California Experts Debunk Local “Hickerbilly” Conspiracy Theories

Heidi Ganahl and Mesa County Clerk and Recorder (and fugitive) Tina Peters

With the California gubernatorial recall election having ended in a blowout well beyond any reasonable disputation, we took note of this report in the San Francisco Examiner yesterday about how the recent election system security breach in Mesa County, Colorado was impacting the use of Dominion Voting Systems elections hardware in the California special election.

It’s a tale that has a little bit of everything. But the twists and turns do not include a real threat to the security of the Gavin Newsom recall vote, experts say. Despite the bizarre episode, city and state voting is secure, they insist.

It all started in May, when a county clerk in Colorado named Tina Peters assisted in the theft of voting machine software and other information, Colorado state officials say. The voting machine software and other Dominion voting machine details were posted online and shared elsewhere by hackers and far-right conspiracy theorists. State and federal law enforcement launched investigations, but Peters disappeared. My Pillow founder and staunch Trump ally Mike Lindell said he was hiding the missing Peters. Newsom challenger Larry Elder, meanwhile, has promoted election fraud claims, including Dominion theories…

Rep. Lauren Boebert with 2020 primary campaign manager Sherronna Bishop.

To be clear, actual elections experts with actual qualifications in California are looking at the situation now, not the pack of self-described “hickerbillies” who tried and failed to convince Mesa County’s all-Republican Board of Commissioners that something nefarious was to be found in the data pilfered from the Mesa County Clerk’s office. The fact is, now that we’ve seen what was stolen and the lack of proof sought by the thieves of a larger conspiracy that might somehow justify their criminal actions, only one real threat has emerged from the whole controversy:

Eight cybersecurity experts say there is now a legitimate risk to election security – because of the software and other Dominion details leaked by the conspiracy theorists. The conspiracy theorists made their own Dominion claims credible by stealing and circulating sensitive security details about the machines, they believe…

“Release of the code is sufficient to demand emergency action,” David Jefferson, a signer of the letter and retired computer scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told The Examiner. “We don’t know of any threat to this election, however.” [Pols emphasis]

“The release of the code was apparently politically motivated, and it is not a minor thing,” statistics professor and election security expert Philip Stark, of UC Berkeley, told The Examiner. “They pointed out a security issue – and they are part of it.”

It was clear early on in the investigation into the security breach in Mesa County that despite the breathless insistence of conspiracy theorists including alleged “QAnon” progenitor Ron Watkins, no evidence of anything justifying the wild initial claims about the data stolen from the Mesa County Clerk’s office was forthcoming. County clerks and election system experts alike attest that the affected machines are not connected to the internet, and the software can’t be tampered with remotely in any way. There’s no evidence that has emerged from this breach of any external vulnerability to Dominion’s systems at all–only when trusted individuals turn off cameras and allow tampering in a secure space.

The real risk, as these Bay area experts spell out with admirable clarity we’d love to see more of from local media, is that the exposure of this proprietary data will lead directly to future attempted security breaches. We have every reason to believe Dominion is working right now to address any issues that may arise, but that’s not the point: by leaking this code to the world in the first place, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and her fringy band of zealots who refuse to accept the outcome of the 2020 election have given bad actors a wealth of knowledge to attempt the very thing Peters and her accomplices say they don’t want.

If Peters and her co-conspirators figure this out before sentencing, some contrition before the judge might help. But we don’t have to argue with these “hickerbillies” forever. No matter how sincerely and earnestly their misguided intentions, the public trust has been criminally violated for no justifiable purpose.

Just lock them up already.

One Community Comment, Facebook Comments

  1. JohnInDenver says:

    The security breach is important.  But if the machines are never hooked up to the internet, but are only updated via hardwire in secure conditions, I don't see how even knowing the full software image would make a difference.

    Any computer-savvy individual want to explain how there would be a risk?

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