Computer Scientist Barbara Simons on Hacking, Paper Ballots, and Securing U.S. Elections
Sarah and Andrea interview Barbara Simons PhD, a computer scientist who specializes in election security, to answer the question on everyone’s mind: can our voting machines be attacked? Were they attacked in 2016? What’s in store for the midterms, and what can we, as citizens, do to protect our democracy? Plus a news recap, including Oleg Sentsov's 100th day on hunger strike protesting the treatment of political prisoners in Russia (#FreeSentsov), Omarosa's receipts, and Manafort's endless trial.
Gaslit Nation Episode 004
Sarah Kendzior: Welcome to Gaslit Nation. I'm Sarah Kendzior. I'm a journalist and a scholar of authoritarian states with the focus on the former Soviet Union.
Andrea Chalupa: I'm Andrea Chalupa, a writer, filmmaker, who has been covering Ukraine and Russian aggression there from several years now. This is "Car Talk," but instead of cars, we talk about authoritarianism.
Sarah Kendzior: We're a new podcast. We launched a couple months ago, and we've been covering the corruption and atrocities of the Trump regime, and particularly, the Mueller probe and the investigation into Trump and Kremlin interference.
Our first three episodes are available online. They covered the year 2016, the year that inspired the title of our show because Andrea and I spent that year being ‘gaslit’along with millions of Americans who realized what was at stake. Trump is a Russian asset. Trump is a white supremacist. Trump, if elected, was going to instill a kleptocratic dynastic power.
As we called out for these things to stop, unfortunately we were labeled hysterical. We were labeled alarmist. Trump is in. What we said has come to pass. However, it's not too late. We're interested in breaking down what happened because you can't make change without understanding what the problem is and also looking for new solutions.
Today, on our first Gaslit Nation episode where we have an interview, we're going to be talking to Barbara Simons. She's a computer scientist who focuses on election integrity. She's also somebody who has been crying out for very long time that our voting system is not secure, that machines are hackable, that things need to be changed. And so, we're really excited to share what she has to say with everybody especially before the midterms.
Before that, however, we're going to do a review of the news from the last few weeks. Our first item is on Ukraine. Now, Andrea is an expert on Ukraine. She's going to break down what's happening there. But I just want to preface this by saying, Ukraine throughout the Trump's various machinations, has proven to be a testing ground for the tactics that they want to use and are using on the U.S. You see this in everything from election interference which a direct correlation with people like Manafort who did that prior to taking charge of the Trump campaign.
You see that with cyber-attacks where they hacked the Ukrainian grid. You see this with attacks on political dissidents, suppression of freedom of speech and other issues. I'm going to turn over the news now to Andrea who is going to bring you the story of a dissident under threat.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. This is going to be a hard one for me to talk about. I've been following this story for some years now, and his story has been weighing heavily on me, especially lately. We're focusing, now, on Crimea. Russia's invasion of Crimea in February 2014.
Oleg Sentsov: he is a Ukrainian Filmmaker whose career was on the rise. He was volunteering at the time as an office manager helping protesters, activists in Crimea keep things organized, keep things running. Like any good director, that's what they like to do. I'm going to read from an August 2015 article that I wrote for the Daily Beast about Oleg Sentsov and what happened to him in Crimea.
"Few filmmakers achieve the meteoric success of Oleg Sentsov. After self-funding his first feature, Gamer, shot for $20,000, he received wide acclaim at the film’s premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2012. The story is a raw, realistic portrayal of the isolation and glory dreams of a young video game player stuck in a small Ukrainian town. The sensitivity to his amateur actors (real gamers Sentsov met in his years running a gaming club for kids in Crimea), and the film’s intimacy earned Sentsov praise as a director. It also landed him funding for his next project, a gangster drama called Rhino. This was a director to watch.
But last year, Sentsov put his artistic ambitions on hold and joined the revolution sweeping his country, activism that made him a target of the Russian secret police. In May 2014, shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he was kidnapped from his home in Simferopol—the Crimean capital—and tortured and interrogated."
Oleg Sentsov… has been in prison ever since. He was moved to one of the worst prisons inside Russia. On May 14, he announced that he was going on a hunger strike. He's been on a hunger strike ever since, and he is around Day 100. And his health is rapidly deteriorating, his family, his friends feel completely helpless watching this. Anybody who cares about human rights feels completely helpless watching this.
Of course, what's going to happen is Putin is going to let him die in prison. That's really what we're watching here is an innocent person following this long tradition of Kremlin oppression wasting away inside prison. Stalin did this during the purges, of course, and under Putin, Stalin has been resurrected as a great hero. Putin is going to just stick to his guns and allow Oleg Sentsov to die. A warning to anybody who has tried to get in his way, tries to protest him whether it's something like a social media post or taking to the streets. It's very painful watching this happen.
That's why I said to Sarah, "We're starting the news roundup with Oleg Sentsov." This is essentially the start of a funeral for him and a memorial to the countless victims inside Russia.
Sarah Kendzior: I'm glad that you started with it. I guess, some things people should know about both of us is that we both have a lot of experience working with political dissidents who were targeted by authoritarian states. I used to be an expert witness in court for asylum seekers from Uzbekistan who were targeted by that government. I think there's this tendency in the U.S. to romanticize the life of a dissident, to see it as this noble quest with suffering, but with some kind of inevitable win or some honor that's innately bestowed. The reality is very grim. The reality is heart-breaking. You're risking your life, you're risking your family's safety, you're putting yourself out there for a dream and for justice that may never be seen. I want people to know that.
I'm not saying that to discourage people in the U.S. or in Ukraine or anywhere else from participating in principled actions against corrupt governments. I absolutely think they should, but I think I'm really glad that you brought this up because people need to realize the human side of this, the risk of this, and that the good guys don't always win but it is worth it. It's worth it always to put up a fight. I don't know what else we're living for.
Andrea Chalupa: That's exactly what Oleg Sentsov has said. He's not simply on a hunger strike for himself, he's on a hunger strike for the dozens of political prisoners being held inside Russia. One human rights group estimated that there are 88 people being held in Russia for activities related to protesting the war in Ukraine. Just to underline what Sarah just said, Oleg Sentsov himself is fighting for this higher ideal, what it means to be human. This is his quote. He said, "If we are supposed to become nails in the coffin of tyrant, I'd like to be one of those nails. Just know that this particular nail won’t bend... It's Episode 4 and I'm already crying. I can't-
Sarah Kendzior: It's okay! People need to know that this is happening and people need to ... I don't know. Sometimes there's this tendency to view the conflicts in Ukraine or anywhere abroad is this abstract international relations issues where there are winners and losers. I think that people, they miss the human side of it. I think I wrote in my book like when you have to be humanized, it means you're already losing, but we see that. I hope people grasp this. I hope people understand the nature of this kind of sacrifice. Often, this is the kind of thing that it takes to win. We have a tradition of that in the United States as well. This is a universal problem, I think, of corruption, of oppression, and of the bravery of some who are willing to stand up to it no matter what the consequences are for them.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. No. Absolutely. When we talk about oppression, in authoritarian states, what the massive casualties of these dictators - the human potential of these countries, of these people. Imagine how the Russian people would be contributing given the mass amount of creativity there, if they didn't have a dictator like Putin holding them down. The human potential that's being robbed from us. Imagine all the solutions they'd be contributing in terms of technological advancements in terms of confronting all the massive crises, from environmental catastrophe to cleaning up the space junk, what have you. We need the Russian mind to be free and right now, it's not. When you talk about the casualties of authoritarian regimes, Oleg Sentsov is not only a casualty because of what he's undergoing now, this slow death that he's undergoing now. We're also deprived of his creativity, of his films.
He turned one of my favorite short stories, Salinger's A Perfect Day For Bananafish. He turned that into a short film. This was somebody that was on his way to collaborating with major European filmmakers because they spotted his talent. I know you may think films are frivolous and for entertainment, but having a filmmaker like Oleg Sentsov from Ukraine making it, what he's essentially doing is bringing in greater opportunity for Ukraine, a country that's been devastated from years of corruption and years of decay under Soviet occupation. You absolutely need that type of energy, that type of economic opportunity flooding into the country and it would have done so through a rising star like Oleg Sentsov. Films ... even the bad ones, films create jobs. Films create opportunity and growth for people. A lot of this is also that we're being deprived and Ukraine is being deprived from that human potential.
I think we need to move on. Yeah. Please, if you could, pay attention to what's going on to Oleg Sentsov if you could share the hashtag, #FreeSentsov. If you go to Dame Magazine when the fourth episode of Gaslit Nation publishes, we'll have some extra steps you can take there to help Oleg Sentsov and other political prisoners inside Russia. Crimea: we forget what it means. It's the first time that borders changed by force since World War II, the list of human rights abuses is very long there including a clamping down of the press. Because our president is a Russian asset, Trump says he can override congress and recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea.
Sarah Kendzior: I remember in 2014 that it was greeted with intense shock. People could not believe that Russia was doing this. It was referred to as an invasion and there was concern for humanitarian crisis, concern about violation of international law. Over time, the tenor of the coverage changed so that it was normalized due in part to the passage of time, but because of the actions of people like Manafort, who were over in Ukraine, who were hired purposely to install a certain propaganda narrative in Western Media.
Some of the court documents released recently, they talk about that. They discuss how he sought to plan certain narratives about Ukraine and Crimea in the Western Press. I guess you could say the complicity of the Western Media. I feel like this is something that should be labeled. It's not like media outlets committed illegal action in running these I bet, but you should say, "This was brought to us by a lobbyist who is advocating for the interest of a certain individual."
I feel like there should be transparency in that. I think the lack of transparency, and lobbying in media has been a serious problem, but it's something to listen to you bring this up how norm shattering this was and how people have just shrugged and said, "Yeah, that's the way it is. Crimea is part of Russia."
This is another example of how easily norms can change, how easily the unthinkable can happen, which is of course something you should keep in mind when you're living in a United States, that's overseen by Donald Trump.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. Nothing about the invasion / occupation of Crimea is normal. It's a melting pot of different ethnicities. Of course, the Crimean Tatars have been there before anybody. There is no natural claim to Crimea by anyone. It was politically, for many decades, under Ukraine. Ukraine built it up, built up the infrastructure, invested all this money on making Crimea what it is today and Russia just snatched it. Of course, when you have an aggressive determined regime like the Kremlin, they're not going to stop there. They're eventually going to come to you and they eventually came to the U.S. We no longer have the moats of our oceans to protect us. They're able to hack our elections and really tip the scales for Donald Trump, an illegitimate president.
And it's hurting the Russian people themselves, obviously, because they're getting sanctioned. Because you have to sanction Putin. If you don't, he will keep going and the sanctions are working, the sanctions are containing them I believe, because it could be a lot worse than it already is. The journalist, Simon Ostrovsky, sums this up perfectly. Simon tweeted, "When I lived in Russia, the ruble hovered around 30 to the dollar for years and years. It still blows my mind. It has lost more than half its value since the annexation of Crimea. Imagine trading half your people's savings for a small piece of another country.”
The U.S. just passed further sanctions against Russia. This is from CBS, "The Trump administration will impose new sanctions on Russia, alleging that President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government used a chemical weapon to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in an assassination attempt in Great Britain, the State Department said Wednesday. Congress has been notified, and the sanctions will go into effect on Aug. 22.” The State Department officials said to reporters on a call, "The economic impact to the sanctions would be in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars."
Sarah Kendzior: We've already seen some of the oligarchs would be affected by them find other means of getting by, like Roman Abramovich has now become an Israeli citizen so that he can be somewhat removed from the effects of the sanctions. This is yet another situation where ordinary people may be hurt, but there's these gangs of oligarchs and plutocrats may still escape by.
Andrea Chalupa: At the same time, it's just the passage of them. Sanctions do matter or else, Putin wouldn't have gone to all this trouble to invade our election.
Sarah Kendzior: Absolutely.
Andrea Chalupa: The name of the game of that whole Trump tower meeting was about getting sanctions dropped. Putin, as a deal maker, he is impatient and he wants everything. He really pushes negotiations to the far limit. Thisisgetting under his skin. Even if let's say these sanctions take a very long time to kick in, just this effect that they're being passed it's like an embarrassmentfor him.
It's like Putin should have a T-shirt that says, "I stole the election for Donald Trump, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt and more sanctions." His oligarchs around him must be like, "What is happening? Why are they doing this to us after all that we've done for them?" And that's also been the tone on Russian State TV.
Well so Russia is now hacking space, they're not content just with democracy they're now going after the satellites, and space. A U.S state department official announced the U.S has serious concerns that Russia is developing anti-satellite weapons, presumably they're going to use these weapons holding them like a gun to our heads if America's deep state doesn't stop this witch hunt against its asset. [Laughs]
Why else would they be picking up all this activity, threatening our satellites now?
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, exactly. So you know there's a lot of jokes being made about “Space Force”, and I think like any kind of Trump - sponsored initiative, Space Force is likely a money laundering venture in certain ways. I certainly don't think it's going to be designed and run appropriately, but at the same time there is a genuine national security threat here in terms of what Russia or any country could do to satellites. I tend to be somewhat suspicious of whether Russia would attack ... let's say Russia would not attack Trump, Russia would attack the U.S.
Trump would also attack the U.S. that's something that people need to get through their heads, is that Trump and a few others in the administration, but in particular him, [he] does not care what happens to U.S citizens. He doesn't care, for example, what happens to veterans, he doesn't care if people are deprived of resources.
He only cares about his money, his family, holding on to power, and not going to jail. So if there is some kind of humanitarian crisis caused by a cyber-attack, or caused by something involving satellites, he's only going to care to the extent that it affects him. Maybe he won't be able to get on Twitter, and harass people as easily.
Andrea Chalupa: I think if Trump would've run away to Russian, just like Yanukovych, Manafort’s previous client before him. I think he would be like, "Use the nuclear weapons, Vlad, bomb New York, and CNN." If he got his hands on another country's nuclear weapons, I think he would actually pull the trigger --
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, he doesn't have any baseline loyalty to the U.S, and he doesn't have any basic human empathy. The most likely scenario unfortunately for now is that he stays in power. I think if he was removed from the White House it's more likely to be kicking, and screaming, and handcuffed out although the likelihood of that seems to be going down but I could easily see that. He doesn't care ... to put him mildly, what happens to average people in the U.S.
Andrea Chalupa: For most of our lives Sarah, all we've witnessed is institutional failure, from-
Sarah Kendzior: Absolutely.
Andrea Chalupa: ... George. W. Bush stealing the election in 2000 in Florida, from George. W. Bush likely stealing the election in 2004 with what went on in Ohio, and then of course the trumped-up invasion of Afghanistan, and Iraq which the media establishment seemed to get lockstep in to support. Then-
Sarah Kendzior: The financial crisis with no one punished.
Andrea Chalupa: Yes! Yes. Which is allowed to get bailed out, and they're just back out it again. We could be on the verge of another crisis, that's why you and I ... at least privately. I don't know what you've put out there, but I think we're holding our breath on whether the Muller investigation will actually lead to anything because we haven't seen that pattern. We've seen the opposite pattern, where people have gotten away with stealing the savings of millions. When it comes to Mueller, and whether that's going to bear fruit, whether Manafort is going to have a guilty plea or not, whether Manafort is going to end up in prison for the rest of his life as he should or not. I mean it's depressing that you and I, at least privately are like, "We don't know what this could lead to, if anything, given the track record of the decline of American institutions."
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, absolutely. It's frustrating 'cause there are all these people who want us to put faith in our institutions, but faith has to be earned and there is no reason for us to have faith in any of this happening especially when the mostcorrupt elements are now holding the reins.
They're in a position where they can stack courts, they can fire investigators, they can try to rewrite laws, and they don't have shame. Norms have been shattered, law is the only thing that remains and that law gets chipped at every single day. To go back to what we talked about in the previous episode I'm still wondering why, when all of this was happening in front of our faces, and when you had people like Mueller giving speeches like he did in 2011 about this new criminal nexus between organized crime governments, corporations, and basically predicting everything that was to come for the next seven years, why people weren't able to put a stop to it. That can be ... there's a number of reasons; there is opportunism, there is incompetence, there is bureaucracy.
But to go back to what we were just talking about with the hacking, I've wondered, (especially since about 2014 stuff, when the hacking really ... the cyber attacks on the U.S really increased), whether the real compromise, is not some personal blackmail that Russia or other actors are holding over the country, and individuals in the country? But whether it's a systemic attack. Whether people are held back in their ability to solve criminal justice problems, to clamp down of corruption by a potential humanitarian crisis that could be unleashed fairly easily if they are able, for example, to control our grid, control air traffic? I'm probably terrifying everybody, but-
Andrea Chalupa: And our satellites.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, but so we apologize. Don't listen to this before you sleep. I don't mean to frighten people, but I do wish that all these things were taken more seriously and discussed in a more forthright way because that's the only way that the can be resolved. We're citizens, we deserve answers, you deserve answers, and so I don't think there's anything wrong floating that possibility when so much evidence seems to lead in that direction. If I'm wrong, I will be absolutely thrilled to be wrong.
Peter Strzok: I will not answer that question.
Speaker: The witness will answer the question.
Reporter: Embattled FBI agent Peter Strzok faced off with house Republicans in his first public hearing, which descended into chaos after his first answer. Strzok expressed remorse for how the thousands of text messages he exchanged with former colleague Lisa Page have been used to question the integrity of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Strzok sort to explain one of his most controversial texts when he assured Page that, "We'll stop Trump."
Peter Strzok: It was in response to a series of events that included then candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero, and my presumption based on that horrible disgusting behavior that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States.
[End Media Clip]
Andrea Chalupa: We have here in America a good old fashioned purge going on, and it has moments of acceleration just like it did these last two weeks, FBI agent Peter Strzok was fired over his anti-Trump texts. You all remember Peter Strzok, he basically spoke for all of us in that congressional hearing.
Trump revoked former CIA Director, and high profile Trump critic John Brennan’s security clearance, Philip Rucker of the Washington Post tweeted“Trump is also reviewing security clearances of James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page, all political critics of Trump.” We always knew he had an “enemies list” as a private citizen.
Sarah Kendzior: Oh yeah, he's bragged about his Enemies List, it wasn't secret. He's talked about it, and I think in this case it's annoying in some respects that people kept looking for parallels to Watergate. Cause for one, this is much worse, this is not a domestic crisis, this is a matter of treason.
This is a serious threat to national security, but also they keep expecting a replication. They want to see that Saturday Night Massacre, to prove that this is for real. We've been seeing a slow motion Saturday Night Massacre with the firings of Comey, of McCabe, and this is a very typical a part of authoritarian consolidation. When you get an autocrat in power, and especially if they're brought through in a democratic system, this is how they chip away at accountability, at oversight, and at anybody who they feel can bring them down. They both seek to de-legitimize them in the public sphere, but also remove any legal power that they may have. These are all people who are witnesses to the firing of Comey, they're witnesses to these politically motivated firings while being victims of politically motivated firings themselves.
I expect this to continue, it's one of the reasons that I want Mueller to move faster, to ... not to wrap things up, that's not what I'm saying at all because this is a very enormous and extensive investigation. It's going to take a lot of time, but I think the worst actors, the most destructive people need to be removed now because they will rewrite the law. They will fire anyone who stands in their way, they will demonize intelligence agencies. They'll demonize anyone, I mean we saw this with the attacks on the media recently. It's just going to get worse the longer that they stay in. It will become entrenched, and the people will in some respects adapt to it just as has happened in other countries that have taken this authoritarian turn in the last few years; like in Turkey, and in Poland, in Hungary, and we can't let that happen here.
Andrea Chalupa: And so now we're going to turn our attention to ... because she's demanding it, Omarosa. You all remember Omarosa, let's play that famous clip of hers.
Steven Miller: Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the President to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.
[End Media Clip]
Andrea Chalupa: Oh wait, no sorry. That was Steven Miller who's still in the White House. This is Omarosa.
Omarosa: Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump.
[End Media Clip]
Andrea Chalupa: Now I do have to say ... I know we just talked about how for most of our lives all you and I have known is institutional failure, but Omarosa coming out here and just blasting everybody ... I mean, yes she's pointing out the obvious that Trump is racist, that he covets his daughter Ivanka, that Ivanka is so used to it and she’s essentially like her father ... there's a lot of juicy stuff that I'm really enjoying, so thank you Omarosa for that.
But one surprising aspect of this whole story that is actually filling me with optimism is this: Omarosa is a professional social climber. A social climber like her can recognize that Jared and Ivanka too are going to cling on for dear life no matter what happens, because they too are professional social climbers. The fact that Omarosa, who has seen Jared and Ivanka up-close, sees what they are made of, and is not impressed, and is just burningthat Trump bridge down.
First and foremost, the Trump clan ... clan with a K, the Trump klan values loyalty. Loyalty is the number one commodity for the Trumps. She could have made a lot more money writing a book called, I Am Donald Trump's Black Friend. Everybody on the far right would buy it so they could go home for Thanksgiving and tell their hipster relatives, "I can't be racist, I bought Omarosa's book." So she could arguably make a lot more money that way, and the fact that she is trying to cross over and just airing it all out ... If your ship is sinking to the point that even Omarosa is getting off, that actually makes me optimistic of what lies ahead.
Sarah Kendzior: I'm a lot more mixed on that, I think Omarosa is one of the smarter people that's come out of this White House. I think she has a very good understanding of media. If she came from trump's orbit, she understands him. My question is just what is the goal here? Where does her loyalty lie?
Because for the Trumps ... I mean yeah, it might bother Jared and Ivanka about social climbing, whatnot, but they have serious goals. They're trying to build a dynastic kleptocracy, and the obstacle to that isn't scandal, it's legal obstacles. Some of what Omarosa is doing reminds me a bit of the Michael Wolff book that came out earlier in the year, which everyone was like, "Oh my god, this is so terrible for Trump."
And I was thinking, "No, Michael Wolff's book is actually really good because ..." for Trump I mean, not as a book because it portrays them as incompetent, it portrays Trump as removed from daily activity in the White House. There's some of that in Omarosa's book as well, and when you're the target of a criminal probe, that's a much better representation than saying that you are aware, you are complicit.
If Omarosa is going to continue to talk about this, I hope that she goes to Mueller, but also brings forward stuff that has actually legal repercussions. 'Cause I think at heart as long as the Trump family and their cohorts have their money, have power, and are not prosecuted, they don't care if there's a scandal out there.
I mean they come from reality television. Initially I thought a lot of this is just straight out manufactured, I'm a little more skeptical of that now because I think Omarosa has her pride, and her own ambitions and they may well be clashing with those of the administration. I hope they do, so I guess we'll see in the weeks to come.
Andrea Chalupa: She told Katy Tur that she talked to Robert Mueller's office, and there was a lot of corruption on the campaign, she told the FBI. As well as the Administration, there's a lot of corruption there and that Trump knew about the hacked emails before they were released. She's really going for the jugular, which I appreciate. Yes, it's Omarosa but [laughs] I would love to see that FBI interview.
I see people talk about tapes of Trump saying offensive things which is like, what else is new? He is putting migrant children in cages, you're really going to be shocked that he said the N-word on tape? They're not really talking about the broader context of Mark Burnett's career and his relationship with Trump, because before Burnett launched The Apprentice, which of course is the show that portrayed Trump as this successful tycoon which was an image that a lot of Americans who are unfamiliar with this earlier disasters and bankruptcy. They accepted that, it really helped him in the campaign.
Before that Burnett wanted to have a show about Putin, he wanted to have a show that would bring Putin to an American audience in a flattering and positive light. He proposed that all the way back ... I think it was right after Survivor, all the way back in 2000, 2001. That's a long relationship right there.
Something that's interesting about this is that around the time that Burnett was proposing this thing that would boost the show, that would boost Putin's image in the same way that Trump's image was boosted in the U.S, Michael Caputo; who was involved with the Trump campaign, who is one of the managers for it, was working as Putin's image consultant.
So you have this nexus of individuals who all went on to play a role in the 2016 campaign - and with Kremlin interference in Trump - involved in show business, and in creating these reality TV venues for Trump and what they want to do, it was for Putin. I wonder what the tie is there, and encourage people to investigate this because this information has been in the public domain for a very long time. This is going to be my epitaph is, “this is in the public domain.”
Andrea Chalupa: “It was in the public domain!” My favorite detail before we close off of Omarosa, I know ... Omarosa if you're listening, I welcome you to Gaslit Nation. I feel like that would be a five hour show, I'd want to hear all of it. I want to hear all the tapes, I know that you recorded everybody.
My favorite little detail was that Ivanka would not stop complainingabout SNL's ‘Complicit’ perfume ad. Like her father Ivanka was thin skinned, and could not seem to take a joke. As we've said on Gaslit Nation, Ivanka is just her father but in a prettier package which makes her more dangerous because Americans love blondes.
When Sarah and I first started this podcast we didn't know what to expect, and we are still very much like a garage band podcast just trying to make this work. There's three of us; me, Sarah, and our producer Amy who relentlessly works on the editing, who go through many different drafts before we publish every show. We're thrilled by the support we're seeing online.
We want to continue growing, and we can do that with your help and the help of our sponsors. Yeah, big announcement, Gaslit Nation fourth episode: we have sponsors. And we're proud to say it because the revenue it brings in helps grow women owned and operated sites like Dame Magazine that we're proud to partner with, and Critical Frequency - also woman owned. All of this is getting important voices out into the air, so we're thrilled to have as our sponsor, ZipRecruiter.
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Andrea Chalupa: What?
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Andrea Chalupa: All right so: Manafort, let's go to the ostrich leather ankle bracelet that is Paul Manafort. It's very difficult for us to cover the Trump age because news breaks very fast, so Sarah and I had to make a decision do we wait for what the verdict is in the Paul Manafort trial? We are waiting on that still, so go to our Twitter account to see our reaction, whatever comes down the pipe from that. I can't believe it's taking this long for the jury to make a decision, I mean if you put a black light on Paul Manafort, he's coveredin political STDs. Like little microscopic Roger Stones, that's how dirty he is. For a jury to take this long, I'm like, "Oh Jesus, what's going on?"
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, I feel the same way, and also the jury wasn't sequestered. I keep thinking, "If you're Paul Manafort, you're tied to the mafia, you're tied to the Kremlin, you're tied to Donald Trump, to Roger Stone. You spend your entire life doing shady shit, what are you going to do?
You're going to mess with the jury, you're going to mess with the judge." I mean, and nothing has stopped him. When Manafort was indicted, he got indicted again for witness tampering. That was just a few months ago, so I'm surprised that knowing him, knowing what kind of shit he gets up to, that this jury could potentially be exposed to that. I really hope that that's not the direction that this court case takes, I hope everything is working as it should, but it certainly concerns me 'cause it seems like it would be pretty easy to rig it. He seems pretty smug, he's sitting in the court room winking at his wife, seemingly unconcerned. I have a bad feeling about it, I mean I guess the good part is that he's been charged with so many crimes that we may just get replays of this.
I think it will be a symbolic win or loss, regardless of what happens it will set the tenor for events to come.
Andrea Chalupa: I mean if Trump could pardon Joe Arpaio, who essentially ran a concentration camp in Arizona ... I mean Manafort looks smug as he's probably expecting a pardon. As we talked about there's that mafia loyalty between them.
Sarah Kendzior: There's the pardons, but I worry about an acquittal, I worry about a hung jury. I mean my god, by the time this episode airs-
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, that's what it's like to report in the Trump age, everything just moves too fast.
Sarah Kendzior: We'll see. If we are right, we'll keep it.
Andrea Chalupa: We'll edit it, we will be like-
Sarah Kendzior: That's the thing, is that there is-
Andrea Chalupa: ... "See, our prediction was correct. We told you it would go like X, Y, Z."
Sarah Kendzior: There's so many loopholes, there's so many ways for them to get around it. I mean that plays into what we were saying before with our concerns about the Muller probe, these are guys who've done sleazy dirty tricks their entire lives. It is literally their job, and they're old now, and they're skilled at this. I really don't think they went into this situation unprepared, they like to portray themselves as bumbling morons - maybe in the fashion department Manafort is - but I think they do know what they're doing and they're hooked up with a lot of people who have a lot of financial and political interests at stake. They're going to do everything they can to screw over the system and to manipulate it.
Andrea Chalupa: Yep, these people cannot look past themselves. It's all about their own profit at the expense of our sovereignty. In terms of where we are in the spreading cancer of authoritarianism in America, they're just out in the open now more than ever before. I mean Trump is speaking openly about how Crimea belongs to Russia, they're not even trying to hide it. The purge is accelerating, so we're at the stage of authoritarianism in America where they're exhausted and they don't have the energy to pretend anymore.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, well maybe on that note we should talk about our guest today.
Andrea Chalupa: Yes. So today we have the wonderful Barbara Simons, she is a computer scientist. For the last decade or so, she’s been trying to warn all of us about the need to secure our elections, she is a leading figure on this topic. When in doubt on election hacking, check in with Barbara Simons. Whatever she is saying is gospel, I very rarely say that about anybody. I'm always saying you need to read widely, have diverse sources, but Barbara Simons is without a doubt somebody you can absolutely trust on this because not only is she a leader on the topic, but she is also essentially a tenacious community organizer who's working across parties to secure our election systems.
Reporter: Senator Harry Reid is asking the FBI to investigate the possibility that Russia may try to manipulate the presidential election, in a letter to the FBI's director the senate minority leader wrote, "The threat is more extensive than widely known, and may include the intent to falsify official election results." Two apparent cyber breaches in June targeted voting data in Arizona and in Illinois, the FBI has issued a warning telling election officials to increase security nationwide.
Harry Reid: You know what? Everybody knew. Everybody knew that Russian hackers compromised the DNC database, everybody knew Russian hackers compromised Hillary Clinton's campaign emails because they leaked all of those. What was a lot less clear was how far did these attackers go in trying to compromise actual voter registration systems, and campaign finance systems which are critical to functioning elections. Our story today reported that the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security flagged on at least 49 states where systems were compromised and we consider electoral infrastructure - both voter registration databases which are really key to elections going off without a hitch and campaign finance databases. Within the government this set off a lot of alarms within the White House, especially because in Illinois ... which was the first state to flag this for the government, there's forensic evidence showing that the attackers tried to alter or delete information such as names and addresses. The point of that being if you change that information, somebody goes to the polls, they're not in the poll book for that location, it's going to create chaos.
Speaker: The Russians have interfered in a lot of other elections, the Russians have hacked into some of our most secret military information. The Russians have an active using as a tool as part of Vladimir Putin's ambition, to regain Russian prominence and dominance in some parts of the world.
Speaker: Senator Nelson, can you elaborate on what you told my colleague [Steve Buskay] yesterday about Russians being in Florida election records? Do you mean right now, or were you referring to 2016?
Senator Nelson: Right now.
Speaker: What do you mean by they're in the lection records? What do you mean by that?
Nelson: Just exactly what I said, they have already penetrated certain counties in the state, and they now have free reign to move about.
Speaker: But now three people familiar with the intelligence tell NBC News' Ken Delaney that there is a classified basis for Nelson's assertion, they say Nelson was talking about intelligence related to ongoing fallout from the 2016 hack of a Florida elections vendor. Nelson declined to comment, but this all shows how secrecy, politics, and divisions between state and federal systems can get in the way of a unified response for the Russians.
[End Media Clip]
Andrea Chalupa: A huge day at Gaslit Nation, Sarah Kendzior and I are here speaking with
Barbara Simons; a big celebrity in our world. She is a computer scientist, a former researcher at IBM, the coauthor of Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count? And a board member of the nonpartisan election integrity nonprofit Verified Voting.
Barbara, we are a little starstruck right now to be speaking with you. We have a lot of questions, obviously election security is a critical issue. It is now a mainstream issue because of the surprise election of Donald Trump, and Russia's blatant help in hacking the election. We have a lot of questions for you. The first of course, where are we? Could you just talk us through the landscape of election security across America right now?
Barbara Simons: Well it's a lot worse than it should be, we still have five states that people vote on totally paperless machines. In other words, there's no way to do a recount. Georgia is one of the states by the way, and of course there's a big election coming up there in November. Unless something is done to eliminate the paperless machines there, there will be no way we're going to do a recount of that election. There are also another eight states that are partially paperless; for example Pennsylvania is 83% paperless, and that's another critical state. On top of that, even where there are paper ballots there can be issues. One of the things that we saw in the 2016 recount effort is that some recount laws appear to be written to prevent recounts, that certainly seems to be the case in Pennsylvania although of course a full recount there would have been impossible because of all the paperless machines. There are other states too that had issues with that, and just to add one other point since you haven't interrupted me yet, these paper ballots tend to be counted on scanners.
What I think most people don't realize is that these scanners themselves are basically computers, I think a lot of people think of them as, "They're just counting machines." But they are in fact computers because they have to be programmed. The scanners have to be programmed to say who the candidates are, and where their locations are in the ballot, and so on. So these are computers, and because they are computers they also are vulnerable. So we have a huge task ahead of us to make our elections secure. We know how to do it, we know what needs to be done, but it's going to take a lot of effort.
Andrea Chalupa: Why aren't we doing it? Why can't we 100% secure our election systems?
Barbara Simons: Well I think there are a couple of ... there's several reasons; I think the number one reason is money, even in places that want to replace insecure voting technology with more secure photo mark paper ballot systems, this requires money and some places just don't have it. One of the things that we have been working on is trying to get federal legislation passed that will provide the adequate funding to at least get re-countable voting systems throughout the country. That's one reason.
I think another reason is that some people just don't believe that there are problems with the voting systems, and election officials ... I mean I think almost all elections just want to run honest fair elections and they're very proud of the work they do, but they may be uncomfortable with having people question how well their technology works. Which, I can understand that. That's human nature, but there can be some resistance there.
Then I think at least in the case of some politicians ... or policy makers I should say, the fact that you were elected using a particular voting system, you don't want to question if that voting systems worked correctly because of course own and you'd like to believe that you won honestly and legitimately. So there has been at least historically been a bit of resistance to asking questions about that.
Andrea Chalupa: During the 2016 election, the Obama White House offered help to states to address these concerns and not all the states took the administration up on this. Is there a way for us to ... I know the history of “States Rights” versus the federal government is obviously a very loaded issue in America's history, but is there a way for us to go in there and say, "This is for the good of all of us, I'm sorry if we're hurting your pride." But is there any way for us to go in for the good of the country? Any leverage that we have to just go in and implement these measures?
Barbara Simons: I think the carrot is better than the stick in this case, I do think they're providing the funding. It's a big incentive, there will be a lot of pushback to any effort to force states to do things a certain way. I mean there have been a few cases where the Federal legislation has been passed that requires certain steps for voting, like the Voting Rights Act which is a very famous example. But also the Help America Vote Act, which was passed in 2002 and provided almost $4 billion to buy new voting machines, and which resulted in a lot of these really insecure voting machines being purchased. But even that was voluntary, that was not required ... well, I take that back. There were requirements to get rid of certain types of voting technologies in that legislation, so there were some requirements. But I think certainly in the current climate, as you said, there is a lot of awareness and the machines are getting old. So even people who were reasonably happy with the voting machines that they have, recognize that they're getting old and they're having problems with them.
The software is very old, and there are even physical problems as the machines breaking down. I don't think we need to be really aggressive, I think the main thing is getting the money. However, there is another aspect to it which is we want to make sure that this money is used wisely, and that follow up steps are taken to check on the scanners. I think again there are ways that this can be done where at least one of the aspects of the legislation - that we're working on - is to provide a panel of experts who would come up with recommendations. Then those recommendations will be used to encourage states to invest the money wisely. I can go in a little bit to what we need to do to make our elections truly secure, paper ballots are necessary but they're not sufficient.
Andrea Chalupa: Okay, so if you ever had to go there, and all the money in the word, what would it look like to you? What are the steps we need to implement right now to have 100% peace of mind?
Barbara Simons: I'm focusing on voting machines right now, so what we need to do is first of all we need to have voting systems that produce ... where there are voter marked paper ballots. The voter mark is really critical. Typically that would be like what we have in California, where you have a paper ballot, and you take a pen, and you ... in this case, in the case of California there are broken arrows next to the candidate names and the candidate you want. You just connect two sides of the arrow, or you might fill in an oval like we used to do with the SAT tests. Those are where this is done manually by the voter. Voters with disabilities may not be able to do this, and so for them there are devices called ballot marking devices which look like some of these really bad machines but in fact ... they look like these old touchscreen machines, but in fact what they do is they produce a paper ballot where the selections have been made by the voter.
That's what I mean by voter marked paper ballots, and perhaps the critical distinction is that these ballots should not be counted in the same machines that creates them. So these ballot marking devices do not count the ballots, the ballots are then put into a separate machine which is a scanner. We basically need these standalone paper ballots, and we need to check on the scanners. It the machines that mark the ballots also count the ballots then we have to worry about other technical issues there, so it's just better to have the counting be done by separate systems which is what people are basically coming up with these days. I mean, the newest systems are like this, so this is not anything radical.
Andrea Chalupa: So this technology you're describing is already on the market?
Barbara Simons: Yes. Yes it is, and what we need to do then is we have these scanners that are tabulating all of the paper ballots; both the ones that are marked manually by the voters, and the ones that are produced by these ballot marking devices. But as I said earlier, these scanners are themselves computers, and as we know computers can be hacked or they can just have ordinary software bugs.
We've seen examples of that in past elections, or they could be mis-programmed for the particular election. For each new election we have to tell these scanners who the candidates are, and where they're located on the ballot. There can be mistakes in this, and there is an example where the candidate’s names were rotated on the ballot but the scanner wasn't given that information so candidate A got the counts for candidate B, candidate B got the counts for candidate C, and so on.
This error was rectified because there were paper ballots that could be manually checked, so this kind of totally innocent mistake can happen. We have to be prepared both for innocent mistakes, and for the malevolent ones, for efforts to rig elections.
We need to be able to check these scanners, and we can do it. If I can just add one more point, a lot of people say that if a voting machine ... and that includes a scanner, or a ballot marking device, or an old-fashioned touchscreen voting machine, is not connected to the internet it cannot be hacked. It cannot be attacked remotely -- and that's just not true. The reason that's not true is that the voting machines, and the scanners all have to be programmed as I said, with the candidate names and locations. This programming is done on another computer, and this computer typically is attached to the internet at some point and it can be hacked. I don't know if you remember, but some years back the Iranian centrifuges were brought down by a virus called the Stuxnet. They were caused ... the centrifuges started spinning out of control so that they self-destructed, and the reason that this happened is that this virus attacked the computers that were maintaining the centrifuges.
So the centrifuges themselves were not connected to the internet, but the virus attacked computers that were connected to the internet and that's now they brought them down. There is also a video, a New York Times video that was made a couple of months ago that shows Professor Alex Halderman from the University of Michigan, who is also - Verified Voting’s first Technology Fellow - shows him remotely hacking into the paperless touchscreen voting machines that will be used in Georgia in the upcoming midterm, and are used in some other places as well. If Alex Halderman can remotelyhack into these machines, so can a nation state. These machines are just totally insecure, and you cannot recount them. There's no paper ballot.
Andrea Chalupa: They are in approximately how many states across the country?
Barbara Simons: I don't recall how many states across the country use depot paperless machines, as I said I know all of Georgia uses them. There are five states that are still totally paperless, that's New Jersey, Georgia, Delaware, South Dakota ... I mean South Carolina, and Louisiana. So those five states are totally paperless, no way of doing a recount in any of those states. Then there's another eight states that are partially paperless, as I said Pennsylvania is one of them. So you cannot do a statewide recount in those states either.
Andrea Chalupa: What are the eight states that are the next tier of awful?
Barbara Simons: I was afraid you were going to ask me that question. I don't them memorized, but you can find out. Anybody who's interested can go to The Verifier which is on Verified Voting's website, so it's www.verifiedvoting.org ... verifiedvoting is all one word /verifier/ and that will bring up a map of the United States, which I'm currently looking at. Then there's color coded for each state, and you can find out what kinds of machines are used in each of the states. If you click on a particular state you can drill down to the county level and find out what kinds of machines are used there.
Andrea Chalupa: So in terms of the solution, the steps these states need to take across the board to secure their system, is there anything that could be done right now in time for the 2018 midterm election especially, especially given the widespread reporting that Russia is deliberately hacking our election to help Republicans? And the CIA Director Mike Pompeo said earlier this year the Russians are going to be back, the Russians they're hacking our elections. Is there anything that could be done right now given that this huge alarm that's going off, to matter of knowing without a doubt, and not having that chaos, that confusion, the widespread doubt that shot up with the surprise election of Donald Trump. Is there anything we can do now?
Barbara Simons: Well it's difficult now because we're so close to the midterms. One of the points I want to make is that this is really not a partisan issue, there are republicans like Senator Lankford of Oklahoma. Very conservative Republican who is very concerned about these issues, and very much with us. There are other Republicans as well, so it's not a Republican, Democratic issue so much as trying to get the right thing done.
Furthermore, it's not just Russia that's astray. I mean we could be hacked by North Korea, by Iran, by China. I mean a lot of our election systems are fairly wide open, and these nations all have the resources to hack us. That's what a lot of people understand, and that's I think one of the reasons why there's definitely Republican support to fix our elections. They understand that they could be the victims the next time, so I think it's reallyimportant that we make very clear that this is not a partisan issue, this is not Democrats versus Republicans, this is an issue about the security of our country.
It's a national security issue, it's protecting our democracy, and basically anybody who is a patriot should care about making our elections secure. Fortunately a lot of people do, so this does cross party lines, and that's a good thing because that's the only way we're going to succeed. We need to have support from both sides of the aisle. In terms of what can be done before the upcoming midterm, it's almost impossible to make any kind of major changes for the voting machines. There is a lawsuit in Georgia right now, which has the goal of replacing ... of forcing the state to vote on paper ballot as opposed to these phenomenally insecure paperless stable machines. It's close to the election, I think the judge has some concerns about ordering a major change like that before the election but we don't know yet the outcome of that lawsuit. That could conceivably make a change in Georgia.
I think elsewhere there's really nothing much that can be done, but what's more important is that people have to focus on the 2020 presidential election and there's still time to do a lot for that. That's what I think should be the main focus for people right now, we have to make our elections secure by 2020. As I said we need to have voter marked paper ballots throughout the country, which will be a big challenge just doing that by 2020. But on top of that we need to check the scanners, as I've said they are computers. They can be hacked. We know how to check them, we know what needs to be done. We need our manual post-election valid audits, where we basically we use statistics and randomly select some ballots, and we compare them against what the scanner says as a way of checking on the scanner.
If things all look okay, fine, we are done. If they don't look okay, we look at more ballots, and we do more comparisons and basically continue with that until we have convinced ourselves that race was properly called, or there's a total manual recount and we find out who the correct winners are. This is something we know how to do, it's something that Verified Voting is really pushing very hard on, and some states are picking up on it. That's what we need to do because just having scanners in and of themselves isn't sufficient if nobody checks them.
Andrea Chalupa: What can the average citizen, what can we all do listening to you, to get everything in line wherever we live? And help other districts and say, what can the average citizen do to protect our elections in time for the next presidential election 2020 when this will all happen again? We could just be reliving 2016.
Barbara Simons: One thing obviously is to find out what kinds of systems are being used when you vote, and how secure or insecure they may be. Maybe get involved and encourage your local election officials to have voter marked paper ballot systems, and also encourage them to have manual post-election ballot audits. Obviously some of these decisions are done at the state level, and local election officials may not have a lot of options but they can in turn encourage people at the state level to make the right changes. That's one thing people can do, another is to support ... I mean I don't know if this is appropriate to say this, but support the work that Verified Voting is doing because this is our mission is to make our election secure. That's all we do.
Andrea Chalupa: We're happy to support you, you're a nonpartisan advocacy group. As you point out, and as we've seen ourselves talking to Republicans around these sovereignty issues, and election security matters, that this is a uniting issue.
Barbara Simons: Yes. Yes.
Andrea Chalupa: It seems like this is something ... I just want to say from my own personal background, my mother was this hippy art school teacher, grad school dropout who took it upon herself to become a child safety advocate because she survived a horrendous car accident, and a seatbelt saved her life and the child car seat saved my sister's life. So my mother took it upon herself to learn how legislation works in Sacramento California, she lived in that area and she passed as a volunteer the Child Car Seat Law. Then she followed it with the Seatbelt Law. I forget which came first, but the point is that she championed these two major laws in California just as an activist. What can people do in terms of ... 'cause I'm a big believer that learn everything you can about an issue, learn how the process works, learn how to navigate it. Get in coalition with like-minded groups and experts, and fight. And eventually you can win. You can make a difference in your state. So people really introduce laws in the state level, but they introduce laws just to make sure that their own backyard is clean.
Barbara Simons: Well, yeah sure. I mean that would be great. I suppose one of the ways ... I haven't really discussed this within Verified Voting, but we have worked on model laws in the past so that might be, so that might be something where we could be helpful. We also have what we're calling an “audit road show”, where we are going around especially where election officials are meeting and demonstrating to them how what we're calling risk-limiting audits, which are these statistically based audits work, and basically how easy they are to run. If people speak to the election officials, and the election officials are curious, or perhaps they could get in touch with us and we can provide them with some information. If they have paper ballots then I think election officials can decide to do audits on their own, at least in many places. That's something which hey could push and we can help.
Andrea Chalupa: I mean it would be great to go to Verified Voting, your website and download a kit on how I can implement these changes and start organizing in my community, in my state what steps I should take, how I should ... a script to call the Secretary of State, what shall I be saying to my Secretary of State. I think people ... that's what we saw with groups like Indivisible where they created a packet saying, "This is how your government works." And then suddenly you had citizens showing up to offices in Congress, and the state level, and really putting pressure on the powers that be.
I feel like the more information simplified as much as possible for people like us, that you can put as much power as you can put in people's hands but I think you could potentially be planting seeds of a major sea change.
Barbara Simons: That's an interesting idea, we don't have that sort of thing at the moment but of course we have the verifier which will help people to find out what venues where they vote. Also the same website has information about the different types of voting machines, and so there's a lot of information that can be gotten that way. In terms of these post-election ballot audits, risk-limiting audits are statistically based ... they are slightly complicated to explain initially, I mean right when you get right down to the details which is why we have this task force that's working with election officials. There have been efforts to produce relatively simple versions of how to do this, I'm not quite sure what the status of that is at the moment. I guess what I should say is if that somebody has a question, they could ping me, or maybe they could ping you and you could let me know.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, Gaslit. And you will talk about this. We're happy to. I think this is the issue that brought Sarah and I together, and I think this is something that we want to stay on and really put as much information in people's hands so they can act on [it].
Barbara Simons: Right. Well, as I said I think the starting point to the verifying just find out what kind of machines you have. If you don't have paper ballots, number one is you need to get paper ballots, and you need to get voter marked paper ballots. Just make sure there's options for voter marking ballots, that's number one. Then once you've to those, then you've got to make sure that there's some way of using the ballots to check on the counting. That's the bottom line. I guess one other point, we basically have a three-stage plan for making election secure or to mark paper ballots. Strong chain of custody ... and that's something we should talk about also, then these post-election statistically based ballot audits. The strong chain of custody is that even if you've got paper ballots you have to make sure that nobody messes with them.
Andrea Chalupa: What are the risks there? What do you mean by people messing with them?
Which people, and how?
Barbara Simons: Well, I mean we know in past elections before computers were involved at all there were cases of ballot box stuffing, of ballot boxes getting lost. I mean there's a whole history of election rigging in our country where there were just paper ballots, so you have to be careful to make sure that the paper ballots are properly maintained and that there's a good chance of custody. There are ways of doing this, you can video tape a lot of stuff, you can make sure that you have ... that the ballots are being stored properly under lock and key, and that the right people have access to them, or don't have access to them. There are things that can be done to make sure that the ballots are secure, we're just saying people shouldn't ignore that part of it. That's all. I mean it's old-fashioned. This is not a new thing making the ballots secure, this issue has been around for a while but of course in the old days it wasn't possible to have a camera focusing on things all the time which we can do now.
Andrea Chalupa: One other thing I was curious about is you've been focused on this issue for a very long time, from what I was reading at least back to 2002 in terms of electronic machines. I mean you've dealt with this with a number of administrations, do you feel that the Trump administration is notably different than prior ones in terms of their ability or willingness to tackle this issue?
Barbara Simons: No. I don't. I mean when Obama was president I tried to get that administration to take it more seriously and they didn't.
Andrea Chalupa: Why were they reluctant to do so?
Barbara Simons: I think people are reluctant to think that there could be a problem, and I think there's a lot of reluctance. I've actually had people come up to me ... this has happened more than twice actually, and say .... one person came up and apologized, and said, "I'm really sorry, I thought you were crazy. Now I see that you were right." And then someone else came up to me and said, "I want to shake your hand, we should have listened to you." There was a lot of pushback.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, we know that feeling.
Andrea Chalupa: Sarah and I are making faces at each other, and nodding our heads.
Sarah Kendzior: That was our last two years, so we definitely know what you're saying there.
Andrea Chalupa: No one think it could happen here until it starts happening here.
Sarah Kendzior: That's part of the problem, is 'cause then they don't actually tackle the issue. I'm curious because Andrea and I have raised this issue of election security for a very long time, and of course-
Andrea Chalupa: Not as long as you.
Sarah Kendzior: Not as long as you, but we've been very adamantly insisting since the last election that this needs to be at the forefront of everything going forward, that we can't wait till 2018. We need to tackle this immediately. A criticism we've often received is that by even raising this issue, we are eroding socio-political trust. We are attacking the integrity of the election system. Our philosophy is always, you can't solve a problem until you are willing to admit that that problem exists. I was just curious if that's the kind of blowback that you've received as well? Or it's perceived as antagonistic whereas you're meaning to be helpful and informative?
Barbara Simons: For over a decade, yes. Not only that, I'm not convinced that it's correct. Verified Voting sponsored a small study involving focus groups a few months ago, unfortunately we didn't ask that question namely, "If you knew that the voting system was insecure, would you go and ... or could be insecure would you go and vote anyway?" We didn't ask that question, but the person who ran the study said her impression from the answers that she did get to other questions was that that would not keep people from voting.
So this claim that by raising the issue we will suppress voter turnout ... which is something that I've heard especially from Democrats, I might add. So nobody has done a study, and the small study that we did suggests the opposite is true and it's something by the way that we would like to follow up on. We would like to know what the answer really is. I mean even if it does suppress turnout, I think you still can ignore it. But if it doesn't suppress turnout then there's no justification for ignoring it.
Andrea Chalupa: I think there are just too many issues already that contribute to lower voter turnout; just general distrust of politicians, corruption, people not getting their needs met. So I think this is actually a really excitingissue because it's modern, it's technology, and it's securing our country against our enemies. Our very determined enemies. I think this is something that we've seen in our own people that we engage with on Twitter, we see a massive interest in this to the point where people get really emotional discussing it. You could talk to us about that in terms of where do you stand on whether the election results were hacked or not? Whether the results themselves ... whether some Russian hacker somewhere, or some North Korean hacker somewhere got lucky and called his superior and said, "Hey, I managed to get in in this one county in the middle of nowhere in this random state." What are your thoughts there on the results themselves being hacked, which is a very controversial issue that some people will just really lose their minds over.
Barbara Simons: I'd actually rather not focus on that primarily because if one says that the Russians hacked the election [in] 2016, then that's a way of turning off a lot of Republicans who say, "Well, you're saying that Trump wasn't legitimately elected." And at this point I think we need to move forward and focus on the future, we need to focus especially on the 2020 election. What we doknow is that a couple of voter registration databases were broken into, we do know that Russia was poking around a number of the databases, and for all we know the voting machine systems. When probing like that happens, even if they didn't break in ... and again, we don't know if they did or not in many cases. But even if they didn't, they could be setting themselves up to do it in the future. We actually don't know what happened for sure in 2016 because there was no proper forensic analysis done after the election, and of course in some cases you couldn't do a forensic analysis because they were paperless systems so we don't know what happened.
I'd rather not focus on that, I'd rather focus on the fact that we know that even members of the Trump administration are saying that our country is under attack, and so we have to move forward and put in the necessary protections so that our elections are secure in the future. I think that's what we need to put all our energy into, and the last thing I want to do is to lose any potential allies by making accusations where I just don't have any proof, one way or the other. That's one of the problems with these elections, is if you can't prove that the results are correct or incorrect that's a really badsetup. I mean that's basically faith based voting, and it's time to not have any more faith based voting in this county. We have to have elections that are evidence based, where we can prove beyond any doubt to the losers and the loser supporters that they truly lost. In order to do that we need paper ballots, and we need to check the machines that count those paper ballots.
We can do this, we know how to do this. This is not a rocket science, there's no excuse for not doing it. That's what we need to focus on. 2016 happened, it's over with. We need to move forward and focus on 2020, and I'm just sorry that we didn't take stronger actions earlier so that we could do more for the midterms. But it's pretty late now. We don't want to repeat in 2020, we don't want to find ourselves a few months before the presidential election saying, "It's too late now." We don't want that.
Andrea Chalupa: So now is the time to get organized and campaign for election security?
Barbara Simons: Absolutely. There's hardly any state that's perfect by the way, there's work that can be done in almost every state. I mean Colorado did recently institute statewide risk-limiting audits, which is the kind of statistical audits that I'm talking about. Rhode Island has passed legislation to do that, Virginia we just did a set of pilot studies in a Fairfax County Virginia where we brought in a number of Virginia election officials and they were amazed at how easy it was. They really liked it, so we're hoping that we will be able to move forward in Virginia. Well, they now have paper ballots by the way, and they didn't have all paper ballots till 2017.
That was in part because of work that Verified Voting did, where we work directly with the chief election official to help them with the security investigations they did with those machines. We are making progress, it's just not fast enough. The 2020 election is looming, and now is the time we have to focus on 2020. I mean what we can do for 2018 people should do, but it's too late to make major changes before the midterm. It's just too late, but it's not too late for 2020.
Sarah Kendzior: What should we do now just in terms of 2018? People are going to be on edge I think, given how loaded this issue is. Is there anything they can do if they suspect anything, if they put in a vote and another name popped up on the screen? What do you advise individual voters do? To be on guard when they go to the polls in 2018, and if they do suspect or sense anything, or if any problem should come up, what should they then do?
Barbara Simons: That's one of the maddening things, the example you just gave where you vote for candidate A, and candidate B's name lights up. The question is, who did you vote for? And the answer is, who knows? I mean it could be that your vote actually was cast to candidate A, or maybe it was cast to candidate B. The problem is that these machines go out of ... they need to be constantly tuned, and if they're not they can just go ... not behave properly. There is a terrible design, these touchscreen machines are a terrible, terrible design. They never should've been brought to market. They're really bad engineering really, and in term of happens if you touch the screen for A, and B shows up? I think one thing that you can is tell local election officials that these machines need to be fixed. They're not behaving properly. Aside from that, these are paperless machines there's not a damn thing you can do.
The only other thing I would suggest is not vote on these machines to begin with and try to vote absentee and cast paper ballots, but that might protect your vote but your vote in some sense doesn't count. What counts is everybody's vote.
Andrea Chalupa: We want to be part of this chain, because elections security is at the heart of an extremely urgent issue. It's a patriotic matter that unites us all, so we will keep you around if you don't mind. We can monitor this, and give people some actionable insights. I don't want to let you go because I really don't. I'm getting fingers pointing at me, to wrap it up but I'm not, I have the mic. I'm going to keep talking and asking questions.
What's going on with Georgia? There was confusion there over ... obviously if it's one of the top five worst states in terms of election security. Brian Kemp now, who's running for governor, Who is secretary of state, Who was accused doing some shady things. There's speculation there, but there was some hacking that could've tipped the election. Are you familiar with this issue at all? Could you clarify, and your opinion what you think happened there?
Barbara Simons: There is a whole huge history with Georgia that I won't bore you with. Basically just to give you a high level of description, the elections in Georgia ... Georgia may have been the first state, I think Georgia may have been the first state to have everybody vote on these paperless touch screen machines. That was in 2002, and that was the election where Senator Max Cleland, and Governor Roy Barnes both lost, although they were slightly ahead in the polls. These were two Democratic candidates, incumbents who were running for reelection. We know that in that race there were last minute changes made to the software of these voting machines, we also know that that has not been ... those changes were never independently vetted and now it's impossible to see what they were. In any major computing project people are making last minute changes because they are always finding bugs, these changes could have been completely legitimate or they could have been aimed at rigging the election, or they could have been a mix of both and the problem is we don't know, and we'll ever know.
We'll never be able to go back and find that “Were these results correct or were they not” because there was no way. They had to do a recount, and there's no way now to go back and do any kind of forensic analysis. The software that was used then I'm sure it's long gone. That was 2002 in Georgia and it's been downhill ever since, the elections in Georgia were run for many many years by a small school called Kennesaw State University, which was given the responsibility of maintaining and setting up these machines. Basically what happened was ... I guess it was last year, two years ago, someone named Logan Lambwho is a security expert was poking around. He lives in Georgia, and he discovered that he could basically get into the system at Kennesaw State University. When he told him about it they didn't do anything, and then months later he came back and told them about it again and then finally something was done. There was a whole big scandal about how insecure the Kennesaw State system was, and obviously insecure for years and years.
There's no way to know if any of the elections that were held in Georgia during that period were totally legitimate or not because there's no way to go back and check. Just like with the 2002 race. Basically what happened was eventually the responsibility for running the election was taken out of the hands of Kennesaw State University. That contract was not renewed, and it was put into the office of the Georgia Secretary of State. Now the Georgia Secretary of State is Brian Kemp, and Brian Kemp is running for governor. Brian Kemp has been opposed to efforts to get rid of these paperless machines and replace them with paper ballots, he is running for governor against Stacy Abrams who is a Democratic candidate. Unless - there is lawsuitthat is pending in the courts - forces Georgia to vote on paper ballots, that election in the midterms is going to be held on these machines which have been run by Secretary of State officials.
Sarah Kendzior: Wow, that's a nightmare scenario, let's hope justice prevails there. What also sets up a red flag about this whole situation in Georgia. It's like Kislyak, the Russian ambassador who was kicked out who was kicked out as part of Obama's response for the attack in the U.S election. We meant a meant ... of course with a number of representatives of Trump's campaign. He also met with officials like Kennesaw State Universitywhich runs Georgia's election system in April 2016, so that doesn't give people peace of mind. That's why you have to have these transparent verifiable voting systems in place, so all of these other little things that come up you're not worried about them anymore. If you have nothing to hide, then why can't we all just switch to Verified Voting?
Barbara Simons: Right, and the point is that we know how to make our voting system resilient to attack. In other words, we can't prevent attacks but we can recover from them. We can recover from them if we have paper ballots, and if we check the computers that count those paper ballots. We can be sure that the results are correct. That's the key point, we can't ... security is really really hard, so rather than trying to make a system totally secure, what we need to do is to make it so that it can withstand impact and we know how to do that.
Andrea Chalupa: Thank you so much for your leadership on this issue, thank you for persevering. We apologize on behalf of America, for all of us not listening to you sooner and giving all the resources we need. Thank you so much, this has been a [informative] day.
Gaslit Nation is presented by Dame Magazine on the Critical Frequency Podcast Network. Other podcasts on the Critical Frequency Network include Range, Fury, and Tell Me About Your Mother. Check them out. This episode was produced by Andrea Chalupa, with additional support from Critical Frequency. Our theme music is by David Whited, additional music is by Martin Wussenberg. our cover art was drawn by Lucas Lysakowski. Illustrations for each episode are drawn by James Guzman. You can follow us in Twitter at @GaslitNation, and if you'd like to support the podcast and see it go weekly please visit our Patreon at patreon.com/gaslit. Thanks for listening, see you next time.