenfranchised because of the law, which white lawmakers designed in the years after the Civil War in a deliberate attempt to dilute the voting power of freed slaves. This year, one in four of Florida's black residents could not cast a ballot.

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15 Responses:

  1. b says:

    I know Nate Silver is basically a KGB operative, but:

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/demographics-not-hacking-explain-the-election-results/

    I.e. Michigan is all paper ballot and offline scanning machines. This whole thing is making some smart people look incredibly dumb. Sometimes (maybe all the time?) occam's razor.

    Trying to hack at the scale of "every county and every state does it differently" is implausible. Implausible compared to, say, the demographic voting breakdowns / everyone hates HRC / fox news / Bengazi / actual state-sponsored email hacking by Wikileaks. All of those things made a difference; vote machine hacking did not.

    Really, the above has the same amount of evidence as http://www.snopes.com/pizzagate-conspiracy/ and you are smarter than that. And yes, Trump is revising his history. This is unsurprising and perhaps we should use our technical skills to make sure he can't evade. But conspiracy theories do help anyone's cause.

    • jwz says:

      "It probably wasn't a problem this time, so let's continue using a known-to-be-insecure system. Also let's not bother double-checking the results, because a highly motivated state actor probably didn't take advantage of it."

      • b says:

        Nah I agree we're in dangerous territory and auditing is a great idea. But Trump actually won (for real, not hacked). So this thread boils down to an unproductive exercise in crying wolf that's going to set back the cause of "electronic voting is absolutely insecure and we better get secure or we're getting 0wn3d in the future by the ruskies." But force the issue now, when (no shit, nothing nefarious happened) and we're in Rolling Stone frat rape territory. This is not the best argument one can make, and the people pushing it should be smarter about when to hold them and when to fold them. Lawyers think long and hard about when to push something to the supreme court, because a bad case can set your actual cause back significantly. This is the equivalent.

        • Jeremy Leader says:

          But maybe it's time to set a precedent that election results are ALWAYS audited, whether we like the results or not, whether we suspect misbehavior or not?

          • Nate says:

            I agree. The margin is so small that a recount should automatically be required. It's this kind of defense-in-depth that can help deter tampering.

            Stein is a bit of a problem here, especially given her own effect on the election as a third-party spoiler. It's also helping the chaos side if her message is that we expect to find tampering, especially any that might change the results. That may get more donations, but is a harmful message nonetheless.

            Message should instead be, "margins are small enough to require a recount, but since that's not yet automatic, we're going to move this forward ourselves."

        • MattyJ says:

          I keep all my passwords on a post-it note under my keyboard, and I've never been hacked, so maybe I should keep doing that instead of rethinking my security protocol. This is what you are saying.

          Some swing states show a statistically significant lower average voting rate for Clinton in counties that use electronic voting machines vs paper or optical scan ballots. These are _computer_ scientists urging an audit, not _political_ scientists.

          _What_ happened is speculative, but _something_ clearly did happen, whatever the source. I'm not sure why anyone would be against trying to uphold the integrity of a vote, regardless of the winner. I doubt any findings would swing the whole election back in a sane direction, but it's pretty dumb to ignore this and not, you know, take the technology of casting an e-vote seriously, now and forever.

        • pavel_lishin says:

          But Trump actually won (for real, not hacked). So this thread boils down to an unproductive exercise in crying wolf that's going to set back the cause of "electronic voting is absolutely insecure and we better get secure or we're getting 0wn3d in the future by the ruskies." But force the issue now, when (no shit, nothing nefarious happened) and we're in Rolling Stone frat rape territory.

          So... should we wait until the election is clearly and unequivocally hacked?

          I also don't put my seatbelt on until after the collision.

          • b says:

            A failed recount just legitimizes Trump's victory and distracts attention from the very real issue of voter disenfranchisement (perpetrated primarily by the GOP). It will also reinforce the notion that computer ballots are safe (because no anomalies will be found). I mean, if there was wide-spread hacking why does Hillary (or Obama) not care? You hate the NSA because you think it's spying and hacking YOU, but they're too stupid and naive to notice the Ruskies making Trump president? This is just a bad argument that will set back the cause of "require audits."

            Also, I think seat belt is a poor analogy. Instead, I nominate "bike helmet." If you want to pass a law (mandating or not mandating) bike helmets you need to have a great story and great evidence. Otherwise, it's just a shit show of people fighting with each other and nothing happens - like helmets. Seat belts, OTOH, are a clear and obvious win that cannot be refuted.

            • Jeremy Leader says:

              You don't remember when seatbelts were optional, do you?

              • Leonardo Herrera says:

                Seat belt law is an example that even "obvious" laws may endure strong opposition, given that you went for over half a century without one.

                Electroning voting should be banned completely, no second guessing of any kind. There are simply no benefits except for those who want to tamper with the results. But tying it to a theoretical GOP-sponsored voting fraud will result in a big setback for this cause, and you all should know better.

            • pavel_lishin says:

              So at what point would it be a reasonable time to audit voting machines and the software they run? There might be a null result at any point.

              And Trump would become president whether the machines were found to be flawless or not, and apparently half the country would be perfectly fine with it anyway. So again, why not do it now?

              I also think you missed the point of my analogy.

            • Nate says:

              The two longer term issues to be dealt with:

              * Disenfranchisement
              * DRE voting machines still being legal in some areas

              A recount is hopefully the right place to start. I expect some minor irregularities would be found, such as misconfigured counting systems. The evidence available for audits will be less in DRE voting areas, so this will point out that we need optical scan voting for better auditing.

  2. k3ninho says:

    Defo wasn't hacked because it wasn't despot-standard 97% for Trump in PA, WI, MI...

    K3n.

  3. Joker_vD says:

    It's amazing how during his last term, Obama turned Russia from a regional state with torn apart economics into a great global power that could even influnence the elections in the US as if the latter was just some banana republic.

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