LACAG: Louisiana Clerks of Court Must Change Course to Support Election Integrity

Dr. Alex Halderman testified before the newly created Louisiana Voting System Commission (LVSC) on December 13, 2021 regarding the acute vulnerabilities of Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) used by 90% of American citizens to express their will in our elections. Halderman is internationally recognized as the world’s foremost expert on election cyber security. He is the Co-Chairman of the Michigan Election Advisory Commission and has twice testified as an expert on election security before the United States Congress Intelligence Select Committee. Halderman. Halderman also provided key expert testimony in the ongoing, important federal election integrity case of Curling v Raffensperger. His credentials are unparalleled.

What Halderman told the LVSC should stir every citizen from apathy to action, and it demands that Louisiana adopt a secure, hand-marked paper-based voting system to ensure election integrity and protect the civil rights of its citizens. BMDs must be kicked to the curb, once and for all.

Halderman testified that BMDs have serious vulnerabilities that enable highly sophisticated cyber hackers to remotely access the voting machines and switch votes from one candidate to another. “Universal use of BMDs is a major security challenge because if they are hacked they can misprint or alter votes. They are a large, attractive target to hackers, making attacks more likely.”  Halderman added that “The attackers that I worry about are the attackers like foreign governments, and very sophisticated criminal gangs, the ones we read about in the newspapers who commit cyber fraud and manipulation.” Halderman went on to remind the Commission that “foreign governments have attempted to penetrate these machines and we have every reason to believe they will in the future.”  Halderman further testified that due to the highly sophisticated nature of the malware attacks, it is unlikely that either the voter or the clerk of court charged with conducting and certifying the election in a given parish would be aware of the manipulation and vote altering. “BMDs can be hacked without being detected,” Halderman said. This reality is stunning, and should concern every voter in Louisiana, regardless of political persuasion.

In order to protect against covert cyber-attacks and electronic vote manipulation inherent in the use of BMDs, Halderman recommended to the LVSC a transition to a system of secure, primarily hand-marked paper ballots as the primary method of voting, coupled with precision, risk limiting audits conducted after the computer tabulation of election results but before the results are certified. Says Halderman, “risk limiting audits involve the post-election counting of a targeted number of paper ballots that, if the reported computer outcome is wrong, the audit has a high probability of detecting the discrepancy.” In this way, says Halderman, there will be “affirmative evidence” that the computer outcome is correct, without having to manually recount every vote. Halderman testified that secure, hand-marked paper ballots coupled with post -election risk limiting audits is the only fail-safe way to ensure that Louisiana’s election results are reliable. Halderman also supports the use of assistive technology, included BMDs, for the disabled community who are physically incapable of hand-marking a ballot. Halderman’s view of the gaping vulnerabilities of BMDs is shared  by other prominent cyber-security experts like Andrew Appel of Princeton, Richard DeMillo at Georgia Tech, and Philip Stark of the University of California, Berkeley.

Halderman’s powerful testimony regarding just how exposed Louisiana’s voting machines are, and his recommended solutions, were made in the presence of a number of Louisiana Clerks of Court (COCs) from parishes across the state, including Bridget Hanna, the highly respected and capable Ascension Parish Clerk of Court and member of the LVSC. The Louisiana Secretary of State and the COCs are legally charged with ensuring the integrity and reliability of our vote. So, it was in stunned silence on June 29, 2022 that I watched as a stream of Louisiana COCs from across Louisiana testified in favor of the continued universal use of BMDs in Louisiana’s elections. Lynn Jones, COC for Calcasieu Parish, Robin Hooter, COC for Rapides Parish, Louis Perret, COC for Lafayette Parish, and others to be named in a subsequent publication all uniformly extolled the virtues of BMDs, as though unaware of Halderman’s testimony, in apparent oblivion to their duty to safeguard our voting system against the threat of cyber-attacks. Not one of Louisiana’s clerks of court who testified addressed the substance of Halderman’s testimony or offered any information to refute it.

This begs the question, Why? Why would the frontline officials responsible for ensuring the accuracy of Louisiana elections not be eager to follow the recommendations of the world’s leading cyber-security experts? Why are they not more concerned about the major vulnerabilities associated with the use of BMDs? Why are not they themselves urgently encouraging the creation of a secure, paper -based voting system with a post -election risk limiting audit? What accounts for the mass institutional resistance, especially considering that Louisiana law requires our voting system to have the “highest level of security”? Louisiana law brooks no compromise on the issue.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that resistance to change, both in individuals and institutions, can be powerful. Perhaps it is because an acknowledgement of vulnerability, both in individuals and institutions, can be extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps it is because the transition to a better way of doing things will require trial and error. Perhaps it is because they doubt whether they will have the necessary resources to implement the necessary changes. Perhaps it is because of the tendency among some of our COCs to believe that the vulnerabilities of our current voting system are their fault, which they are not. Halderman testified clearly that the type of cyber manipulation at issue is so sophisticated, and so covert, that it is virtually undetectable by election officials. The COCs bear no responsibility for this. What they DO bear responsibility for is a failure at this point to fully inform their constituents of the problems, and to fully embrace and implement Haldeman’s recommended solutions, whatever it takes.  For this, they should be held accountable. There is simply no justification for failing to act now, considering what is at stake.

Every Louisiana citizen has a fundamental, individual constitutional right under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to be secure in his vote, to know that his vote reliably reflects his choice, that it is correctly counted, and that the voting system on which he relies for that assurance is not at risk of manipulation by bad actors. The freedom to choose our own leaders in a free and democratic society is what separates this Country from the brutal totalitarian regimes throughout the world. If that freedom is not secure, we have no republic. It is that simple.

Facts are stubborn things, and the fact is that Louisiana’s current electronic, machine-based voting system simply does not provide assurance that voters’ core constitutional guarantees are being protected; nor does the COC’s current, recalcitrant posture regarding the future use of BMDs. The evidence of serious vulnerability is irrefutable, and change is no longer optional. It is a matter of public duty and legal obligation. As such, the COC’s ongoing opposition will soon go from honest disagreement to dereliction of duty for which Louisiana voters can and should hold them accountable if they do not change course very soon.

Please contact your clerk of court and demand, without apology, secure, hand-marked paper ballots with a post -election, pre-certification risk limiting audit.  It is not an overstatement to say that our very freedom is at stake. If this does not rouse you to action, then we deserve what we will get.

More to come.

Christopher Alexander

Louisiana Citizen Advocacy Group

P.O. Box 64952

Baton Rouge, La 70896

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