On today's BradCast: Questions about the results of a controversial do-over U.S. House election in North Carolina and about disturbing revelations from a secret reexamination of a wildly unsecure touchscreen voting system being deployed in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) next year. [Audio link to show is posted below.]
At long last, NC's 9th Congressional District has held its do-over election, after a massive GOP Absentee Ballot Election Fraud scheme was uncovered to derail the contest last November. With a new Republican candidate, the very Trumpy state Senator Dan Bishop, and the same Democratic candidate, Marine vet Dan McCready (pictured above), the two faced off in the long-time Republican district on Tuesday. It had long been predicted to be a very close race, seen as a potential bellwether for 2020 and a referendum on Donald Trump, who, with Vice President Mike Pence, helicoptered into the district for last-minute rallies on Monday night.
According to the reported unofficial --- and unverified-by-any-human-being --- results posted by the State Board of Elections (SBE), the Republican Bishop defeated the Democrat McCready by just under 4,000 votes (a margin just over 2%) out of nearly 200,000 votes cast in the district, which is spread over parts or all of 8 counties. While Bishop's margin of victory is slightly more than 1% too large to allow for a candidate "recount", the county with the single largest share of the votes cast in the race is Mecklenberg, which forces voters to use 100% unverifiable touchscreen voting systems at the polls. So there would little to "count" there anyway. Most of the rest of the district votes on hand-marked paper ballots.
But even with the unofficial 2% spread, there may be reason for McCready's team to examine the results, despite his quick concession on Tuesday night after media outlets, using unofficial results, called it for Bishop. His quick concession followed a similar one last November, when he'd reportedly lost by less than 1,000 votes in a race that the NC SBE ultimately refused to certify due to the GOP election fraud for which seven contractors now face felony indictments. Given the fraud last time in NC09, and the importance that both Trump and the GOP had placed on this race in advance of 2020, one might think it appropriate to wait until all votes were at least canvassed by the state before conceding. Moreover, Democratic turnout during early voting outpaced Republican turnout by even more than it did during the very close race during last November's "blue wave" election.
But in a curious new twist, just before airtime today, another anomaly came to light, as shared with us by a listener that I detailed here with screenshots and video. As I break down at that link, video from MSNBC's coverage on Tuesday reveals that McCready, after leading in the vote count throughout the early part of the night after 52% of precincts had come in, was suddenly overtaken by Bishop once 55% of precincts had reported, according to MSNBC's chyron. While that's not unusual, what is unusual is that when it happened, McCready's vote tally actually DECREASED by more than 3,000 votes, even though more votes had supposedly been tallied! After that, Bishop retained a very similar lead for the rest of the night, ultimately "winning" by a margin just under 4,000 votes.
There could, of course, be a good explanation for the vote count appearing to go BACKWARD --- a typo at MSNBC, a transcription error at the SBE, a non-nefarious bad data transfer somewhere along the line --- we just haven't yet been able to figure out what it is yet. Bishop's total also decreased at the same point, but by just over 1,000 votes. If we do figure it out, of course, we'll let you know.
But those maddening anomalies underscore, yet again, the importance of the other big story we cover on today's BradCast out of Pennsylvania. There, a group of citizen election integrity advocates filed a petition some weeks ago demanding a re-examination of the state's newly certified ExpressVote XL voting system made by ES&S. The new 100% unverifiable touchscreen voting system (pictured above) was recently certified to be deployed in Philadelphia and other jurisdictions in the key battleground state of PA before next year's critical 2020 Presidential election. While PA's Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, did, in fact, carry out the new examination of the system, as required by statute, apparently she did so in secret, employing the same company closely tied to ES&S that carried out the initially flawed certification testing, and did so in another state entirely (Colorado) with no notice or public oversight for the first time in PA history.
We're joined again today by KEVIN SKOGLUND, Chief Technologist for the Pennsylvania-based Citizens for Better Elections. He is a cybersecurity and voting systems expert and was one of the petitioners who joined us several weeks ago after the state agreed to the new examination. Skoglund, along with other long time election integrity advocates both nationally and in PA are outraged by the secret testing which, he explains, failed to even examine 7 of the petitioners' 10 cited concerns.
"This is the same company that did the initial examination. So, we're asking the people who gave the opinion the first time to give their opinion again. It doesn't really make sense," he tells me. "It's not a second opinion like you might get from a doctor." Moreover, he explains, "This was only a two-day examination. The lab that's doing this is not experienced in cybersecurity penetration testing. This is a voting system test lab that tests for the functionality of voting machines...These things are very technical in nature and they require specialists." In this case, it is a company who is actually paid by the vendor, ES&S, to test their systems.
As to those concerns which the examiners reportedly did bother to review [PDF] (in secret), they confirmed the petitioners' concerns. Nonetheless, Boockvar went ahead and recertified the new systems, citing new, additional procedures she hopes to impart to pollworkers next year as protection against the very serious security concerns cited by the petitioners and confirmed during the re-examination. One such concern, for example, is that the computer-marked paper ballot summary card produced by the ExpressVote's touchscreen system for theoretical verification by the voter before it is cast, returns back through the very same printer path after it is approved by the voter. That, Skoglund explains, would allow the voting system to change the voter's vote after they believe they have verified it for casting and counting by an optical scanner. New, similarly computerized touchscreen Ballot Marking Devices being deployed in other jurisdictions, such as Los Angeles County and Georgia (and in many other states before next year) appear to feature the same extraordinary security flaw.
"It's the craziest thing. This voting machines prints the information that you've selected on the screen onto a piece of paper, and then it presents it for you to review. And then, if you decide that it's acceptable, that piece of paper travels through a printer again before it's stored. So if you had a voting machine that was malfunctioning or manipulated or hacked, it could change that paper record before it gets stored. They 100 percent confirmed it," says Skoglund.
Other problems with the PA system include the fact that, due to the way it stores computer-marked ballots, the ballot secrecy of voters may be easily violated. Skoglund suggests the fight against these systems is not over by a long shot, and that the coalition of election integrity groups with whom he is working are reviewing their options for litigation in the days ahead. "We're definitely not giving up. We are not done contesting the certification of this machine."
As noted at the end of today's program, the woeful story of the likely unverifiable election in NC-09 underscores the important work being done by Skoglund and others BEFORE these dangerously unverifiable and easily hackable voting systems are deployed for U.S. elections in 2020...
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