DEF CON: A confirmation about the state of elections in Iowa

August 13, 2018

At a recent Iowa State Association of County Auditors (ISACA) meeting in Iowa City, I heard officials from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office (SoS) discounting the value of any news or reports coming out of the Voting Machine Hacking Village at DEF CON® 26.

I went to DEF CON anyway.  I arrived on Thursday, soaked up as much as possible on Friday, and returned home on Saturday.  As the metaphor goes:  It was like trying to drink out of a fire hose.

Contrary to what the SoS said, I found the opposite.  Every person I met seemed interested in elections, interested in the equipment we use, and interested in showing us the vulnerabilities of the equipment we use with an unexpected twist.  That twist:  What can I do to help election officials fix the problems?

Imagine.  A bunch of techies who cared about our democracy and elections; who were asking tough questions; and receiving accurate answers from researchers who had obviously spent plenty of time studying the voting machines, many still in use across the country.  One of the machines used in Iowa, an ES&S DS650 high-speed scanner (Linn County uses the DS850), was being analyzed by a team of twenty- somethings when I left the Village Friday evening.

I was reinvigorated to see so many strangers excited about voting machines.  I have witnessed many public tests of Linn County’s voting machines over the years where no one attended our public tests.  Maybe that will change going forward?

So what was the value of DEF CON to me and the taxpayers of Linn County?

Confirmation.  Confirmation that Iowa’s biggest election vulnerability is the voter registration database, i.e., I-Voters, managed by the SoS, along with the I-Voters clients in each of the State’s 99 counties, and along with the voter registration databases stored on the electronic pollbooks (ePollbooks) in almost every county.

At one point, I came into the Village just as a couple of techs finished up successfully hacking into an ePollbook (not the one used in Linn County) while NHK Japan’s TV cameras were rolling.  NHK  interviewed me earlier in the day for a story they will broadcast before our November 6th election.

While Iowa has Election Day registration (EDR), which would become the backup for any voters deleted from a voter registration database aka the election register on Election Day; the confusion, frustration, and inconvenience of my 90-year-old mother having to re-register to vote on Election Day would undermine trust in our elections.  And for those states without EDR laws, disenfranchisement would occur.

If you read David E. Sanger’s book – The Perfect Weapon (I am reading it now) – combined with the news reports about the Russians scouting some Iowa counties, you would likely conclude that some fourteen-year old in Prairieburg is not likely to be motivated to hack into I-Voters unless they were getting a million dollars in Bitcoin to do it.  However, Bitcoins leave tracks; whereas, nation-states have the ability to skew tracks.  Maybe we will know who did it; maybe not.  And even if we have conclusive proof, will the suspected nation-state admit it?  Come on Russia; admit it.

No.  If I-Voters is going to be hacked – assuming it has not been hacked already – it will be by a nation-state.  And even if I-Voters has been hacked and Iowa’s State officials know about it, they have likely been forbidden from telling me and my peers for fear of undermining the upcoming election.  I guess they would rather wait until after the election to tell us, when we will already know the answer and be suffering the consequences.  That will so much better for our democracy.  Not!

Look.  The SoS keeps telling us that the Russians were merely walking around the neighborhood turning the doorknobs, looking for an unlocked home.  But they did not get inside the house.

I contend that their walking around the neighborhood was a distraction.  When what they were really doing was hacking into an I-Voter’s client sitting in the Podunk (not a real name) County Courthouse via a thumbdrive that one of the employees thought fell out of another employee’s purse because it looked exactly like the one he uses at work.  When that thumbdrive was inserted into a County computer the next day, it gave a nation-state remote access into I-Voters.  And the malware has been there ever since.  Waiting.  Patiently waiting.

If I-Voters has already been hacked, I cannot do anything about it and I will not be told about it.  So I have to do what I can do to remove any weaknesses in Linn County Elections – which my team has been doing since August of 2017.

Every county in Iowa is interconnected to every other county in Iowa via I-Voters as required by HAVA.  While I do not believe Linn County is the weakest link in Iowa’s election infrastructure chain, it does not matter because the weakest link can affect Linn County.  DEFCON confirmed that fact to me, too.

A couple of months ago, I talked to the Linn County Board of Supervisors (BOS) about deploying a tech from Linn County to assist other counties with shoring up their election infrastructure defenses.  The BOS indicated I did not need their permission.  I made the offer to the SoS and the Iowa’s Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO).  I never received a request from either office.

On July 26th, I asked the OCIO’s representative in front of 50+ county auditors how many of Iowa’s counties were still not being monitored by the OCIO’s Security Operations Center.  He answered, “40”.  That is the same number that he gave me in March 2018 when I asked the same question.

On July 26th, before leaving the Auditors’ meeting room, I told the SoS’s Deputy Commissioner of Elections that I truly believe Iowa’s elections infrastructure is vulnerable.  His reply, “I appreciate your passion.”

Is Iowa’s elections infrastructure going to be ready for the November 6th general election?  What is the likelihood it has already been compromised?

To the team who put together the Voting Machine Hacking Village at DEF CON 26.  Thank you!  To those who made elections related presentations at DEF CON 26.  Thank you!  To David E. Sanger for confirming what I have been saying about voter registration databases.  Thank you!  -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor & Commissioner of Elections

Miller and fiscal responsibility

August 8, 2018
This is the 3rd in a series of posts on WHY I AM RUNNING FOR SUPERVISOR

I am Joel Miller and I am running for supervisor to protect the taxpayers from Big Spender Ben Rogers (BSBR).

What will I do in the future to protect the taxpayers from fiscal irresponsibility?

  • Unlike BSBR, if the County needs more space for its offices/employees, I will request that County Managers perform a space study BEFORE I vote YES to build another building.  Could Public Health have relocated to the County’s Community Services Building instead of the $31 million Harris Building?  Likely!
  • Unlike BSBR, I would have voted NO to spending about $9 million to expand the Squaw Creek and Morgan Creek Parks.  The City of Cedar Rapids maintains the largest parks system of any city in the State of Iowa and both of those parks are adjacent to Cedar Rapids.  Does the BOS need to continue adding land to the County’s parks when 59% of the County’s population resides in Cedar Rapids?  No!
  • Unlike BSBR, I will not be joining the Board of Directors (BOD) of any non-profit organization that provides services to the County or seeks funding of any type from County unless BOS membership is required by Iowa law.  Currently, I am not on the BOD of any organization.
  • Public art.  In the past few years, BSBR has voted YES to spend at least $400,000 on art.  If he is re-elected, he may vote YES to spend up to $300,000 on art for the Harris Building.  I will not vote YES to spend $300,000 on art for the Harris Building.
  • I will vote NO on building and remodeling buildings next to the Cedar River that have to be shut down when the river floods until/unless those buildings are protected from flooding.
  • I will request that County Purchasing solicit bids more often on recurring purchases.
  • I will request County Purchasing solicit bids on items, services, or projects even when not required by law, if I think the County can save tax dollars.
  • I will seek to ensure the “playing field” is level and fair for all bidders – not just the ones that have a long term relationship with County Departments.
  • Supervisor salaries.  Thus far, I am the only candidate for Supervisor that will take a pay cut if I am elected Supervisor.  I have never believed that the position of Linn County Supervisor was or is a full-time elected position.  Supervisor Brent Oleson confirmed my belief when he once said to me, “I never said I worked full-time” after he spoke to the County Compensation Board.  I believe I have a better work ethic and better sense of urgency to get things done than any member of the current BOS.

On July 1, 2018, Linn County was carrying $22.585 million in General Obligation debt, which means every man’s, woman’s, and child’s share of this debt is $100.75.  When the County accepts the Harris Building, we will incur another $31.5 million in debt.  The Conservation Board has the approval to sell up to $40 million in bonds.  Do you think BSBR will vote YES to approve Conservation’s requests?

I am running for supervisor to protect the taxpayers from Big Spender Ben Rogers (BSBR).

Coming up next:  The County and flood control

Paid for by Miller for the People

Fiscal irresponsibility

August 7, 2018
This is the 2nd in a series of posts on WHY I AM RUNNING FOR SUPERVISOR

I am running for supervisor to protect the taxpayers from Big Spender Ben Rogers (BSBR).

BSBR has a tendency to approve almost any spending request.  For example:

$31 million for the Harris Building;

$7 million for the Dow’s Properties;

Almost $2 million for the Morgan Creek Park expansion; and

$93,000 for the PVC wheat stocks in front of the Jean Oxley Public Service Building.

BSBR approved the sale of the Mott Building for $500,000 and instead of reducing our taxes by $500,000, he voted to spend $250,000 on “Rollic”, the sculpture in Greene Square Park, and $75,000 for Marion’s Art in the Alley.

Another $100,000 of the Mott Building proceeds went to the ARC of East Center Iowa after BSBR asked his peers on the Board of Supervisors (BOS) to approve a grant to the ARC.  Why did BSBR abstain on the vote?  Because he was on the ARC’s Board of Directors at the time.  That’s what I call a related party transaction.

BSBR voted to give himself a 25% pay increase a couple of years after approving a 20% pay cut for the BOS.

I am running for supervisor to protect the taxpayers.

Coming up next:  What will I do to protect the taxpayers?

Paid for by Miller for the People

 Why I am running for supervisor

August 6, 2018

About 8am today, I, Joel D. Miller, will file nomination papers signed by 500+ citizens residing in Linn County Supervisor District 2 with the Office of Linn County Auditor (Election Services).  

I am running for supervisor to protect the taxpayers!

I will run as an INDEPENDENT – NO PARTY candidate for Supervisor in the November 6th general election.

As I indicated in a previous post, I am not campaigning when the Auditor’s Office is open for business. An exception will occur when I file my nomination papers because I am filing at the Election’s counter, and that can only occur when the Auditor’s Office is open for business.

Over the next several weeks, I will be writing about how I plan to protect the taxpayers.  

My writings will detail what has occurred, the role my opponent played, and how I plan to protect the taxpayers when I am elected.

Coming up next:  Big Spender Ben Rogers and Fiscal Irresponsibility

Paid for by Miller for the People

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller to run for supervisor

August 2, 2018

Paid for by Miller for the People

Linn County Tax Levy rates and Property Tax Estimator online

July 24, 2018

The FY2018-2019 Tax Levy rates and the FY2019 Property Tax Estimator are now available from the Linn County Auditor’s Office at

The question is: Did your overall property tax burden increase or decrease compared to last year? Use the calculator to answer the question after reviewing last year’s check register. Joel D. Miller – Linn County

Letter to the editor and my rebuttal

July 9, 2018

On 6/30/2018, a letter criticizing my job as Linn County Auditor was published in The Gazette.  You can read it here.

On 7/5/2018, my rebuttal was published in The Gazette.  It reads:

Response to Gary Thompson’s June 30 letter “Joel Miller should focus on doing his job”:

Did some precinct election officials, or PEOs, make mistakes on Election Day? Yes. Did they correct their mistakes? Yes. Am I responsible for their mistakes? Yes.

Did any of the mistakes affect the election results? No. I encourage you to become a PEO and work a 16-hour Election Day along with Supervisor John Harris, who recently signed up to work an election. You can apply online.

I do not subscribe to the premise that unless you are perfect, you cannot question another person or another elected official. No one is perfect.

Do I question other elected officials? Yes. For example, I am questioning the Iowa Secretary of State on why the elections infrastructure in 20 to 30 of Iowa’s counties is not being monitored for hackers.  Continue reading…. 

I plan to respond to any and all future letters to the editor that are critical of the Office of Linn County Auditor, its employees, or precinct election officials.  I will respond with facts that can be substantiated.  You are welcome to contact me at Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Election night reporting – keeping up with the “Joneses”

June 8, 2018

On Wednesday, June 6th, a member of the Linn County Board of Supervisors criticized Election Services (ES) for reporting our June 5th election night results later than other counties.

In the Fall of 2017, I asked ProCircular to conduct an audit of ES.  One of the topics reviewed was using cellular modems to transmit election night results.

In light of the Russian attempts to hack the 2016 election and the fact that Iowa was a target of the hacking, I have been discouraged by ProCircular and the US Department of Homeland Security from attaching cellular modems to our precinct scanners.  Why?  Per the experts’ advice, using cellular modems creates a vulnerability for hackers to exploit.  Instead, we have employees hand deliver the memory sticks with the election results to ES on election night.

Further, cell service in parts of Linn County – depending on the carrier you use – is undependable.  And not every carrier offers cellular modems that are approved for use with our precinct scanners.

When I was elected County Auditor in 2007, ES relied upon land-line based telephone services and modems attached to precinct scanners to report election night results to our central computer.  In the November 2008 election, I recall a local TV reporter thrusting a microphone into my face and asking me why the results were delayed.  I told him that a couple of modems failed and our fallback plan was to have the results hand delivered from the precinct to ES on election night.  That is the last time I relied upon modems to report precinct election results.

And while technology has improved in the last ten years, if we cannot receive 100% of the results at about the same time on election night, e.g., from the Prairieburg, Walker, or Coggon precincts, then what have we accomplished?

If ES buys modems for the November 2018 general election, here’s what would happen:

  • We will have spent about $30,000 on cellular modems;
  • We will have created an additional vulnerability for our election night results to get hacked;
  • We will have added one more piece of technology for the precinct election officials to be trained on, to use, and to worry about; and
  • We will have created the impression that Linn County’s election night results will be reported to the public as fast or faster than surrounding counties who use modems.

And if our election night results are reported in 30 minutes or less, what value did we add to the election?  We reported our UNOFFICIAL election night results an hour quicker than before.  We satisfied a few people.  And we made 153,000 people who did not vote in the election pay 90% of the costs for $30,000 in modems.  That is not a good use of tax dollars.  – Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

About tomorrow’s primary election – do ask and don’t protest

June 4, 2018

Earlier this year during a special election in Lisbon, your Elections Office tested Apple iPad electronic pollbooks (ePollbooks) at the polling place.  ePollbooks are used to check-in voters and confirm voter eligibility, and replace paper based registers that voters sign.    It was a small election and after some initial startup issues, everything operated as planned.  The test was successful.

Another special election occurred in April and we did additional testing on the iPad ePollbooks.  We did not have any startup issues and everything operated as planned.  The test was successful.

Tuesday, June 5th, we will be using the iPad ePollbooks in conjunction with older laptop ePollbooks in each of the precincts in the County.  Linn County has 86 precincts operating in 79 separate polling places, and 250 precinct election officials (PEO) will be ready to serve you.

Every one of those PEOs has received from 2 – 4.5 hours of training in preparation for the election.  They have trained on the ePollbooks and they will have paper based election registers to backup the technology should any issues arise.

In addition, several other election day workers will be visiting the polling places to assist with any technology related issues. 

Please keep in mind that the backup to any technology failure is paper.  For example, if the optical scanner stops working, you can drop your voted paper ballot into an emergency storage bin on the ballot box.  When the failure is remedied, two PEOs from different political parties empty the emergency storage bin and run the unidentifiable marked ballots through the scanner.  If you see PEOs handling ballots near the ballot box, that’s what they are doing.  Feel free to confirm what the PEOs are doing.  Ask them.  Don’t leave the polling place wondering what they were doing.

In the same manner, if an ePollbook, laptop, or printer fails, the PEOs will revert to the paper forms they have on-hand for this situation.  Once the failure is remedied, the PEOs will resume using the appropriate electronic devices.

Iowa has been using paper ballots since 2008 and we store the voted ballots for 22 months after an election.  We have never needed to recreate an entire election; however, from time to time, candidates request recounts on their specific races.  These recounts have always proven that our processes, methods, and technology functions correctly. 

Every election administrator’s goal is a perfect election – one with no errors and no failures.  In a perfect world that might be attainable.  But in today’s election world, it is not likely.  Elections have lots of “moving parts”:  PEOs, technology, voters, polling places, … and the weather. 

We have contingency plans in place, and backups to backups to ensure every eligible voter who chooses to vote gets to vote, and every vote gets counted, and that you can trust the results.

If you see something odd occur while you are at the polling place, please ask the Chairperson of the PEOs right then and there.  Our elections are transparent and there is an explanation for everything the Elections Office and the PEOs do on election day.  If you are unsatisfied with the answer, then call me at 319-892-5333.  Better yet, volunteer to be a precinct election official in the November general election.  The application is here.  – Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

P.S.  Please do NOT use this election or any election to protest the Voter ID law.  Your PEOs have a duty to administer the election according to the Iowa’s laws.  And your protest may consume just enough time that someone in line behind you is disenfranchised because they only have 5 minutes to vote before going to their next job or picking up the kids from school, and you just delayed the process by 5 minutes and they had to leave the polling place without voting. 

Octogenarians beating 18-49 year olds

June 1, 2018

The eighty year olds are beating the 18 year olds, the 25 year olds, the 35 year olds, and the 49 year olds. Where? At the early (absentee) voting ballot box. Why?

I certainly hope election day turnout among the 18-49 year olds overwhelms the 80 year olds and over age group by the time voting ceases on election day. But what if it does not? What is the message?

I do not understand why non-voters are unable or unwilling to draw a direct connection between some of the things that are happening to them in life, and the candidates who run for office, and the candidates who get elected to office? I know non-voters have their reasons – I conducted a survey in 2010. But are their reasons fact or fiction?

If you already voted or plan to vote on June 5th, take some time over the weekend to talk to someone who never votes or infrequently votes about the importance of voting. They may not want to vote in the primary election, but that gives you a reason to continue the conversation until the general election. Friends should not let friends get away with not voting. – Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Early Voting Demographic Groups by Gender by Party as of 6-1-2018


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