On today's BradCast: We're now just one week from Election Day. But as today's guest underscores, we may be much farther away from knowing who actually won it, given disturbing vulnerabilities that remain in our nation's voting system, beginning --- if not ending --- in the battleground state of Florida. [Audio link to full show is posted below summary.]
But first, the Trump Administration announced over the weekend, via White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, that it is no longer even trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with Meadows telling CNN that "we aren't going to control the pandemic." Rather, he said, they'll work on mitigating its effects, eventually, through the development of therapies and vaccines.
That, as the U.S. hit its third peak of infections over the weekend, with new daily records that outpaced those from the June-July peak, which previously outpaced those from the original March-April peak. The pandemic is getting far worse, not better, and it's now being super-spread by the President of the United States himself at maskless rallies around the country. The virus which has now killed almost a quarter of a million Americans in the past six months is also being similarly spread by Vice President Mike Pence at rallies, even after five of his top staffers and advisers, including his Chief of Staff Marc Short, were revealed over the weekend to have tested positive.
On Monday morning, Trump actually tweeted that reporting on COVID numbers should now be outlawed. At the same time, talks on a new emergency relief package for the American people, between the White House and Democrats in the U.S. House, collapsed yet again. And, in response to all of the above, the Dow plummeted 650 points on Monday.
Things are not going well, just one week out from Election Day, even after some 60 million Americans have already cast their vote this year, outpacing all early voting from 2016.
But, if you think Election Day will be the answer to all of our woes --- while I pray you are right --- you may want to hedge that bet. One of my greatest fears about the election, a ransomware attack, appears to already be playing out in one county in the battleground state of Georgia. In Hall County, a ransomware attack has hit the county's elections infrastructure by taking out its voter signature database and a precinct map hosted on its website. If a similar attack were to occur on or before Election Day, in any one of the thousands of counties which now rely on the Internet or networked computers to allow voters to cast a vote at all, we could see absolute chaos. This President, of course, is all to ready to exploit such a case to his advantage with the help of gerrymandered Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country and a compliant (and stolen) U.S. Supreme Court (made even more stolen today by the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett in the U.S. Senate.)
Down in the critical battleground of Florida, as my guest explains today, voters may never even know if the election is stolen from them. That guest today is the legendary, former 28-year Supervisor of Elections in Leon County (Tallahassee), Florida, ION SANCHO, who was so well-respected by his peers on both the right and left he was appointed to oversee the eventually-aborted year 2000 recount between Al Gore and George W. Bush in the Sunshine State.
On Friday, Sancho sent an urgent letter [PDF] to the Supervisors of Elections in 47 of Florida's 67 counties which use wireless cellular modems to transmit precinct election results to county headquarters after the close of polls on Election Night. The letter warns that those modems --- and the Internet connections to them at the counties' central tabulators --- can be easily hacked "from anywhere in the world." If they are, he explains on today's program, it's very likely that such a hack, changing election results, would never be noticed by election officials.
"The issue is that we’re using equipment that is not secure," Sancho tells me. "To quote Sen. Marco Rubio, 'Many Florida election officials are arrogant over their belief that they can’t be touched, that they are secure.' And this is a state that does not compare the numbers that we generate on those electrical optical scanners to the actual, physical votes on the piece of paper. We’re completely dependent upon those electronic totals on Election Night."
Manual examination of hand-marked paper ballots in Florida, to make sure the reported computer tabulation was correct, is prohibited by state law. Sancho details his concerns about those modems --- which are not federally certified for use in elections --- and how the state's election officials can avoid the threat posed by this very serious vulnerability to the state's election infrastructure. Making matters worse, he notes, "We do not audit the paper ballots to confirm that the election totals are correct. And that’s a huge, huge problem – not just in Florida, but everywhere in the country."
"Most of the election officials were not even aware that their systems were connected [to the Internet], because the vendor [in this case, ES&S, the nation's largest] never told them. You’re almost 100% dependent upon the vendor for the information about your system. So our most public process – our elections process, which is public – really are controlled by private entities."
"The worst-case scenario," with the modems now used in the systems in Florida, "is that a man-in-the-middle attack could actually intercept the totals that are being electronically-transmitted over the Internet, and manipulate them --- not only to the central tabulator, but re-routing back into the actual digital voting machine and altering the results in that device," he warns. "You could have a complete disaster here."
Sancho may be familiar to some listeners from his landmark appearance in HBO's Emmy-nominated 2006 documentary Hacking Democracy, in which he allows an experiment by "white hat" Finnish hacker Harri Hursti. In the film's climactic scene, we see an actual hack of one of Leon County's optical scan systems, as carried out by Hursti in a mock election. The hack flips the results of the election in a way that would never be noticed by elections officials, save for a manual examination of the hand-marked paper ballots cast.
Sancho also offers his concerns today about whether the 2020 Presidential election could become a redux of what played out in Florida in 2000, when a weeks-long battle to determine who would be President of the United States was kicked off on Election Night, after an optical-scan tabulator --- for reasons still unknown to this day --- recorded negative 16,022 votes for Al Gore in Volusia County. The election was ultimately decided in favor of Bush by an "official" margin of just 527 votes, thanks to a right-wing U.S. Supreme Court which stopped Sancho's statewide hand recount from ever being completed...
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