Proponents are calling for a federal probe into efforts by several states to copy voting software


An attempt by supporters of former President Donald Trump to copy sensitive voting software in several states after the 2020 election deserves the federal government’s attention, including a criminal investigation and assessment of the risk to poll security, poll security advocates say.

As new information continues to emerge about several states’ efforts, the national election and campaign finance reform group Free Speech for People, along with several former election officials and computer scientists, sent a letter Monday urging Justice and Homeland Security officials to investigate. They wrote that by copying voting software and distributing it “in the wild,” partisan abstainers have created a digital roadmap that could help Hackers change results or disrupt votes.

Evidence of the efforts of several states has been brought to light by plaintiffs in a long-running civil lawsuit over the security of Georgia’s electoral system. They noted that just as Trump wrongly blamed hacked voting machines for his 2020 defeat, in January 2021, sympathetic officials in rural Coffee County allowed computer forensic scientists paid by Trump-allied attorney Sidney Powell to copy voting software. This software was then uploaded to a website where it was downloaded by election deniers across the country.

“Because these events were uncovered in a private prosecution rather than a law enforcement investigation, the significance and consequences may not have been registered with appropriate federal authorities,” the letter said. Several of the 15 signatories have served as witnesses for the plaintiffs in the case.

Inside Trump allies’ secret effort to gain access to voting machines

Records show that some of the people involved in copying software in Coffee were also involved in copying and distributing voting software in Michigan and Colorado.

Prosecutors in Georgia and other states are investigating attempts to access and copy voting software. But the letter argues that there are still many unanswered questions about the “coordinated multi-state plan” organized and funded by Trump allies.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

The proponents’ letter also asks the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of Homeland Security, to assess the risks to election security “posed by the unauthorized distribution of voting system software to individuals who have already disseminated misinformation and may be attempting to disrupt elections.”

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CISA did not respond to a request for comment. In October, the agency and FBI said in a public service announcement, “Given the extensive safeguards and distributed nature of voting infrastructure, the FBI and CISA continue to anticipate that attempts to manipulate votes on a large scale will be difficult.” to perform undetected.”

Dominion Voting Systems, which makes the software copied in Coffee and some other jurisdictions, said in a statement to The Post that since the 2020 election there has been no credible evidence its machines have done anything other than vote accurately to count.

What happened to voting machines in Coffee County, Georgia?

The office of Georgia’s Foreign Minister Brad Raffensperger (R) said on Monday that Georgia’s elections were safe. “All of the actual evidence, from logic and accuracy tests to post-election risk-limiting checks to voter-verifiable paper ballots, shows that the Georgia election results accurately reflect the will of the Georgian people,” the office said in a statement. “It’s nothing but conspiracy theories and election denial to say otherwise.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced in August that it had opened an investigation into software copying in Coffee County. William Duffey, the chair of the Georgia State Board of Elections, said at a public meeting in September that he also escalated the matter to the FBI.

Citing FBI guidelines, a spokesman for the FBI’s Atlanta field office declined to say last week whether it was investigating.

The Justice Department sent a grand jury subpoena to Raffensperger to contact the Trump campaign and attorneys associated with Trump, including Powell, The Post reported Monday. That doesn’t mean prosecutors are investigating attempts to access machines; They investigated a range of post-election activities by Trump and his allies.

Coffee County officials told The Post last week that the county had not received any federal subpoenas recently.

Voters in Georgia are currently making their choices on touchscreen “ballot-marking devices,” which then print out a ballot using a scanned and tabulated QR code, a system Georgia officials say is secure and accurate. Plaintiffs in the long-running federal lawsuit argue that Georgia should instead adopt hand-marked paper ballots, which are then machine-scanned and counted, which they say would be more secure.

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Plaintiffs, constituents, and nonprofit watchdog organization Coalition for Good Governance first filed the lawsuit in 2017, well before the rise of the Trump-powered “Stop the Steal” movement in 2020. In October 2020, the federal judge responsible for the case expressed serious concerns about security flaws in Georgia’s electoral system, but declined to order the state to stop using it.

J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor and plaintiffs expert, was granted access to the type of ballot marking device and scanner used in Georgia. He identified a number of alleged vulnerabilities that were detailed in a report filed under seal in court in the summer of 2021.

The court allowed Halderman’s research to be shared with CISA, which conducted a review that culminated in a June warning to local and state election officials. The alert identified nine technical issues that together, according to CISA, could allow a hacker to gain elevated user privileges, install malicious code, disguise that code, and spread it to other voting devices.

CISA said that in order to exploit many of the vulnerabilities, a would-be hacker would need to gain physical access to machines. State and local election officials have long said machines are protected by layers of security protocols that would make it difficult for a hacker to gain that kind of access.

In Coffee County, a local Elections Superintendent allegedly allowed forensic scientists from Atlanta-based firm SullivanStrickler to spend hours in her office on Jan. 7, 2021 for copying virtually every component of the county’s voting system, The Post previously reported.

“Anyone with physical access would have numerous opportunities to install malicious software, including simply running it from a thumb drive,” Halderman wrote last month in a supplemental report obtained by The Post.

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Halderman examined the software and data that SullivanStrickler had copied from Coffee. This team’s access to election equipment was “much more comprehensive” than the access it was granted as the plaintiffs’ expert, he wrote.

Ten poll security officials interviewed by The Post in recent weeks all agreed that the data from coffee hackers could help plan an attack on voting systems. However, they had differing views on the likelihood of a hacker successfully injecting malware onto a computer during a time frame that would affect voting, and whether such a breach could go undetected.

While prominent experts linked to the plaintiffs say Halderman’s research shows voting systems could be rigged, others — including state and federal officials — are skeptical. They note that since 2017, when voting systems were labeled critical infrastructure, election officials have been encouraged to act as if voting software was already in the hands of would-be hackers — and set up redundancies to guard against attacks.

Messages from the encrypted Signal messaging app, verified by The Post, show that SullivanStrickler was discussing plans to access the county’s systems with a Washington team that included a woman named Katherine, who wrote that she was just returned to DC with “the mayor”.

“[W]We have just been granted entry – by written invitation! – to Coffee County Systems. Woo-hoo!” the woman told one of the firm’s experts on Jan. 1, 2021, according to a message the expert shared with colleagues on Signal. Because the message was forwarded in Signal, the phone number or email address that “Katherine” used is not displayed.

Around that time, Republican attorney Katherine Friess was working in the capital to overturn the election with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Friess had previously escorted SullivanStrickler employees to northern Michigan for a court-approved copying of Dominion software.

Neither Friess nor an attorney for Giuliani responded to requests for comment.

A lawyer for SullivanStrickler did not directly respond to questions about Friess and the message, which referred to an official invitation. “Rudy Giuliani had no interactions with SullivanStrickler,” the attorney wrote in an email.

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