Ga. failed to sub­poena image of wiped elec­tions server

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Frank Ba­jak AP Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Writer

The case of whether hack­ers may have tam­pered with elec­tions in Ge­or­gia has taken an­other strange turn.

Nearly two years ago, state lawyers in a closely watched elec­tion in­tegrity law­suit said they in­tended to sub­poena the FBI for the foren­sic image, or digital snap­shot, the agency made of a crucial server be­fore state elec­tion of­fi­cials qui­etly wiped it clean. Elec­tion watch­dogs want to ex­am­ine the data to see if there might have been tam­per­ing, given that the server was left ex­posed by a gap­ing se­cu­rity hole for more than half a year.

A new email ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press says state of­fi­cials never did is­sue the sub­poena.

The FBI’s data is cen­tral to ac­tivists’ challenge to Ge­or­gia’s highly ques­tioned, cen­trally ad­min­is­tered elec­tions sys­tem, which lacks an au­ditable pa­per trail and was run at the time by Gov. Brian Kemp, then Ge­or­gia’s sec­re­tary of state.

The plain­tiffs con­tend Kemp’s han­dling of the wiped server is the most glar­ing ex­am­ple of mis­man­age­ment that could be hiding ev­i­dence of vote tam­per­ing. They have been fight­ing for access to the state’s cen­tral­ized black-box vot­ing sys­tems and to in­di­vid­ual vot­ing ma­chines, many of which they say have also been wiped clean.

Mar­i­lyn Marks of the Coali­tion for Good Gov­er­nance, a plain­tiff in the case, said that if the state failed to se­cure the data from the FBI — de­spite in­form­ing U.S. Dis­trict Judge Amy Toten­berg in Oc­to­ber 2017 of its in­tent to do so with the sub­poena — it clearly has some­thing to hide.

“If they have de­stroyed records then it can be pre­sumed that those records would have shown our al­le­ga­tions to be true,” Marks said.

Nei­ther the Sec­re­tary of State’s of­fice nor an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing it in the case, Josh Belin­fante, would say why the sub­poena was never filed. Nor would they say whether they had ob­tained the data through other means for se­cure safe­keep­ing. The FBI in At­lanta also wouldn’t say whether it has pro­vided the state with a copy.

In re­sponse to a query from an at­tor­ney for the plain­tiffs, Belin­fante wrote in a June 27 email ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press that “while a sub­poena was con­tem­plated by prior coun­sel, it was never sent.”

In a state­ment Tues­day evening, Ge­or­gia’s deputy sec­re­tary of state, Jordan Fuchs, called any ac­cu­sa­tion that her of­fice has not com­plied with a court or­der “com­pletely false,” but re­fused fur­ther com­ment.

The FBI data could re­veal whether hack­ers tam­pered with elec­tions in Ge­or­gia be­cause the server in ques­tion had a gap­ing se­cu­rity hole that went un­patched for more than six months be­fore be­ing pub­licly ex­posed. Data on the server in­cluded pass­words used by county of­fi­cials to access elec­tions man­age­ment files.

Tech­ni­cians at the Cen­ter for Elec­tions Sys­tems at Ken­ne­saw State Uni­ver­sity, which then ran the state’s elec­tion sys­tem, erased the server’s data on July 7, 2017, less than a week af­ter the vot­ing in­tegrity suit was filed. Af­ter the AP re­ported on it three months later, Kemp de­nied or­der­ing the data de­struc­tion or knowing about it in ad­vance and called it reck­less, in­ex­cus­able and in­ept.

But the FBI had a foren­sic backup, which it made in March 2017 when it in­ves­ti­gated the se­cu­rity hole. The FBI has not re­sponded to re­peated re­quests by the AP to con­firm that it con­tin­ues to pos­sess the data. FBI At­lanta spokes­woman Jenna Sel­litto wouldn’t say whether the FBI has ex­am­ined the data on that image to de­ter­mine whether any tam­per­ing or other ma­li­cious ac­tiv­ity oc­curred.

The elec­tion in­tegrity law­suit, which en­tered the ev­i­dence­gath­er­ing phase in May, aims to force Ge­or­gia to im­me­di­ately re­place its outdated elec­tronic touch-screen elec­tion tech­nol­ogy with a trust­wor­thy sys­tem with au­ditable pa­per bal­lots.

Un­der a new law signed by Kemp, Ge­or­gia plans to buy a vot­ing sys­tem by year’s end that uses elec­tronic bal­lot­mark­ing de­vices. Plain­tiffs re­ject those de­vices as in­ad­e­quate to guar­an­tee re­li­able au­dits and re­counts.

Kemp has also been ac­cused of voter sup­pres­sion. State elec­tion of­fi­cials are also de­fen­dants in a law­suit filed by an or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by Stacey Abrams , the Demo­crat he nar­rowly de­feated last year. It claims they mis­man­aged the Novem­ber 2018 elec­tion in ways that de­prived mi­nori­ties of their right to vote. Mal­func­tion­ing vot­ing ma­chines and long lines in dis­tricts with large mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions are among problems it cites. Kemp denies the ac­cu­sa­tion.

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