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Suddenly they’re concerned? Election security experts call for “rigorous” audit ahead of California governor recall

Posted by: Jenna Curren

 

SACRAMENTO,CA- The Associated Press (AP) reported that on Thursday, September 2nd, a group of election security experts called for a rigorous audit of the upcoming recall election for California’s governor after copies of systems used to run elections across the country were released publicly.

Their letter sent to the secretary of state’s office urges the state to conduct a type of post-election audit that can help detect malicious attempts to interfere.

The statewide recall targeting Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, set for September 14th, is the first election since copies of Dominion Voting Systems’ election management system were distributed last month at an event organized by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

Lindell, an ally of former President Donald Trump, has made claims about the 2020 presidential election. Reportedly, election offices across 30 states use the Dominion system, including 40 counties in California.

Election security experts have said the breaches, from a county in Colorado and another in Michigan, post a heightened risk to elections because the system is used for a number of administrative functions – from designing ballots and configuring voting machines to tallying results.

In their letter, the election security experts said they do not have evidence that anyone plans to attempt to hack any of the systems used in California and are not casting blame on Dominion. The letter said, in part:

“However, it is critical to recognize that the release of the Dominion software into the wild has increased the risk to the security of California elections to the point that emergency action is warranted.”

Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Shirley Weber, said the 40 counties in California using Dominion employ a different version of the election management system that meets various state-specific requirements.

She proceeded to outline numerous security measures in place to protect voting systems across the state, which include regular testing for vulnerabilities, strict controls on who has access, physical security rules and pre-election testing to ensure that no part of the system has been modified. Dresner added:

California has the strictest and most comprehensive voting system testing, use, and requirements in the country and it was designed to withstand potential threats.”

The security experts want California counties using Dominion’s election management system to do what’s known as a “risk-limiting audit,” which essentially uses a statistical approach to ensure that the reported results match the actual votes cast.

California also uses paper ballots, which allegedly makes it easier to verify results. The letter said that the differences between the leaked Dominion software images and the versions used in California are relatively minor.

The experts stated that thousands of people now have blueprints to the underpinnings of Dominion’s election management system, including some who may have access to voting equipment. The letter added:

“That increases the risk of undetected outcome-changing cyber-attacks on California counties that use Dominion equipment and the risk of accusations of fraud and election manipulation which, without rigorous post-election auditing, would be impossible to disprove.”

According to reports, a majority of voters are expected to cast mail ballots during the recall, returning them through the U.S. Postal Service or by drop boxes in their counties.

California law already requires counties to hand-count ballots from a random sample of 1 percent of the precincts after an election. Although the state has conducted a pilot program with risk-limiting audits, Dresner said state law does not currently allow one for the recall election.

Among those signing the letter was Harri Hursti, a voting technology expert who was at the Lindell event in South Dakota. Hursti said he received three copies of the Dominion election management system.

One of an image of the system used in Antrim County, Michigan and the other two from Mesa County, Colorado. In a sworn declaration filed in federal court in Georgia, Hursti said the copies were later made available for online download.

He said the release gives hackers a “practice environment” to seek vulnerabilities in the system and a road map to avoid defenses. All hackers would need is physical access to the systems because they aren’t supposed to be connected to the internet.

Philip B. Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, who also signed the letter, likened it to the difference between a bank robber having a blueprint of a vault and having an exact replica of the vault to practice attacks.

Experts said attacks could create technical problems that can cause machines to malfunction, manipulate ballot design or even target results.

A Dominion representative said the company was aware of reports about the unauthorized release of the system images and had reported it to authorities. The company said federal cybersecurity officials don’t view the breach as significantly increasing the risk to elections.

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