A cautionary tale about elections security

If you believe the 2020 elections experienced massive fraud, or that electronic voting machines were running some software from space, then please skip this post. If you believe otherwise, then I would urge you to read my thoughts.

I was party to a massive elections fraud back in the 1970s, when I lived and worked for the city of Albany NY. Albany at the time (and still today!) was under the grip of a powerful Democratic machine, and as a city employee I was told as election day approached that I will vote, and that I will vote the Democratic party line. If I didn’t show up, or if I strayed into supporting GOP candidates, I would lose my job. Whether or not everyone’s votes were being monitored, I wasn’t going to risk it, especially as this was my first job out of college. I can’t prove anything, and my recollection might be fuzzy, but there was no denying that the city spent decades in the iron grip of this political machine.

I am telling you this because I have spent a lot of time researching voting fraud over the past several years, and can tell you that our elections have come a long way since my Albany days. I based this on first-hand knowledge, having spoken to IT managers at state offices, election researchers, and others who are in the know. Let me first present a few links for you to establish some bona fides.

First up is Alex Halderman’s analysis of the 2020 voting irregularities in Antrim County, Mich. This was the scene of numerous recounts — five of them — and the source of a lot of conspiracy theories. If you read Alex’s paper, you will see that many of these theories were easily explained by more obvious error sources, namely humans. I have met Alex in person and interviewed him on this topic and he is a very sharp guy.  His paper concludes: there is “strong empirical evidence that there are no significant errors in Antrim’s final presidential results, including due to any scanning mishap.”

Copies of the voting machine software eventually found their way to Mike Lindell and his bogus “CyberSecurity Summit” that he held in South Dakota in the summer of 2021. One of the attendees at that conference was a long-time colleague Bill Alderson. He was interested in getting the promised reward of $5M to prove voting irregularities. You can watch Bill’s interview with local TV news where he unequivocally states that the data claimed by Lindell was a nothing burger (he had more colorful language when I spoke to him this week). In other words, there was no fraud, no evidence, nada. Bill never got a dime for his troubles, BTW.

There was several other county voting offices who were invaded by so-called security analysts looking for fraud. But they ended up doing their own fraud — and are now being charged for this by various legal efforts. These folks obtained copies of similar machine software and vote tally data cards. One of these locales was Coffee County, Geo. The AP ran this story about what happened last September and there was plenty of video footage, along with the data cards shown in the photo below that were given to these analysts. (Here is an excellent analysis from Lawfare too.)

As the 2020  election was happening, I was part of the CISA press group who was on the phone interviewing various officials on November 3rd. Granted, CISA had their own horn to toot, but from the evidence that I saw, the election happened without any major troubles. Yes, Chris Krebs lost his job shortly thereafter, which should tell you something about his integrity.

One lie that I hear often is the manipulation of mail-in ballots was done in a such way to swing the vote totals. Here is another data point: Colorado has been running universal mail-in ballots (meaning every registered voter gets one by mail, whether they want to use it or not is up to them). For years they have running fair and accurate elections. Neither major party had a problem with that, until the more recent elections. Here is a link to their info page, just to give you an idea of what they do. (Many states have had pre-Covid universal mail-in operations, BTW.)

Now, I warned you  — here comes the hard part for me to write about. We are approaching a very dangerous time in our country. There are many people who believe this massive voting fraud happened, despite various genuine IT consultants’ evidence to the contrary. I am not here to try to convince them of the error of their ways.

But let’s talk about something that I find even more distressing. Please check out this recent Politico post on what happened last week at the Vegas BlackHat conference. To provide some context, each year this hacking event features various “villages” where a bunch of attendees come to try to break stuff, in this particular case voting machines. (I wrote about the 2020 election village DEFCON event for Avast here.) Given the state of our society right now, this year they put on some extra physical security for the event. And if you believe Politico’s reporting is accurate, it is very chilling to see.

By now many of us have heard about how elections officials have been threatened both at home and at their offices. According to a March 2022 study from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, one in six election workers have experienced threats because of their job, and 77% said those threats had increased in recent years. Many have quit the field entirely.

That is bad enough, but now these threats have blossomed beyond the folks running the elections to include digital security researchers that are looking into election and voting-related matters. And I am thinking about my early Albany experience. Yes, we have issues with vote counting and certainly there is plenty of mistakes made over the years. But to annoy and threaten the people who in many cases volunteer their time and do their civic duty and claim they have evil intent, just because the election didn’t go your way is a horse of a different color.

Where do we go from here? I don’t know. But thanks for reading this far.

4 thoughts on “A cautionary tale about elections security

  1. “If you believe the 2020 elections experienced massive fraud, or that electronic voting machines were running some software from space, then please skip this post. ”
    This made me laugh because all the cultists’ beliefs are quite easily “trumped” by actual facts, whether it’s regarding voting or Russian interference and collusion in 2016. (Whenever you hear “Russia hoax” – know the person is a liar or stupid…) Anyway – thanks for this, David!

  2. David, wow, thanks for this. I was worried before, now even more so. I read the Politico article. I’m so glad for the work that the folks at DEF CON’s Voter Village are doing, and that they are being so careful about protecting their own safety. It’s terrifying that it’s even necessary. Overall, I’m pretty pessimistic about this country’s future. I’ve shared before that I think Section 230 has been incredibly damaging, yet I do get that restricting “Speech” (if we *could* even change the law to achieve that) would be a slippery slope. In any case, the genie, er the demon, is out of the bottle. I wonder if, 30 years ago, the US had so many people prone to conspiracy thinking who are willing to become violent to act on their delusions. Where did these people come from? Were they always there? TFG may have emboldened them, but what laid the groundwork for that mentality? BTW a friend who lives in Eastern Queens was a regular poll worker on election days, but he no longer does it as he doesn’t feel safe.

  3. This is from Grant Thompson, an old friend:
    Thanks for this excellent piece and for the links.

    These are perhaps the most disturbing times in my lifetime (I’m almost 83 years old) for our democracy. There are so many independent trends that are converging on American society at once, increasing distrust, anger, and lack of community. For example:

    The decline of widely trusted news sources whose word conveyed weight (Walter Cronkite, Time Magazine, etc.).
    The creation of algorithm-driven bubbles that divide and concentrate information.
    Covid, which has closed common spaces where we mingle.
    Income inequality, which has created justified anger/envy and segregated our common spaces by wealth.
    Decline of public education and influence of legacy or wealth driven admissions policies.
    Deeply embedded racism in American society.
    Gun culture that has eroded public confidence in communal safety.
    Glorification of individual effort, ignoring factors of luck, family, etc. – emphasizing “blame the victim:

    Those are just items that occur to me. What is interesting to contemplate is that these are not the result of any one group or set of circumstances, or even philosophy — but they coalesce and together drive us away from community and unity – they tell us that we are not our brother’s keeper, that we are not all in this together, that success is an individual accomplishment with no aid from others.

  4. Thanks for this piece David. At a certain level – above the people who can’t be convinced that the system works – are the leaders of their movement – who do know that the election wasn’t rigged and don’t care. The “New Conservatives” or “NatCons” are against the very idea of a liberal democracy – so elections no longer matter to them. The so called intellectual home of this movement is here:


    Democracies are hard to build and easy to destroy. They’re counting on that.

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