Home / Cybersecurity / Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Trump's mail voting attacks put him at odds with GOP election officials – The Washington Post

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Trump's mail voting attacks put him at odds with GOP election officials – The Washington Post

with Tonya Riley

President Trump’s attacks on voting by mail during the pandemic are putting him increasingly at odds with Republican election officials. 

The president’s harshest salvo to date threatened in a pair of tweets to withhold federal funding from Michigan and Nevada over their efforts to increase voting by mail. He falsely claimed the states, which have Democratic governors, were violating the law by sending absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. 

But the president’s attacks come as Republican officeholders in at least 16 states that don’t have all-mail elections have encouraged residents to vote absentee due to coronavirus. Republican-led states – including Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska and West Virginia – have also implemented the same system that Trump just attacked in Michigan and Nevada. And Nevada’s own secretary of state, who runs the elections there, is a Republican. 

The attacks are increasingly leaving Trump — who voted by mail himself in Florida this year — exposed as Republican election officials ignore his warnings given the anticipated public health risks of in-person voting during a pandemic. 

It is not a partisan issue to ensure that every citizen can vote,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) told Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey, Jeff Stein and John Wagner. “Our hope is that the misuse of federal funding that’s being threatened is simply that — a threat. It’s certainly illegal to predicate federal funding on a political agenda.” 

What timing: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) also signed on to a new bipartisan initiative that launched yesterday aimed at ensuring everyone has access to mail-in voting. 

The initiative, called VoteSafe, is led by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R), who was also the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D).

Benson is also a member of the group – as is Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R), whose state votes entirely by mail. 

Even in Wisconsin, Republican and Democratic election officials are relatively united on voting by mail. 

The state became a flash point for conflict when the Republican-led legislature bucked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s efforts to delay the April 7 primary, resulting in thousands of mail ballots not arriving to people who requested them and blocks-long lines at in-person polling sites in Milwaukee and Green Bay. More than 65 people tested positive for coronavirus after visiting those polling sites, but it’s not clear how many contracted the virus on Election Day. 

The state’s bipartisan election commission voted narrowly yesterday to approve a report that assesses what went wrong in April. It also outlines a plan to make voting by mail run more smoothly in November, including by urging voters to start the process earlier and adopting technology that allows officials and voters to track ballots as they travel through the postal system. 

We have to have much earlier participation with voters. People have to get their ballots requested and sent. We have to make sure we don’t have this avalanche coming in the last few days or we will disenfranchise people,” Democratic Commissioner Mark L. Thomsen said. 

Trump has insisted that voting by mail produces widespread fraud, but there’s no evidence to support that. 

He doubled down yesterday, telling reporters at the White House it would produce “forgeries” and “thousands and thousands of fake ballots.”

But election experts generally say that voting by mail is among the safer ways to vote because it produces a paper record.  

Trump also incorrectly claimed in his first tweet that Michigan planned to send absentee ballots directly to registered voters — a practice that some election officials do say could risk increased fraud. In fact, the state plans to send ballot request forms to voters and only send live ballots to people who request them, as Benson noted on Twitter. 

Trump deleted the first tweet after several hours and tweeted his threat again with the correct description. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to say what funds the president might withhold.

She defended his “concerns about a lot of fraud that is potentially at play when you have mass mail-in voting” and said the tweets were meant to alert White House budget officials and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about those concerns.

“We want to be careful as we send trillions of dollars to states that we keep this important point in mind and we make sure there is fairness in our voting system and absolute accuracy,” she said. 

It would be difficult if not impossible, however, for the administration to withhold federal aid from those states, and any effort would be challenged in court, budget officials told my colleagues.

Democrats were quick to punch back at the tweets, which they said crossed a dangerous new line. 

“The president’s tweet amounts to a ransom note,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the Senate’s top proponents for election reforms. “In the middle of a pandemic, he wants to hold our democracy hostage.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) described the effort on Twitter as “extorting a state to make it more difficult to vote.” 

Trump’s efforts could be especially damaging to veterans who often vote that way, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Army veteran, argued on Twitter. 

Other lawmakers slammed Trump for trying to reduce access to voting by mail when he votes that way himself. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):

Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.):

The National Association of Secretaries of States and the National Association of State Election Directors also sent out a statement that appeared to respond to the president’s tweets. It noted that “election officials are weighing all contingencies to ensure elections this year are secure and accessible for all voters, including increasing absentee or mail-in voting and adjusting in-person voting as circumstances require and state laws permit.” 

Chat room

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) used a popular coronavirus-era meme to promote voting by mail:

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who led the effort to allow House members to vote remotely: 

The state of New Jersey, meanwhile, reminded us of this horror.

The keys

The Nigerian group behind a surge in coronavirus unemployment fraud is also getting into tax scams.

The cybersecurity firm Agari has spotted a major increase in W2 scams from the group called Scattered Canary. In those scams, fraudsters try to con companies into sharing tax forms for all their employees, typically so they can then use them to file phony tax returns and collect refunds, Agari’s senior director of threat research Crane Hassold told me.

Agari was the first to identify Scattered Canary as a fraud group and identified it this week as one of the actors in a wide-ranging unemployment scam that the U.S. Secret Service has said could cost states hundreds of millions of dollars.

W2 scams have broadly decreased in recent years as the Internal Revenue Service created better safeguards to block phony returns. But they’ve spiked since April 15, which was the original tax filing deadline, Hassold said. The filing deadline was extended to July 15 because of the pandemic.  

Scattered Canary may be interested in using some of the W2 data for unemployment and other non-tax scams, Hassold said.

The controversial Israeli spyware firm NSO Group used a fake Facebook page to steal passwords.

The revelation throws another wrench in the company’s claims that it does not operate in the United States, as Motherboard reports. The question has become central to a lawsuit from Facebook claiming NSO helped government clients hack into its WhatsApp messaging service to spy on journalists and dissidents.

NSO stood by its assertions that it does not operate in the United States in a comment to Motherboard.

NSO also used a Virginia-based Amazon-owned server to deliver fake links onto targets’ phones, according to information a former NSO employee shared with Motherboard. The fake links impersonated Web pages from Facebook’s security team and FedEx delivery tracking. Facebook took control of the domain in 2016 to prevent fraud.

At least 22 countries and three U.S. states plan to use a newly released Google and Apple tool to track coronavirus infections.

Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina are the first three U.S. states to announce their involvement. The companies declined, however, to name all the governments that plan to the tool, which has been in the works for more than a month, Reed Albergotti reports. 

Some public health authorities have criticized the companies for not sharing data from the tool directly with them and not tracking users’ locations to help determine virus hot spots. 

The tool uses Bluetooth radio signals to recognize when a user has crossed paths with another app user who reports testing positive for the virus.

Hill happenings

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally launched a rule change that will allow some House lawmakers to vote remotely during the pandemic. 

The emergency rule change allows lawmakers at home to designate a colleague on the House floor to cast votes for them. The change will also allow House committees to conduct remote hearings.

But Republican resistance to the plan could lead to a lawsuit, Politico’s John Bresnahan reports:

The House resolution also commissions a study on technological ways lawmakers can securely cast votes remotely.

More news from the Hill:

A bill that would launch contests with cash prizes to solve major cybersecurity challenges passed a Senate Committee yesterday. The CYBER LEAP Act envisions funding contests related to improving the cybersecurity workforce, managing 5G telecommunications systems and better securing the federal government. The bill’s co-sponsors include Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-N.V.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). 

More government news: 

Industry report

Google secured a lucrative deal with the Defense Department to help with its cyberthreat detection and response.

The deal, first reported by Axios, is in the “seven figures,” the company said. The technology will still allow the Defense Department to use a mix of other cloud providers including Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure. 

More industry news:

Cyber insecurity

Hackers stole the names, email addresses and phone numbers from 8 million customers of meal delivery company Home Chef.

The hackers also took the last four digits of customers’ credit card numbers and mailing addresses, Zack Whittaker at TechCrunch reports.

More news in hacks and breaches:


  • Ranking Digital Rights will host an event “Getting to the Source of the 2020 Infodemic: It’s the Business Model,” on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.

Secure log off

In the search for the best videoconferencing app, only one came out on top, Geoffrey A. Fowler and Heather Kelly found.

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