“What we saw in Wisconsin … is its own most cynical form of voter suppression,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), whose state votes almost entirely by mail, said during a call organized by the advocacy group Stand Up America. “That they would require Wisconsin voters to risk their health and risk their lives in order to vote is suppression of the highest order.”
Brown and other Democrats are urging up to $4 billion in federal funding to ensure mail-ballot access for all voters across the country.
The calls underscore how the pandemic and the chaos in Wisconsin have broadened the coalition pushing for major changes to the voting system. They’re also uniting groups that sought changes to protect elections against hacking by Russia and other adversaries, and those who want to ensure ballot access laws don’t disenfranchise minorities and lower-income voters.
“We need Congress to act decisively so that voters across the country do not have to choose between their health and participation in democracy,” Georgia politician Stacey Abrams said during the call, citing the “travesty that we saw play out in Wisconsin.”
Abrams, a former Georgia state House minority leader, became a voting rights champion after narrowly losing the 2018 Georgia governor’s race amid claims of unfair purges of the voter rolls.
Abrams, who has put herself forward as a possible Democratic vice presidential pick in 2020, also jabbed Trump for criticizing vote-by-mail efforts when he voted by mail himself in the Florida primary.
“We know that vote by mail works. We know it because it's worked in Governor Brown's state and we know it because Donald Trump has voted by mail himself, even though he wants to limit the options for others,” she said.
Republicans joined Democrats in approving $400 million for election security measures in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill. But they’ve balked at placing any mandates on how states must use the money, such as that it be directed to vote by mail operations or expand early voting.
And despite himself casting an absentee ballot, Trump has railed against widespread voting by mail, charging without evidence that it frequently leads to widespread cheating.
Nevertheless, Brown and Abrams pointed to Republican efforts at the state level to expand mail voting in the primaries to argue there could be a bipartisan deal.
“Donald Trump is the outlier here,” Stand Up America founder Sean Eldridge said. “We are optimistic that if members of Congress listen to their constituents … this should not be a partisan issue.”
Attorneys also cited voter suppression concerns in a lawsuit filed yesterday in North Carolina challenging the use of ExpressVote touchscreen voting machines across the state.
Those machines, which officials plan to use in some form in 21 North Carolina counties in November, gained notoriety when they went haywire and called the wrong winner in a Pennsylvania county judge's race in November.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, which include the North Carolina state conference of the NAACP, say the machines are vulnerable to hacking and malfunctions that could alter or cancel minority votes. They also argue the touchscreen machines are ill suited for use during a pandemic because disinfecting them requires extensive and time-consuming cleaning.
“North Carolina's increasingly diverse electorate recognizes the use of insecure voting system is the modern form of voter suppression,” said John Powers, an attorney for the plaintiffs and counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.
Of the 21 North Carolina counties that use the machines, seven rely on it as their primary form of voting and two others as the main option for early voters. The remainder use the machines mostly for voters with disabilities that prevent them from using hand-marked paper ballots.
A separate lawsuit is seeking to ban the machines in Pennsylvania.
PINGED, PATCHED, PWNED
PINGED: A Pentagon watchdog found no evidence that Defense Department employees were unduly influenced by the White House when they opted to award its largest ever cloud computing contract to Microsoft over Amazon, Ellen Nakashima and Aaron Gregg report. However, the White House refused to allow senior department officials to answer the Office of the Inspector General's questions, preventing the watchdog from making a definitive determination about the extent of the Trump administration's interactions with employees working on the deal.
The report affirms the Pentagon “conducted the JEDI Cloud procurement process fairly and in accordance with law,” Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.
Amazon seemed like an early favorite to build the massive system, which was first announced in 2017, and challenged the award that went to Microsoft last October. During the late stages of that process Trump publicly criticized Amazon and cited complaints from its competitors. He also has a a notoriously antagonistic relationship with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.
Oversight groups say the report doesn’t rule out improper conduct by Trump, who recently fired the Pentagon’s acting inspector general.
“Essentially what we learned from the IG report is that while there was no successful effort to influence the award, it appears that they tried given the fact that they invoked the privilege,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. “And that’s not okay. There’s no place for the president’s personal vendettas in a contracting decision.”
PATCHED: The pandemic continues to be a boon for hackers:
- Remote work has spurred a 148 percent increase in ransomware attacks against global organizations, including a 38 percent increase in attacks against financial institutions, researchers at the security firm VMWare Carbon Black Cloud report.
- Researchers at the cybersecurity firm Lookout tied a coronavirus-themed hacking campaign using malware-laced Android apps to Syrian hackers, including one posing as a digital thermometer.
Security companies are trying to pitch in, though.
- Cloudflare now offers a free coronavirus assistance package for state and local governments to help them protect their websites and deal with increased traffic demand.
PWNED: The Department of Homeland Security yesterday sounded an alarm about North Korean hacking activities, noting the isolated regime “has the capability to conduct disruptive or destructive cyber activities” and has a lengthy history of using its hacking tools to steal from banks and other financial institutions.
DHS joined the FBI and other agencies in calling on global allies to halt any joint ventures with North Korean firms and to expel any North Korean IT workers from their countries “in a manner consistent with applicable international law.”
The United States last year sanctioned hackers linked to Pyongyang for several cyberattacks, including hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2015 and launching the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack that infected the computers of hundreds of thousands of victims and spread to more than 150 countries.
The alert warns that North Korea has “a pattern of disruptive and harmful cyber activity that is wholly inconsistent with the growing international consensus on what constitutes responsible State behavior in cyberspace."
The New York Times called the warning “a sign that deterrence is failing.”
—Cybersecurity news from the public sector:
—Cybersecurity news from the private sector:
- The Open Technology Institute will host an online event on work-from-home digital security on April 21 at 11:00am.