Georgia election officials struggle to ensure security in state elections

Multi-Media Visions of Community

By: Robert Thomas 

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Sec. Brian Kemp speaks at a campaign event at the John Megel Chevrolet in Dawsonville, Georgia on Monday, October 1, 2018. Sec. Kemp spoke at the event as part of a political bus tour across the state with stops in several counties.

Are Georgia state election officials doing enough to ensure the security of the election? A mounting wave of controversies, evidence, lawsuits and expert opinion shows that your vote might not be as secure as you think.

According to US District Court Judge Amy Totenberg, Georgia voting integrity advocates have recently shown “the threat of real harms to their constitutional interests” in a case filed against Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state election officials. The plaintiffs in the case argued that Georgia’s touchscreen voting machines, which have been used since 2002, are vulnerable to hacking and lack a verifiable paper trail, and therefore sought an injunction to force the state to move to paper ballots prior to the upcoming midterm election.

Judge Totenburg rejected the injunction last month solely over concerns that the “massive scrambling” necessary for the state to switch prior to the midterm election would cause greater problems in the “orderly administration of the election” and disenfranchise voters further. However, Judge Totenburg heavily criticized state election officials as having “stood by for far too long, given the mounting tide of evidence of the inadequacy and security risks of Georgia’s DRE voting system and software.”

Several technology experts have criticized the insecurity of the state’s election system and warned it’s potential to be hacked. Hossain Shahriar, Ph.D, a professor of computer science and expert in computer and network security, does not believe state elections officials are doing enough to ensure the security of elections in Georgia. “I believe there is certainly opportunity to do more, at least to be at the national average. We have to see the investment and also the effort to make the election system secure,” Shahriar said.

Shahriar believes that the state is not devoting near enough of the state budget to ensuring that election systems are safe and secure.

Although there is no evidence that hackers have penetrated Georgia’s electronic voting machines during an election, Shahriar says that it would possible for malware to be written so that it’s undetectable, leaving no trace that the voting totals had ever been tampered with.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose office oversees the integrity of elections in the state, has repeatedly stated that Georgia’s current voting system is secure. However, these arguments for the security of the system come despite a number of somewhat contradictory blunders that have plagued the Secretary of State’s office over the last year.

In August 2016, private cybersecurity researcher Logan Lamb discovered the records of more than 6 million registered Georgia voters, password files and encryption keys could be readily downloaded from a website of Kennesaw State University. Despite Lamb informing the election center, it took over six months for the center to address the issue.

Then in October of last year, AP news reported that a computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians shortly after the suit was filed. Sec. Kemp’s office later opened an investigation and concluded that Kennesaw State University’s elections center, where the voter data was maintained, acted “in accordance with standard IT procedures” when it wiped data from a computer server shortly after the lawsuit was filed. An investigation was launched by the FBI and closed without comment. Despite the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University ultimately reporting to his office, Kemp continues to blame the center for the issues.

Kemp denies that the voter server wipe had anything to do with his office. “What happened with the server was at Kennesaw State – it was their server,” Kemp says. “The FBI investigated that. They took the server. Anything that happened to that server, the FBI did it, so you’d have to ask Kennesaw State or the FBI about that.”

Kemp also claims there was never a data breach and that the notion there was is “fake news.”

Kemp says, “We have 12 discs that were released, we secured those, and no information got out to the public, and we’re making sure that never happens again.”

However, Kerwin Swint, Ph.D, a political science expert and the interim Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University, says that Kemp, who has been Secretary of State since 2010, is ultimately constitutionally accountable for the recent issues.

“His office definitely bears some responsibility, because it’s part of their job to maintain the voting systems to ensure that they’re safe and reliable, and obviously they’ve had significant issues doing that,” Swint says.

A number of activist groups have also raised questions about the ethics of Kemp, who is currently running for governor in the state, overseeing the integrity of an election in which he is running in, and have called for Kemp to step down as Secretary of State. “It is ethically wrong for a politician to oversee the campaign he is a candidate in,” reads an online petition launched by the groups Georgia Alliance for Social Justice and Resist Trump Tuesdays.

Kemp has dismissed any notion of stepping down as Secretary of State and his response to those questioning the ethics of his decision is to pass the buck onto his Democratic predecessors who he says did the same. “I’m doing the same thing that Democrat Secretary of State Cathy Cox did when she ran for governor.”

While it is true that three of Kemp’s past four predecessors launched unsuccessful campaigns for governor, both Democratic candidates Cathy Cox and Lewis Massey did not win their democratic primaries.

Kemp also places the burden on county officials to count and process voting totals state, despite his office ultimately certifying the election. “The counties actually count the votes and certify the election and then send it to us to double check it and then do the final certification, so there’s nothing improper about that at all. I’ve done that in the past and never had any issues, and we won’t have any this time,” Kemp said.

OPINION: Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest is patriotic

The Sentinel

By: Robert Thomas

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There is nothing more American than protesting for what’s right and to take a stand against injustice. Photo credit: Photo Courtesy Mike Morbeck

Though protest may not always be favored, there is nothing more American, or patriotic, than exposing yourself to the risks that come with fighting for your rights.

With Nike’s recent ad featuring the controversial NFL football player, Colin Kaepernick, the issue of his kneeling in protest during the national anthem has been propelled into the spotlight once again.

Challenging Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Beto O’Rourke recently exposed this perspective in a viral video posted on Twitter by NowThis News.

O’Rourke iterates that not only were the freedoms we enjoy as Americans purchased by those in uniform, but also by those who knowingly risked life and limb in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Those who died were beaten within an inch of their lives, punched and spat upon for the crime of trying to be a man or woman in this country and fought to secure better rights for fellow Americans.

Today, these players peacefully and nonviolently take a knee at football games to point out that black men, black teenagers and black children are being killed at an alarming level, often by members of law enforcement without accountability or justice.

“Non-violently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it,” O’Rourke said. “I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere or any place.”

Protest by its own nature is meant to be controversial and force as many people as possible to consider an issue that they otherwise would have ignored. Considering the massive national attention and controversy surrounding the protests, I would say the protests have been largely successful in their purpose.

It is also worth noting that while Kaepernick originally sat during the anthem, a compromise was made after speaking to a veteran and asserting his desire for change and an unwillingness to stand for the flag of a country that oppressed black people and people of color. According to NPR, U.S. Army special forces veteran Nate Boyer advised Kaepernick to instead take a knee during the anthem as a sign of respect.

Kaepernick has also received support from numerous military veterans in his protest, and several even published an open letter of support in Medium.

“Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech,” the letter states.

The letter also references an analysis by the Washington Post, that found that black people in America are two and a half times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans. According to The Undefeated, U.S. Army veteran Richard Allen Smith, who was a signer to the letter, said politicians and corporations often use the military and its servicemen and women as a prop to cloak themselves in credibility.

We must transform the attitude surrounding those who peacefully fight to better the nation. Those who do, do so out of a deep patriotic devotion to the nation and its peoples, and an understanding of its great potential — not out of a disrespect for it.


Article originally published by The Sentinel

SATIRE: Students spontaneously combusting on way to class

The Sentinel

By: Robert Thomas

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comic credit: Paulette Juieng

With temperatures reaching into the 90’s in the previous weeks, many students have been suffering the consequences, with some being worse than others.

Amid these soaring temperatures, there have been multiple reports of students spontaneously combusting while walking to class. Others have allegedly melted into the sidewalk. Some students who have turned to ash, however, have found this to be a much-needed relief from the burden of classes.

“At first I was really bummed out about the whole ‘turning to ash’ thing. Then I realized this meant I wouldn’t have to work on my paper due next week,” said one pile of ash.

However, various KSU departments have warned students that spontaneous combustion does not count as an excused absence.

According to local college valley girl, Molly Banks, “It’s like literally hotter than the sun. I’m like totes dying right now.” While a local contrarian, Joe Head, said, “This is baby stuff. I love showing up to class dripping in sweat.”

There have been additional reports of a portal to the eternal flames of the underworld ripping open on the campus green and devouring the souls of the weak.

Several demon hell-spawns have also leaked from the portal and are allegedly taking up any additional campus parking and assigning unreasonably long research papers.

Some students have taken to beating the heat by using a stick, while others have, instead, suggested a more diplomatic approach of opening negotiations with it and establishing a mutual compromise.

The Trump administration, however, has reversed a former policy of peaceful relations with our closest star and made numerous tweets threatening to launch a ballistic missile strike at the Sun. Trump goes on to say that there is finally a clear justification for the funding of a space force.

Some students have reportedly enjoyed the spa-quality relaxation of their classrooms becoming temporary saunas. As a result, KSU has decided to add an additional $135 “spa fee” to next year’s tuition for the luxury.

These reports of spontaneous combustion amid the heat wave have some students suggesting that this is clear evidence of climate change and the end of times.

When the Sentinel staff attempted to contact climate scientists about this issue, one local scientist, George Lahm said, “Get out of my office! How did you get in here and why are you naked?”

However, a number of climate change skeptics, such as Alex Scones from “InfolessWars,” have questioned this suggestion. “These students that are spontaneously combusting into ash are clearly just crisis actors,” Scones said. “If climate change is real, why are there still frozen pizzas?”

Stay cool out there Kennesaw, but not too cool for school or you might end up melting in the gutter when you can’t afford healthcare!


Article originally published by The Sentinel

Press On: Journalism after the Gazette shooting

The Sentinel

By: Robert Thomas

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After the shooting at the Capital Gazette, many are questioning the future of journalism. Photo credit: Kevin Barrett

After receiving the jolting news of the Capital Gazette shooting that left five journalists dead last week, many have questioned what this event means for freedom of the press in the U.S.

Five employees of The Capital Gazette — Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith — were killed Thursday, June 28, after gunman Jarrod Ramos entered the office and opened fire. Ramos was charged with five counts of first degree murder.

According to The Hill, the gunman had a poor relationship with the paper and attempted to sue the paper for defamation.

In recent years the lifeblood of any democracy, the fourth estate — the free press —has increasingly come under attack. Many journalists, including the Sentinel staff, have come to fear the unwarranted risks of the profession, even in their own town.

“This was an attack on the press,” Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said following the attack. “It was an attack on freedom of speech. It’s just as important as any other tragedy.”

According to the Washington Post, 2017 was the most dangerous year ever for journalists, and data published by press freedom organizations indicate that the threats faced by journalists worldwide are only increasing.

There has been increasing political pressure on journalists in the U.S. with President Donald Trump often referring to the press as “the enemy of the people.”

Unfortunately, this phrase has a very long and horrific pedigree that can be found in both the French Terror and Soviet Terror. Thousands of people have been executed as “enemies of the people.” Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post questioned what role this type of political atmosphere may have played in the actions of the Capital Gazette shooter.

Julia McIntosh, a journalism major at KSU, says that while the attack has made her more fearful of the dangers to journalists, she is not deterred.

“It’s made me more scared to be a journalist,” McIntosh said. “I’m never going to be scared to tell stories for those in need.”

In the days following the shooting, the Capital Gazette also received death threats and emails from people they don’t know celebrating their loss. In a letter released by the Capital Gazette staff said, “We won’t forget being called an enemy of the people. No, we won’t forget that. Because exposing evil, shining light on wrongs and fighting injustice is what we do.”

In the age of growing political polarization and nationwide accusations of media, we must not forget the importance and sacrifice of journalists. Although “facts” and well-vetted sources are the cornerstone of quality journalism, and it is the duty of the people to call out errors or mistakes that are made, we have grown to be a completely intolerant people. People sit comfortably behind a computer and hurl insults or belittle the sacrifice of journalists who work long hours for very little pay, and who sometimes pay a price too high for it.

Journalism is constantly changing, and we as journalists must always adapt. We must never forget the sacrifice and bravery of the journalists who fight to bring truth to light.

Press on.

The Sentinel staff would like to honor those killed in the attack: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters.


Article originally published by The Sentinel

Opinion: College health education benefits everyone

The Sentinel

By: Robert Thomas

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“Health education is an essential component of general education for students, as well as a vital component in addressing America’s growing health problems.” Photo credit: Killian Grina

Health education is not only an essential component of general education for students at Kennesaw State but is also vital in addressing America’s growing health problems.

Outside of the benefits of positive health habits on the individual student level, there are numerous reasons to support the mandatory Foundations of Healthy Living, WELL 1000, course.

Alongside the physical benefits of habits taught in health classes, there is increasing evidence to suggest that the habits may also improve mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, research shows that exercise can help alleviate long-term depression and anxiety, and a 2017 study by the Minnesota Department of Health found that students who were physically fit were much more likely to score better on state standardized tests.

Additionally, considering the increased sexual activity of students, a quality sexual education, like that given in KSU health courses, is likely to be useful for students, especially among those coming from more sexually repressive households.

Julia Wagner, an apparel and textiles sophomore at KSU, said she feels that the goal setting and goal-oriented nature of the KSU health course is a very important thing for students to learn.

“In order to get anywhere in life, you gotta have goals for yourself,” Wagner said. “I think the class does a good job at teaching that.”

On the broader scale, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of childhood obesity have more than tripled since the 1970s. In light of this growing trend, proper health education is more important today than ever before. Studies have shown that parents are one of the main influences when it comes to shaping their children’s decisions in relation to healthy eating.

For many students, college may be their first introduction to healthier habits. If we ever hope to reverse the rising rates of obesity nationally, proper health and nutritional education is an important component of the fight.

Connor Crocco, a KSU business administration freshman, said that he supports required health classes because of their ability to benefit anyone regardless of their personal fitness level.

“The required health class is definitely beneficial, and I would definitely keep it just because of the benefits it gives people who need it most,” Crocco said. “But even if you are fit, you can still learn stuff. It teaches you a healthier lifestyle in general.”

The rising rate of obesity nationally impacts everyone due to the increased healthcare expenditures nationally. A 2018 study by Cornell University found that the percent of U.S. national medical expenditures devoted to treating obesity-related illness in adults has risen by 29 percent from 2001-2015.

By requiring students to take WELL 1000, KSU ensures students are prepared to take care of themselves and aid in battling national health problems.


Article originally published by The Sentinel

Georgia Distracted Driving Bill Aims to Save Lives

Advanced Media Writing

BY ROBERT THOMAS

Read the heart-wrenching perspective of Natalie Bacho, who lost her daughter to distracted driving and advocated in favor of the recent Georgia distracted driving bill. Opponents to the bill feel it is a government overreach, but police feel it is necessary. The bill aims to save lives and studies reveal it is likely to do so.

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KENNESAW, Ga. – While others were enjoying the festivities of the Christmas season, shopping for loved ones and enjoying time with their families, Natalie Bacho sat at Abby’s, her 9-year-old daughter, hospital bedside as she clung to life by a thread.

Abby was in the car with the rest of her family on the way to look at Christmas lights after a meal out with family on December 22 when the car was struck by an 18-year-old driver who was talking on his phone at the time. The collision resulting from this young distracted driver put three of Bacho’s family members in critical condition, one of whom was Abby who eventually passed away on Christmas day. “That one second choice of a young driver completely ripped our family apart,” Bacho said.

Natalie Bacho’s story is just one of thousands of Georgian families who have had their loved one ripped from them as a result of distracted driving, and like Natalie Bacho, many are fighting hard to ensure the same fate doesn’t happen to more families.

Largely due to the push of families like hers, House Bill 673, which is designed to prohibit motorists from holding their phones while driving, recently passed the Georgia legislature and is on its way to being signed by Gov. Nathan Deal who has already endorsed the measure. However, many Georgians disagree with the measure and believe it is an overreach by government and a violation of their rights.

Opposition To HB 673

Some opponents to the bill claim that the loss of life is too insignificant to warrant such actions by the state. “Should we really do such a massive overreach legislating the few incidences that happen, versus the millions that happen where nothing goes wrong?” Kennesaw State University student Mike Brock said. Many like Brock are skeptical of the actual impact that the law would have in decreasing the number of distracted drivers and traffic fatalities. “People are still going to do it. People will use their cell phones regardless,” he says.

Asa Cooper, a local resident who supports the bill, says that while he finds it easy to make excuses to use his phone for just “one quick second” while driving, and is admittedly reluctant to obey the law, but he understands the need for the bill. Even Bacho admitted that she would occasionally use her phone before the tragedy of losing her daughter to distracted driving.

Changing Perspectives on Driving

“People have to understand that you just can’t do that, that lives are literally in their hands,” Bacho says. “If we have a law in place that it’s going prevent them from doing that, and their going to know that that’s against the law if they’re reaching for something and they have it in their hands, then I think that’s when we’re really going to see a major change in those numbers and lives.”

Bacho says that she believes her daughter’s right to life is far more important than someone’s selfish desire to use their phone while driving. Also, despite the skepticism by some of the real impact, 13 and the 15 states that have passed a similar law saw a significant decrease in the rate of traffic fatalities within two years of their implementation. In addition to this, according to a 2017 report by the National Traffic Law Center, “Studies have shown the overall crash risk increases 3.6 times over model driving when a driver interacts with a handheld device.”

Enforcement of Law

Many opponents of the bill say that police should simply better enforce the existing texting while driving ban to address this issue. However, there are technical legal barriers to police enforcing the existing law. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it’s difficult for many police officers to tell if someone is texting or just dialing a phone number, which is legal under the current law. This unenforceable middle ground Bacho says, led to widespread backing of the measure by Georgia law enforcement in the council proceedings prior to the passage of the bill by the legislature.

Despite the support for the current bill, some remain skeptical of whether the law actually goes far enough. The initial version of the bill contained a steep increase to the first-offense fine for distracted driving to $300, which according to Bacho the families that testified before the legislature were widely in support of. However, before passage the senate amended the bill to lower the proposed first-offense fine to just $50. Bacho was also worried about the level of distraction present even when using a hands-free device to talk on the phone. “When we are engaged in a phone call, especially when you’re driving, you’re cognitively engaged in something else,” Bacho said.

Hands-free Devices

Although, other voices, such as local resident Michael Browning, argue that as our cars become better at connecting to our phones and allowing more hands-free use of our devices, that fatalities from distracted driving will decrease. Browning believes that part of the issue is in older model cars not easily syncing with our phones and requiring drivers to touch their phones to change a song or use navigation. “As our cars allow us to be more hands-free to do the things that we want to do, I think that at that point there’s no excuse for me to have my phone in my hand because I don’t need it to control my music, I don’t need it to send this message, and I don’t need it to call this person,” Browning said.

Saving Other Lives

After the tragic loss of her daughter, not only did Bacho testify before the legislature in favor of the bill, she also decided to form the “Abby’s Angels Foundation”, which she says seeks to bring awareness and education to drivers of all ages of the dangers of distracted driving, provide school supplies and encouragement to students in need, and to advocate for organ donation. “Knowing that Abby’s life was going to end, for us, and for me, and for our family, that wasn’t okay,” Bacho said. “She was only nine and she had a big beautiful life to live. That was taken from her and it could’ve been prevented.”