Covering/not covering Mac Warner’s West Virginia election security
It’s not about security; it’s about publicity for the secretary of state
A look at Secretary of State Warner’s self-congratulatory op-ed piece
Mac Warner, West Virginia’s Secretary of State, has an op-ed in this morning’s Wheeling News-Register about what he and the state are doing to secure elections. His use of hyperbole and self-congratulations is a bit much, however. He sets the tone early in the article:
While certain institutions wrung their hands on how to start, West Virginia relied on our pioneer spirit and plotted our own course into unchartered territory.
(“Pioneer spirit” and “unchartered territory” – did he get help from Daniel Boone?)
Warner’s article details and then praises what he and the state are doing:
The training experience — using the most advanced training techniques available by the nation’s leading experts in elections — now has our county clerks as the best trained election officials in the country in the field of election security.
Most advanced? Vice News, whom Warner cites in his op-ed for praising his efforts, didn’t quite see it that way. Vice says that the workshop largely covered “cybersecurity basics”:
DHS officials briefed clerks on how to spot a phishing attempt, a malicious hacking attempt sent via email; they encouraged the clerks to update their voter registration software and emphasized the importance of changing their passwords frequently. And they offered guidance on how to respond if an attack happens and urged clerks to be upfront and honest if they accidentally fall for a phishing scam. The clerks have to be proactive in sharing information with the public and press if there are issues on Election Day.
“Change your password frequently.” This is “advanced training”?
But haven’t regular readers of Wheeling papers previously read about this training? Yes, they did. Steven Allen Adams described the workshop in detail on July 24. This op-ed exists to allow Ogden favorite Mac Warner to promote Mac Warner. (Not surprisingly, the personal pronoun “I” shows up five times in the article.)
But what about Warner’s questionable security proposal?
Since the Warner PR release first appeared on the Secretary’s website, another action by the Secretary of State has lead a number of sources to question Warner’s commitment to cybersecurity. According to CNN Tech:
West Virginians serving overseas will be the first in the country to cast federal election ballots using a smartphone app, a move designed to make voting in November's election easier for troops living abroad.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and Voatz, the Boston company that developed the app, insist it is secure. Anyone using it must first register by taking a photo of their government-issued identification and a selfie-style video of their face, then upload them via the app. Voatz says its facial recognition software will ensure the photo and video show the same person. Once approved, voters can cast their ballot using the Voatz app.
Ballots are anonymized, the company says, and recorded on a public digital ledger called blockchain. Although that technology is most often associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it can be used to record all manner of data.
It is hard to find anyone in the technical community who thinks that this is a good idea. Some sample headlines:
From MIT Technology Review:
Why security experts hate that “blockchain voting” will be used in the midterm elections
And its subheading elaborates:
It’s too dangerous to conduct elections over the internet, they say, and West Virginia’s new plan to put votes on a blockchain doesn’t fix that.
From Ars Technica:
Experts criticize West Virginia’s plan for smartphone voting
Finally, Vanity Fair’s tech writer quotes the Center for Democracy & Technology's head technologist in their headline:
“A Horrifically Bad Idea”: Smartphone Voting Is Coming, Just in Time for the Midterms
Note -- Nothing about Warner’s most recent proposal has appeared in our local “newspapers.” Apparently, good publicity for Warner is all that matters.