By Bowen Xiao
Lawmakers, cybersecurity officials, and expert panelists warned the public years ago of the vulnerabilities of America’s election infrastructure, as well as threats of foreign and domestic interference in U.S. elections.
In December 2019, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) raised concerns about the poor condition and vulnerabilities of voting machines and other election equipment, as well as a lack of transparency, in letters sent to three private equity firms: McCarthy Group, Staple Street Capital Group, and H.I.G. Capital.
The lawmakers said three vendors—Election Systems & Software, Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart InterCivics—”collectively distribute voting machines and software that facilitate voting for over 90% of all eligible voters in the United States.”
The private equity firms reportedly own or control each of the vendors, the lawmakers noted.
“We are particularly concerned that secretive and ‘trouble-plagued companies,’ owned by private equity firms and responsible for manufacturing and maintaining voting machines and other election administration equipment, ‘have long skimped on security in favor of convenience,’ leaving voting systems across the country ‘prone to security problems’” the lawmakers collectively wrote in the letters.
The vendors barely make public information on matters pertaining to their annual profits, executive compensation, or on how much they spend on the maintenance of their voting systems, they said.
More broadly, the lawmakers also had concerns about the spread and effect of private equity investments in the election technology industry and other sectors of the economy and that these issues “threaten the integrity of our elections.”
President Donald Trump and his campaign have claimed Dominion systems aren’t secure and have filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania contesting the unofficial election results. Dominion, which says it’s a nonpartisan company, has acknowledged connections with the Clinton Global Initiative and a former staffer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Recently, Dominion backed out at the last moment after committing to attend an oversight hearing in Pennsylvania. Dominion has a lengthy statement on its website challenging some of the claims made about its machines, including allegations that the company deleted millions of votes for Trump.
In a recent press conference, lawyer Sidney Powell alleged a transnational conspiracy involving the “influence of communist money” from countries including Cuba, Venezuela, and “likely China” to overturn the presidential race via election software.
John R. Mills, former director of cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, told The Epoch Times, “There is this interesting intersection with legacy software or firmware developers in Venezuela and the current slate of voting machines including Dominion.”
“Venezuela has a solid footprint of Chinese, Russian, and Iranian activities for influence operations in the Americas,” Mills said. “For these to not have an intersection would be odd.”
William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in an August statement that the U.S. government is “primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran” when it comes to election interference.
Evanina said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had been “expanding its influence efforts” before the November election in order to “shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China.”
“We assess that China prefers that President Trump—whom Beijing sees as unpredictable—does not win reelection,” he said in a public statement.
America’s election infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to efforts by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), according to Mills.
“I think the Chinese MSS/PLA would look at the Election Management Services environment as a strong return-on-investment opportunity for influence operations in the United States,” Mills told The Epoch Times.
“The mysterious nature of the algorithms, control measures, and processing of the data are a screaming target for the cyber warrior of the MSS/PLA looking for effects-based influence operations.”
Chinese state media have openly voiced support for a Biden presidency, saying he would be “smoother” for the regime to deal with than Trump.
Mills said he has looked through some of the testing standards and procedures and potentially there are performance characteristics that may not be included in an individual test plan, resulting in it “essentially [becoming] ‘self-certified,’ which means the State/Federal Government is accepting the word of the vendor.”
“This is a very complex topic and the control measures to ensure conformance across the State/Federal environment are hard to document and cross reference,” he said. “These are high-value targets for MSS/PLA cyber operations and the ability for these operations to be conducted with or without the cooperation of the voting machine company itself is highly likely.”
One study by security firm Interos found that one-fifth of the hardware and software component behind an electronic voting station came from China-based companies. These components include things such as control boards, AI processors, infrastructure software, and touch screens.
The study also found that 59 percent of companies “within the first three tiers of the machine’s supply chain had locations in China, Russia, or [both] China and Russia.”
In January, John Poulos, the CEO and co-founder of Dominion Voting, testified at a hearing on election security before the House Administration Committee that their company does “have components in our products that come from China,” noting that he doesn’t know the percentage.
Before Poulos could move on, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) questioned what exactly the components from China were.
“LCD components, the actual glass screen on the interface down to the chip component level of capacitors and resistors, several of those components to our knowledge are not even—there’s no option for manufacturing of those in the United States,” Poulos responded, adding that he welcomes guidelines and best practices from the committee.
Federal intelligence, cybersecurity officials, and other election experts testified during a June 21, 2017, hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that no votes were altered in the 2016 election, but also detailed the fact that hacking attacks occurred and that there were alarming vulnerabilities.
“Foreign-based hackers were able to gain access to voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois, prompting the FBI to warn State election offices to increase their election security measures for the November election,” Connie Lawson, then-Indiana secretary of state and president-elect of the bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State, testified, referring to the 2016 presidential election.
Lawson also noted that they learned from a top-secret NSA report “that the identity of a company providing voter registration support services in several states was compromised.”
Another panel, expert Michael Haas, then the Midwest regional representative at the National Association of State Election Directors, said the 2016 presidential election taught them that “the potential for disrupting election processes and technology by foreign or domestic actors is a serious and increasing concern.”
The Trump campaign has alleged widespread voter fraud and claimed Joe Biden’s lead was a result of a “national conspiracy” orchestrated by Democrats. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani—who leads the effort to challenge the election results—said he has at least 1,000 sworn affidavits from citizens alleging wrongdoing that is “enough to overturn any election.”