WIRED recently ran a great article by Ben Wofford and a companion podcast about STAR-Vote, an effort that began in Austin, Texas to build a new voting machine using state-of-the-art encryption technologies, and how that ultimately led to Microsoft’s ElectionGuard project. This blog post is meant to fill in a few of the details and share credit with a long list of people without whom it might never have happened.

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The WIRED article goes into a lot of detail about the skepticism that I and many other technologists had prior to Dana DeBeauvoir’s talk at EVT/WOTE in 2011. To give you some kind of a view into that skepticism, you may appreciate a five minute “rump” talk I did in 2010, in the style of Stephen Colbert’s “The Wørd” television rants. …

A recent Houston Chronicle article detailed the dispute between the Harris County Clerk, Chris Hollins, and the Texas Elections Director, Keith Ingram. Hollins, with the backing of the Harris County Commissioners, is laying the groundwork to expand access to vote-by-mail (VBM) by taking the seemingly uncontroversial step of mailing out application forms to every voter in Harris County. That form, which anybody can download, print, and return themselves, offers checkboxes for why you are requesting VBM. Texas requires you to select one of these excuses, unlike many other states that allow anybody to vote by mail.

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Does this “open the door to vote harvesters and potential fraud”? Let’s look at some actual facts about voter fraud in Texas. …

Avid watchers of Game of Thrones will recall the Night’s Watch didn’t just huddle inside their Castle Black garrison at The Wall: a mammoth defensive fortification against the North and its various threats, both human and not-so-human. Despite their shorthanded forces, the Night’s Watch had an extensive history of launching scouting expeditions, to learn about their enemies’ strengths and movements. Get in, learn what you can, and don’t be seen. Good threat intelligence is essential to defending yourself from the inevitable attacks to come.

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This same sort of entirely reasonable logic is driving the U.S. Cyber Command to “hunt forward” for cyber threats. In an editorial, published today in Foreign Affairs, by Paul Nakasone (Commander, U.S. Cyber Command) and Michael Sulmeyer (a senior advisor), they explicitly discuss what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. …

October is “cyber security awareness month”. Among other notable announcements, Google just rolled out “advanced protection” — free for any Google account. So, in the spirit of offering pragmatic advice to real users, I wrote a short document that’s meant not for a typical technical audience but rather for the sort of person running a small non-profit, a political campaign, or even a small company.

If there’s one thing we learned from the leaks of the DNC emails during the 2016 presidential campaign it’s this: cyber-security matters. Whether or not you believe that the release of private campaign emails cost Clinton the election, they certainly influenced the process to the extent that any political campaign, any small non-profit, and any advocacy group has to now consider the possible impacts of cyber-attacks against their organizations. These could involve espionage (i.e., internal secrets being leaked) or sabotage (i.e., internal data being corrupted or destroyed). …

Normally I blog about things from my professional life, but today I want to write up my experience getting tickets for and attending the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, particularly since some of the detailed advice you might find online is over a year old and a few things have changed.

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A few weeks ago, knowing I’d be in NYC for my cousin’s wedding, I signed up online and scored two tickets for Stephen Colbert. You can request tickets for yourself and a guest, after which you’re “waitlisted” until you get an email for which you should promptly hit the “confirm” button. I ended up with a “priority” ticket. …

(Update: a new version of this essay appeared as an op-ed in Wired.)

Today’s unexpected news was that the House Administration Committee voted to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission. It’s important to understand why the EAC was created and why it’s still important for our elections.

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Our story starts with the hanging chads in Florida’s disputed Presidential election vote in November 2000. You may remember the famous photo of Judge Rosenberg, above, where mechanical failures of the punchcard holder combined with a confusing ballot layout ultimately proved decisive in George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore. Before then, most people didn’t pay much attention to election administration. Elections work great, right? In the aftermath, it became clear that antiquated punchcard systems, never mind ancient mechanical “lever” voting systems, were a problem. …

The latest news: China and Russia are compelling Apple and Google to censor specific apps from their app stores. Writes Farhad Manjoo in today’s New York Times:

In the last few weeks, the Chinese government compelled Apple to remove New York Times apps from the Chinese version of the App Store. Then the Russian government had Apple and Google pull the app for LinkedIn, the professional social network, after the network declined to relocate its data on Russian citizens to servers in that country. …

The U.S. intelligence community has released its declassified report on Russian activities in relation to the recent U.S. election. It’s 25 pages long and is easy to read (DNI original source, DocumentCloud copy).


It’s unusual to have a report like this made available to the public. To help readers understand intel community lingo, the report describes what it means for the intel community to reach a conclusion and why they cannot share original “sources and methods” with the general public. They also explain that words like “we assess” or “highly likely” are actually specific technical terms with very particular meanings. …

In 2012, Donald Trump described the Electoral College as “a disaster” (see, e.g., Snopes). Now, he’s the beneficiary of Electoral College mathematics, and despite a number of defecting Electors, is on his way to becoming the 45th President of the United States. Meanwhile, many Democrats are pushing to abolish or reform the Electoral College (see, e.g., Larry Lessig’s “equal protection” argument against the “winner takes all” nature of Electoral College vote allocation). Certainly, a switch to some form of National Popular Vote, whether via Lessig’s proposal or whatever else, would change the nature of politics in our country, giving more proportional influence to states with larger populations. …


Dan Wallach

Professor, Department of Computer Science; Rice Scholar, Baker Institute for Public Policy; Rice University, Houston, Texas

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