Senator Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), who went to Russia this past July 4 and says we should overlook Russia’s election meddling, enjoyed one of the most surprising election wins of 2016 after Russia compromised his state’s election system.
By Jennifer Cohn (posts 1–36) and
Patrick Simpson (posts 37–42)
July 11, 2018
- A contingency of Republican senators spent the 4th of July in Moscow. https://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/republican-senator-returns-moscow-says-election-meddling-overblown
- Some of the senators returned with a relatively “strident tone” toward Russia. Senator Kennedy of Louisiana, for example, told CNN “that the message for Russia was, ‘stop screwing with American elections.’” (Id.)
- And Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas said that he wanted “Russians to hear that Republicans from the United States Senate believe that meddling occurred, that it needs to stop … And that’s a component criteria before any kind of relationship change can really occur that needs to come to an end.” (Id.)
- But Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin suggested upon his return that the U.S. has gone too far in punishing Russia for its election meddling:
“I’ve been pretty upfront that the election interference — as serious as that was, and unacceptable — is not the greatest threat to our democracy … We’ve blown it way out of proportion.” (Id.)
5. “Johnson elaborated on his position in a Monday interview with WOSH-AM radio, in which he said there were more serious threats” and that it’s “very difficult to really meddle in our elections. It just is. These are locally run, it’s almost impossible to change the vote tally.”
6. Johnson is wrong. As explained in the July 2017 congressional testimony of Computer Science Professor Alex Halderman, “hacking a national election in the United States would be, well, shockingly easy.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD3qqBfU0no
7. According to a recent study by Penn Wharton (University of Pennsylvania, just two vendors — Election Systems & Software (ES&S) and Dominion Voting — account for about 80% of U.S. election equipment. https://trustthevote.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017-whartonoset_industryreport.pdf
8. Thus, if a hacker or insider attacked just one of those vendors, it would affect election equipment throughout the United States.
9. Hackers did in fact breach a Florida electronic pollbook supplier called VR Systems and “at least two other providers of critical election services well before the 2016 voting, said current & former intelligence officials….[who] would not disclose the names of the companies.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/us/politics/russia-election-hacking.html
10. And that’s not all. The New York Times recently published an explosive piece on ES&S (44% of US election equipment), which revealed that the vendor has sold systems with remote access software. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/magazine/the-myth-of-the-hacker-proof-voting-machine.html
11. “Voting machine vendor ES&S offered a remote access option in 2006 and in 2011, according to The New York Times.” https://www.csoonline.com/article/3267625/security/want-to-hack-a-voting-machine-hack-the-voting-machine-vendor-first.html
12. A Florida Department of State report shows that Dominion has also sold systems with “remote access” software. https://www.csoonline.com/article/3267625/security/want-to-hack-a-voting-machine-hack-the-voting-machine-vendor-first.htm lWhen asked to explain, Dominion said it “does not remote into any Florida customer site,” and that “this is not a method by which we provide customer service.” (Id.)
13. As of 2009, Dominion’s touchscreen ballot markers apparently came “equipped with a convenient slotted hole that allows anyone to stuff ballots directly into the locked ballot box.” https://radyananda.wordpress.com/2009/06/08/ballot-stuffing-holes-illegal-usb-ports-add-to-sequoia-dominion-voting-system-flaws/
14. They reportedly also came “equipped with USB ports” that could “facilitate network, internet and wireless access.” (Id.)
15. Meanwhile, as explained by election expert Andrew Appel — a professor of Computer Science at Princeton University — all voting machines can be hacked through the internet, even if the voting machine itself isn’t connected to it. https://freedom-to-tinker.com/2016/09/20/which-voting-machines-can-be-hacked-through-the-internet/
16. This is because “all voting machines must accept electronic input files” via a “cartridge or memory card … prepared on an Election Management (EMS) computer” that is itself likely connected to the internet from time to time. (Id.)
17. Here is another source explaining that Election Management Systems are often connected to the internet and thus present an opportunity for internet hackers to transfer malware to the voting machines. https://thinkprogress.org/how-easy-would-it-be-to-rig-the-next-election-819326cbbbd/
18. Moreover, results from the precincts are often transmitted into a central tabulator over a local area network, so that the “chain-of-custody of the images is not provable, and images may be manipulated in transmission by network-based attacks.” https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/jillstein/pages/26798/attachments/original/1480973902/Wisconsin_Hursti_Affidavit_11-28-16_(00268311x9CCC2).pdf?1480973902
19. Central tabulators, in turn, transmit results to online election night reporting systems creating another opportunity for internet hacking of votingmachine tallies.
20. In addition, a hacker would not have to actually change voter registration information or vote tallies to alter an election outcome. A “denial-of-service” attack could simply make electronic pollbooks or voting machines fail so that people cannot vote at all.
21. Senator Johnson of Wisconsin, however, may have an incentive to deny the vulnerability of U.S. elections to meddling by Russia or even domestic actors.
22. During the 2015–16 election cycle, the Political Action Committee for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker accepted $1.1 million “from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank.”
23. Trump also won the state of Wisconsin after Wisconsin’s voter registration systems were compromised by Russia.
24. And Wisconsin election official administrator Michael Haas has acknowledged that some of its voting equipment in 2016 was indeed connected to the internet! https://columbusfreepress.com/article/real-story-recount … …
25. Presumably, he was referring to Wisconsin’s use of DS200 ballot scanners made by ES&S, which “upgraded” them in 2015 to include cellular modems! https://www.democraticunderground.com/12512657652
26. The scanning machines in at least three Wisconsin counties in 2016 were equipped with such modems to allow results to be transferred over the internet. https://whowhatwhy.org/2016/12/14/voting-machines-may-hackable/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=SocialWarfare
27. Wisconsin’s own election records (available online) show that the state specifically approved the switch to cellular modems for its ES&S DS200 scanners the year before the 2016 election. (via @SwissTriple_M https://twitter.com/swisstriple_m/status/814550190053003265?s=21)
28. Here’s a screenshot from an ES&S blog in which a Wisconsin county clerk gushes about the DS200’s modeming capabilities:
29. In the Wisconsin presidential race, “[e]lection night’s unofficial returns found Trump ahead of Clinton by 27,000 votes. But Clinton won only counties using all-paper ballot systems, the computer voting experts said. In the counties using a mix of electronic and paper-based voting systems that President Obama won in 2012, Clinton lost by a wider range of margins. “
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30. Notice also the 4.7% red shift between the unadjusted exit polls and the official result in the Wisconsin 2016 results for the presidency. (This chart was created by Jonathan Simon, election integrity advocate and author of Code Red: Computerized Elections and the War on Democracy: https://www.amazon.com/CODE-RED-Computerized-Elections-Democracy/dp/1719301646 )
31. The only way to know if electronic tallies have been manipulated is to count the paper ballots by hand or to conduct a forensic analysis of the voting equipment. https://medium.com/@jhalderm/want-to-know-if-the-election-was-hacked-look-at-the-ballots-c61a6113b0ba
32. It is impossible for candidates or citizens to conduct such a forensic analysis because the courts refuse to allow it on the basis that counties and vendors sign contracts agreeing to the proprietary nature of the software.
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/heres-how-hackers-could-mess-with-electronic-voting [“Plus, much of this voting technology is proprietary, so forensic auditors couldn’t independently scrub for and detect malicious software, especially given such code might delete itself after Election Day, Scott said.”]
https://www.thenation.com/article/touch-and-go-elections-perils-electronic-voting/ [“[T]he public can’t examine the very software they use to vote. In fact, such scrutiny is illegal. The voting software that runs on the electronic machines is considered ‘proprietary information’ by the companies that produce it, therefore no one, not even election officials, can access it.”]
33. After the 2016 election, Trump opposed a hand recount in Wisconsin, and the court refused to order one. https://journaltimes.com/news/state-and-regional/judge-denies-request-for-hand-recount-of-wisconsin-s-presidential/article_f3a6bf05-2d54-53de-9a42-e0b0e943272d.html
34. Although some Wisconsin counties voluntarily agreed to recount by hand, most large Wisconsin counties refused. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/jillstein/pages/28865/attachments/original/1489759688/FinalRecountReport-WI.pdf?1489759688
35. Partisan officials also stymied the hand recount in Racine County, Wisconsin, when it didn’t match the machine recount. See this video at 2:15. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=D1284ARxFag
36. Johnson himself surprisingly won re-election in 2016, with President Donald Trump on the top of the ticket.
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37. The Washington Post considered him the most vulnerable Senator in 2016. http://archive.jsonline.com/blogs/news/282051371.html
38. The NRCC even stopped spending money on him in the lead up to the election. https://www.thedailybeast.com/republicans-left-ron-johnson-for-dead-last-year-now-he-could-kill-their-health-care-bill
39. “He had a 36% approval rating in the leadup to the election.” http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/senate-races/232317-polls-show-mixed-support-for-vulnerable-gop-senators-in-2016
40. And let’s not forget that Cambridge Analytica also waged election psy-ops on the citizens of Wisconsin. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/16/15657512/cambridge-analytica-facebook-alexander-nix-christopher-wylie
41. Senator Ron Johnson owes his re-election to Donald Trump and the Government of Russia.
42. Without the #GrandOldPutinParty, Russ Feingold would be a senator in Wisconsin — and the Senate would be tied.
Paragraph 29 previously stated as follows based on an error in the underlying Alternet piece, an error that Alternet has since changed & thus I have since changed. (I include the screenshot from the prior version of the Alternet piece for reference below because I had also included that screenshot in the original version of paragraph 29 with a link to the Alternet article):