Critical vulnerabilities remain on state's 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting systems...
By Ernest A. Canning on 5/5/2017, 12:54pm PT  

Two things occurred last Thursday that should bolster the chances of Democrat Jon Ossoff in the June 20, 2017 runoff special election for the U.S. House in Georgia's 6th Congressional District. One thing --- one big thing --- remains in place that could help to derail those prospects.

The first helpful item entails the removal of an obstacle to casting a vote at all in the upcoming election, thanks to a ruling by a federal judge yesterday. The court has effectively blocked an effort by Georgia election officials to prevent any otherwise eligible voter in the 6th District who had not been registered prior to March 20, 2017 from casting a vote in the run-off election between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel.

A Georgia statute treats a run-off election as a "continuation" of a primary election. Thus, Georgia election officials had asserted that, under state law, only those timely registered before the April 18 primary election could vote in the run-off. The GA State Conference of the NAACP and other voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit alleging that the state's restriction on new voter registrations is in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) which mandates that any qualified voter who submits a valid registration form more than 30 days prior to a federal election must be allowed to vote.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr., a George W. Bush appointee, agreed with the NAACP plaintiffs. On Thursday he issued a Temporary Restraining Order mandating the state "extend the voter-registration deadline for the June 20, 2017 special runoff election to no earlier than May 21." Any "eligible resident" who has "registered to vote" on or before that date is entitled to cast a ballot "that will count in the June 20 special runoff election."

Prior to the ruling, Republican Sec. of State Brian Kemp had contended that only voters registered by March 20th would be eligible to vote in the run-off election, three months later(!), on June 20.

The second issue that could enhance the Democrat's chances for filling the U.S. House vacancy in an otherwise Republican-leaning district --- a vacancy created when Rep. Tom Price became Donald Trump's Sec. of Health and Human Services --- is related to yesterday's narrow passage in the U.S. House of the so-called "American Health Care Act" (AHCA, or what many have referred to as #wealthcare, since the legislation includes, among other things, a massive tax cut for the top 2% at the expense of healthcare coverage and other benefits for the poor and middle class).

A Congressional Budge Office scoring predicted that the original version of the ACHA would result in the loss of health care coverage for 24 million Americans over the next 10 years. Not surprisingly, the Ryan/Trump wealthcare initiative has proved immensely unpopular according to a Quinnipiac poll in March, finding just 17% of Americans support the measure. The Center for American Progress described the amended version of the bill, that was rammed through the House yesterday without an updated CBO score, as far worse than the original bill. It is expected not only to "explode premiums," they find, but also allow states to negate ObamaCare's most popular feature --- the prohibition on health insurance companies discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions.

While both of these factors could serve to aid Ossoff's chances in June, there's no escaping the fact that the runoff will be conducted using the same 100% unverifiable, easily-manipulated, oft-failed Diebold touch-screen voting system that may have cost him an outright win on April 18...

The election integrity problem

As Brad Friedman previously reported, on Election Night, after all precincts from two of the 6th District's three counties, Cobb and DeKalb, had been fully tabulated, Ossoff was holding steady at 50.3% --- just enough to win outright without a runoff. However, due to what election officials then reported to be a faulty memory card from one of the voting machines, the tally in Fulton County stopped, for hours, at just 16% of precincts reporting. Hours passed before the central tabulator failure in Handel's home county was said to have been found and corrected. When results began coming in again, Ossoff's total had dropped to just over 48%, where they remained until tabulation was completed.

As a result, Ossoff was forced into the run-off with Handel, Georgia's former Republican Sec. of State and the second highest vote getter at 19%.

Following the Election Night computer tally debacle, the election integrity group, Voter GA, "a coalition of citizens and organizations founded to advocate open and secure election procedures and processes to ensure accurate and verifiable elections," conducted and published a preliminary Root Cause Analysis of problems in last month's Special Election.

Their analysis found that the vulnerabilities of the state's 100% unverifiable touch-screens had been enhanced by the fact that Fulton County had conducted three unrelated elections, using entirely different databases, on the same day in April as the GA 6th Congressional District Special Election. This entailed voters having to cast votes on separate touch screens at several precints, using separate memory cards to store results from each separate race. The unprecedented event rendered the election vulnerable to a "critical software flaw [that] allows memory cards for a foreign election to be loaded and transmitted into results in a different election." (Emphasis in original text). That, they say --- a memory card with results from one of the other elections uploaded from a remote location into the GA-06 race results --- is what led to the halted tally on Election Night.

The Voter GA study finds a second "security flaw that is even more critical than the first." The database of the system's central tabulator, known as the GEMS system, "has no feature to distinguish invalid data and protect the integrity of election results." (Emphasis in original) Because, according to Voter GA, the state's governor committed a scheduling error by scheduling multiple redundant elections on the same date, the memory card from one of the other elections "became mixed in with the 6th District election" producing an invalid result after the GEMS central tabulator system failed to reject the card with results from the wrong election.

A third "serious security flaw" was found in the inability of the GEMS "export facility on the Windows 2000 central warehouse tabulation server that cannot specifically identify the problem it encountered when it malfunctioned as it did on April 18." (Emphasis in original).

The group noted that this analysis should come as little surprise. "During the past thirteen years hundreds of critical and serious securities flaws have been documented by a variety of [academic] studies." They stressed, in particular, that "the GEMS servers are vulnerable to fraud and critical errors that can dramatically alter the results of the election." (Emphasis in original).

In other words, even though recent legal and political developments suggest that Ossoff could be well positioned to prevail in June --- current polling places him in a virtual dead heat with Handel --- there's no way to know whether those chances will be reduced by a vulnerable voting system that will, to the state of Georgia's continuing shame, remain 100% unverifiable.

(P.S. While most states have moved away from the type of 100% unverifiable touch-screen systems that Georgia still forces voters to use at the polls, the highly flawed GEMS tabulation system is still used across dozens of states and likely offers the same vulnerabilities when it comes to results from memory cards uploaded from computerized paper-ballot optical-scan systems as well.)

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Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing