Politicians, election officials, industry vendors, hedge funds prosper off election insecurities

Brian Mohr
Nov 18, 2018 · 10 min read

The latest version of the Dominion voting system used in Chicago and its suburbs for the November midterm elections has never received final approval from the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE).

Instead, Dominion has received multiple two-year interim approvals from the ISBE for at least a decade without ever completely fixing its known security flaws.

Despite the concerns of election experts and a lack of final approval, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the commissioners approved a $31 million, 10-year contract with Dominion in September. At the time, Preckwinkle claimed the protests were “thoroughly investigated.”

Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Dominion’s direct competitor and the country’s largest electronic voting machine (EVM) provider, filed two protests claiming Dominion’s “voting system was not compliant with Illinois law” and wasn’t “certified by the Illinois State Board of Elections.”

ES&S alleges that Cook County officials delayed replying to its initial protest in an effort to buy Dominion more time to obtain proper certification. And the county “abused the bid protest process to ensure it could make an award to its preferred, but ineligible, vendor (Dominion).”

Cook County’s Office of Chief Procurement Officer (OCPO) rejected both protests and has not taken a position on whether Dominion’s entire voting system has ever received a final approval from the ISBE.

There are four main components of the area’s voting system. They include:

The Edge2Plus, a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) touchscreen voting machine that produces an electronic ballot with a paper ballot recorded as a side scroll inside the machine. The voter must insert a memory card to store their vote data. The side scroll allows the voter to review their final screen votes alongside a print version. The memory card is then given to a poll worker who will store the cards until they’re eventually tabulated.

The InsightPlus, an optical scanner that records the vote from paper ballots given to the voter. These are only used on election day. The voter uses a black marker to color in the area between two black arrows to make selections. The final paper ballot is then entered in the scanner.

The WinEDS, an election management system that records, compiles and reports vote totals.

The HAAT (Hybrid Activator, Accumulator, and Transmitter), the service that consolidates, tabulates and transmits voter data.

Over the years, the components have needed various hardware, firmware or software modifications. Every time that occurs, national and state election laws dictate the system must be retested and submitted for final approval by the ISBE.

This can mean that not every component of Dominion’s voting system is ever 100% certified at the same time. So the components are perpetually allowed to run on two-year interim approvals without ever being 100% tested and given final approval.

In 2010, for example, Dominion updated the WinEDS version and requested approval from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The system failed two tests run by an independent testing agency. That agency later removed itself from the EAC testing program and SLI Global later became the new testing lab for Dominion.

It also found multiple unresolved errors but ultimately recommended the EAC allow the system to continue to operate under another two-year interim approval. In 2012, the EAC refused. In 2013, Dominion pulled its system out of the national testing and certification program.

In a 2016 ISBE board meeting, Dr. Eric Cooper, VP of Engineering for Dominion Voting, was asked if an entity could bypass election systems software and go directly to the data tables that manage systems running IL elections. “Yes, if they have access,” he admitted.

When asked who had access, he replied “Vendors, election officials, and others who need to be granted access.”

That same month, the ISBE announced the Illinois Voter Registration System database had been hacked. It concluded that the database passwords had been compromised. These passwords included those of “election authorities, their staffs, internal SBE users, vendors and web services.”

Illinois was one of 21 states that experienced “probing” of their systems by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential election.

A year ago, the ISBE again informed Dominion that it had not “demonstrated performance of the proposed voting system during the interim approval period” and its interim approval was being revoked.

The current component in question is the Global Election Management System (GEMS). It’s Microsoft Windows-based election management and tabulation software. It integrates election data entry, interfaces to voter registration, ballot layout and does final vote tabulations. It can also provide election results to the Internet in HTML, Text, PDF and Java formats.

It was built by Diebold Election Systems. When Dominion bought Premier Election Solutions, which owned Diebold, it gained ownership of all versions of GEMS.

Issues with the system abound.

In 2003, Bev Harris, author of “Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century”, discovered that Diebold left GEM’s 40,000 files on a publicly accessible website, entirely unprotected.

She proved GEMS could be “hacked, remotely or on-site, using any off-the-shelf version of Microsoft Access, and password protection was missing for supervisor functions. Not only could multiple users gain access to the system after only one had logged in, but unencrypted audit logs allowed any trace of vote rigging to be wiped from the record.”

She also found that GEMS has a history of counting a vote as a fraction instead of a whole number.

The system is used in at least 64 Illinois jurisdictions and tabulates at least 25 percent of all votes in the United States.

One of those jurisdictions is DuPage County, which has a history of questionable relationships between local politicians, election officials and industry vendors.

J.P. “Rick” Carney was the chairman of the DuPage Board of Election Commissioners from 2006–2012. He received $12,500 in campaign contributions from Diebold’s primary dealer in Illinois right before voting in favor of a 20-year contract with Diebold to supply the county’s election equipment.

It’s also where Peter Roskam “defeated” Tammy Duckworth by 4,810 votes in an election that was found to have various voter data security issues.

Governmental Business Systems is the exclusive authorized Dominion dealer in Illinois. Its online website sells sample paper ballots and a $99 election starter kit, which includes 10 Smart Card Voter Activation cards, one Technician Activation card, one Poll Worker Activation card and one ICX USB Flash Drive.

Experts have suggested the cards or flash drive can easily be infected with a virus and then inserted into the voting machine and eventual tabulation system.

Last March, it was revealed that global technology providers SAP, Symantec and McAfee had allowed Russians to review their product source code. From a security standpoint, it raised major alarms within the dozen federal agencies that used their software.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Jeanne Shaheen wrote to ES&S, Dominion and Hart Intercivic asking them if they’d ever shared their election technology source code with the Russians.

“According to voting machine testing and certification from the EAC, most voting machines contain software from firms which were alleged to have shared their source code with Russian entities,” the senators wrote. “We are deeply concerned that such reviews may have presented an opportunity for Russian intelligence agents looking to attack or hack the United States’ elections infrastructure.”

Dominion officials have not let security concerns hold it back from pushing the city to continue its vending relationship.

Michael Kasper, Dominion’s Chicago lobbyist, spoke with Cook County commissioners Ed Moody, John Daley, John Fritchey, Larry Suffredin and John Keller, Preckwinkle’s former chief of staff, at least 10 times in September, the month the contract was awarded. Kasper has been a lobbyist for Dominion since at least 2012.

He’s a top Lawyer for IL Democrats and the attorney for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and the state Democratic Party. He represented Rahm Emanuel when he had to clear residency requirements to run for mayor in 2011. He’s also a lobbyist at City Hall and the Statehouse.

Two years ago, he won a case before the Illinois Supreme Court that blocked a Gov. Bruce Rauner ballot initiative to create an independent commission and no longer allow legislators to draw the state legislative maps.

Almost 563,000 signatures were collected but the court determined the proposal was unconstitutional. It’s the second time in two years that the attempt to overhaul redistricting by petition has failed.

So Kasper has a history of being a lobbyist for Dominion and also argued in the state’s supreme court against a potential fix for the political gerrymandering that’s plagued the area for decades.

The latest round of taxpayer funding for the election industry was initiated in March, when Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. It included $380 million in grants for states to “improve the administration of elections for Federal office, including to enhance technology and make election security improvements.”

President George W. Bush signed into law The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 with Bob Ney (R-OH) looking on. Ney, worked with Boehner and Gingrich, to HAVA through legislation and on to Bush’s desk.

HAVA was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002 and initially provided $3.9 billion to states for new voting hardware and software. (Prior to the HAVA funding, Cook County used punch card ballot counters with modems.)

Half of the $13.9 million Illinois will receive through the 2018 HAVA Election Security Grant Funds must go to the Cyber Navigator Program, which was created to “support the efforts of election authorities to defend against cyber breaches and detect and recover from cyber-attacks.”

A top priority for the program is the Illinois Century Network (ICN) Expansion Project which will be a “high performance network built to meet the Internet and Intranet needs of the educational, research, governmental, and healthcare organizations serving the state of Illinois.”

It’s currently working to put more than 100 voting districts and 10,000 precincts on a “centralized, more secure internet network.” So far, 25% have been configured.

It will be maintained by the Illinois Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT). DoIT was created in 2016 through an executive order of IL Gov Bruce Rauner. In May, it was given state department status and officially made part of the state government.

Rauner had initiated a $250 million computer modernization plan for the city to upgrade the disparate computer networks used by various state agencies. He awarded contracts to his close associates like McKinsey & Co. The firm has been awarded more than $70 million in state contracts since Rauner’s been in office. In June, it was revealed that McKinsey had done more than $20 million in consulting work for ICE.

In July, Dominion was acquired by its management team and Staple Street Capital, a hedge fund co-founded and managed by former Carlyle Group executives Hootan Yaghoobzadeh and Stephen Owens.

Yaghoobzadeh is also a former Senior VP at Cerberus Capital Management where he worked on distressed private equity and special-situation investments. He was responsible for “sourcing, executing, overseeing and exiting investments and serving on boards of Cerberus portfolio companies.”

During his time there, Cerberus bought Bushmaster Firearms International in 2006 and Remington Arms in 2007. Over the next few years, Bushmaster acquired gun manufacturers Cobb Manufacturing, DPMS Panther Arms and Marlin Firearms and gun silencer manufacturer Advanced Armament Corporation. They were eventually put under the ownership of a private entity named the Freedom Group.

The Bushmaster AR-15 has been involved in various mass murders like the one at Sandy Hook.

Cerberus also owns DynCorp International, a major national security contractor earning billion$ from the U.S. Government for private military contract work. It’s currently trying to build up its IT, data collection and overall intelligence capabilities through various acquisitions.

Cerberus and Eric Prince’s Blackwater were asked last year by Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon to present proposals for sending a private army, instead of American troops, to fight in Afghanistan.

Cerberus also acquired a group of seven television stations from CBS in 2007. Four years later, its Four Points Media company sold them to the Sinclair Broadcast Group for $200 million.

Its currently working with Tom Hicks Jr., the Texas-based chair of the Trump Super PAC, America First, to make a bid on Tribune Media’s 42 U.S. stations. Three months ago, the Chicago-based Tribune Media terminated its merger agreement with Sinclair and sued it for breach of contract.

Cerberus already owns Jewel Osco grocery stores, the largest food store chain in Chicagoland.

Stephen Feinberg is the billionaire co-founder and CEO of Cerberus. Earlier this year he was appointed by Trump to head the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, a spy advisory council to the president. Peter Thiel turned down the position a year ago. In February 2017, Trump asked Feinberg to conduct a review of all U.S. intelligence agencies in a push to restructure their operations.

He’s also a major financial contributor to Trump and the GOP. In 2016, he gave nearly $1.5 million to “Rebuilding America Now,” a pro-Trump group. The year before, he gave $200,000 to Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise” super PAC.

Two years ago, he donated $500,000 to FL Gov. Rick Scott’s Super PAC, Rebuilding America Now. A week later, the Florida’s State Board of Administration, of which Scott was a trustee, invested $200-million of state pension funds in a high-fee, high-risk fund run by Cerberus. A month later, Feinberg made another $975,000 contribution to Scott’s Super PAC.

Dominion provides voting machines to more than 71 million voters in 1,635 jurisdictions across the country. It currently operates in 19 Florida counties.

Eight years ago, Rick Scott defeated Alex Sink by just 1.15 percent or 61,550 votes in the closest FL governor race in the history of the state. In Florida, votes must be within a 0.5% range to trigger a mandatory recount.

Twelve Dominion memory cards were involved in the erasing of 38,000 early-voting ballots during that race. Election workers manually rescanned them without any supervision by the public or the press. Sink, who needed only 35,000 more votes to trigger a recount, conceded the next day.

More than a year later, Dominion reasoned it was the fault of 12 memory cards that had originally been “hot pulled” out of a unit while it was still active, therefore not setting the cards properly to record early votes for the election.

Gov. Scott and the Republican-led state legislature enacted numerous laws under the guise of protecting elections from voter fraud. The state requires an official photo ID to vote and reduced the days Floridians could vote early. The state also made it harder to register new voters by making organizations turn new registrations in within 48 hours of signing and fining them if their registrants can’t verify their legal status.

Two years after Scott was elected, Florida announced that it had identified 180,000 residents illegally registered to vote in the state. The state was sued by the ACLU. Eventually election officials paused the purge after they discovered at least 500 targeted registrants were misidentified and legally had the right to vote.

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