Jenny Cohn: Election Security Advocate Extraordinaire

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28 mins read
By ArtistsPo

How a former lawyer and stay-at-home mom became one of America’s top election security advocates – and how she singlehandedly proved: “Georgia is the epicenter of America’s corrupted electronic elections.”

JENNY COHN loves dogs. (All the best hoomans do.) So it comes as no surprise that Jenny describes herself as a bloodhound – a tenacious, fact-hunting bloodhound! As a partner in the law firm, Nielson, Hailey and Abbott, Jenny sifted through boxes of evidence and sorted through mountains of papers to find the FACTS. Once found, she would arrange the facts into comprehensive chronologies. Then came the intellectual challenge Jenny relished most – gathering the disparate facts together and turning them into a cohesive written narrative. The process was eminently satisfying. “At settlements, I loved being the most factually prepared. I was good at settlements!” Now as one of the country’s foremost Election Security Advocates, ‘We the People’ are incredibly fortunate to have Jenny Cohn, discovery bloodhound and Democracy Warrior truth-hunting for us! 

MY QUESTIONS

As an election security advocate in Georgia, I’ve been following Jenny Cohn on Twitter (@jennycohn1) for several years, and full disclosure, we communicate frequently. Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with Jenny for a two-hour, formal, face-to-face interview (via Skype; she’s in California, I’m in Georgia.) What I wanted to know was how did she did get here? How did she become one of America’s preeminent election security advocates? And how did my home state become the epicenter of America’s corrupted electronic elections?

JENNY’S QUESTIONS

Like so many of us, Jenny’s Cohn’s fight for democracy began on Election Night, 2016. Jenny wanted to know how Hillary Clinton came up short when every poll and pundit had predicted she would win. Statisticians calculated that Trump had only needed 77,000 in three key states to sway the Electoral College in his favor. This led to the big question…

Could the electronic vote totals be trusted? Bloodhound Jenny Cohn wanted to know! Thus, her quest began…

DESTINY

Cohn started following election experts online and joined some discussion groups, but it was a video featuring University of Michigan Computer Science and Engineering Professor, and Director of the Center for Computer Security & Society, J. Alex Halderman that really drew her in. Cohn followed with Victoria Collier’s “How to Rig an Election” – very concerning. Jenny next read Author Jonathan D. Simon’s CODE RED: Computerized Election Theft and The New American Century 2016 (2018 update on link.) That sealed the deal. From these experts and others, Cohn learned that our electronic election systems are shockingly vulnerable. She needed to know more! Jenny had finally found a cause that fit her truth-hunting passion – and perfectly suited her skill-set honed over many years as an attorney. “Destiny,” she calls it. 

FACTS ARE MY SWORD

To combat democracy destroyers, both in the public eye and hidden from view, Jenny brings her most powerful weapon – FACTS. Just as she did in her law practice, Jenny hunts down election security facts, forges them into her sword and strategically wields her weapon to reveal the truth. Facts are her sword, but undisputed facts are her shield. Undisputed facts, Jenny states, should stop a false counterargument in its tracks. In theory, undisputed facts should be the bridge connecting opposing sides. But in our ‘Stranger Things’ Trump world, this theory is too often turned upside-down – throwing truth into the dark. This is why Cohn insists false and/or inaccurate statements be immediately corrected. If you’ve ever been on the other end of a Jenny Cohn fact-correction conversation or tweet storm, you know how emphatic and persistent she can be. This is why.

VENDORS OVER VOTERS

Time and again in her research, Cohn found politicians put vendors over voters – each time they did, they hammered another crack into the foundation of our democracy. Jenny knew she had to warn Americans and share the chilling facts she was learning about America’s corrupted electronic elections before politicians jackhammered our constitutional foundation into dust.

WHO’S GOING TO LISTEN TO YOU? 

“Who’s going to listen to you?” a confidante asked Jenny. Clearly, an unsupportive question – but not unfair. Jenny had been a lawyer specializing in insurance coverage and appellate law – not election law. She wasn’t a computer scientist. In fact, she was a stay-at-home mom. Jenny had given up her law practice to care for her two young boys, her husband, her father and their golden retriever, Lacey. Jenny’s mother, who Jenny says was a “true force of nature” passed away in 2008. Her beloved mother had beaten two bouts of cancer, so her sudden passing from radiation leukemia knocked Jenny off her feet. Nevertheless, she persisted.

WHY ISN’T THIS FRONT PAGE NEWS?

Though the year is nearly 2020, Jenny points out that some voting systems, originally programmed around the turn-of-the-century, are still in operation today. In fact the Diebold voting computers in use for the past 17 years in my home state of Georgia is one of those systems. 

In 2002 when the Diebold Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines were installed in Georgia, the cybersecurity community was already warning voters about their vulnerabilities. Jenny Cohn explained that in 2003 Bev Harris’ groundbreaking investigations blew the lid off the company’s box of propaganda claiming Diebold’s voting system was safe. Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, discovered backdoor access into the voting machines allowing for easy vote manipulation. Internal Diebold emails revealed that the company was aware of the flaws and had no intention of doing anything about them. 

“Why isn’t this front page news?” asked Paul Krugman in 2003. There’s no way to tell if the Diebold machines calculate votes accurately because “Diebold machines leave no paper trail,” reported Krugman. They can’t be audited. Despite repeated warnings from cybersecurity experts, Georgia did nothing.

“Electronic voting systems must be able to be audited,” Cohn emphatically states. “The voter’s intent must be evident.” Jenny shares that Andrew Appel’s research helped develop her understand the importance of audits. In 2007, Appel, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science at Princeton reported on the necessity of reliable and verifiable audits for electronic voting systems. Appel later served as a member of the National Academies’ Committee on the Future of Voting. The committee’s report, “Securing the Vote: Protecting Americans’ Democracy 2018 is available as a Free Download. For those who want to start with a toe in the water, Andrew Appel’s testimony before the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, in Manchester, New Hampshire, September 12, 2017 is for laypersons and comes complete with lots of visual aids! 

VOTING MACHINES: WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Did you know only two vendors, ES&S and Dominion, account for 80% of the election equipment used in the US? Shocking right? “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” asks Jenny Cohn in her November 2018 article in NY Books. What’s worse, Jenny explains, both companies are owned by private equity firms, and those firms REFUSE to disclose ownership information. Cohn insists that Congress MUST subpoena the top executives of both these companies. Americans have a right to know who is controlling our voting systems! 

Cohn explains, ES&S, which accounts for 44% of America’s voting systems, was initially funded with money from the families of two Religious Right billionaires who belonged to the Council of National Policy, a secretive group of wealthy right-wing Republicans including the Cambridge Analytica gang, the Mercers, Bannon, the Conways as well as Mike Pence, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and a billionaire embezzler turned Evangelical Christian, Bill Dallas.

Cohn learned that one of ES&S’ two co-founders, Bob Urosevich, was named president of another vendor in 2000. Global Election Systems (later renamed “Diebold”), which ES&S acquired in 2009. As discovered by Bev Harris of Black Box Voting, Global’s largest shareholder and senior vice president was a convicted embezzler whose crimes involved sophisticated computer tampering.

Even less is known about Dominion than ES&S, reports Cohn. In her September 2019 report to the United Nations Association on election security, Cohn explains, “Dominion was a Canadian company that became a major player in US elections when the Department of Justice forced ES&S to sell some of Diebold’s assets because the combined ES&S/Diebold had accounted for a whopping 70% of US election equipment.” Despite the forced monopoly split, Jenny explains that ES&S and Dominion could still be operating together – but we don’t know because they refuse to disclose the identities of their private owners! Again, Congress must uncover the operators and owners of these companies. 

What Jenny does know for sure, is that Dominion’s programming is done in SERBIA. Yep, Serbia – Russia’s close ally.

GEORGIA: THE EPICENTER OF AMERICA’S CORRUPTED ELECTRONIC ELECTIONS

Beverly Harris’ investigative work into Diebold Election Systems brought Jenny Cohn’s attention to Georgia. Recall that Harris’ 2003 investigation revealed backdoor access into Diebold’s machines that can be used to alter votes. Despite warnings from computer scientists, Georgia installed the Diebold easy-to-hack voting system in 2002, and they are still in use today. 

Jenny Cohn delves into the actors and corruption that kept Diebold’s easy-to-alter-votes system in place for 17 years in her seminal report, Georgia: The Epicenter of America’s Corrupted Electronic Elections Even if you don’t live in Georgia, Cohn’s article is a must read – the tentacles of electronic election corruption extend far beyond The Peach State.

Why did Georgia legislators ignore experts’ warnings? Well, in 2002, districts that had been blue for 145 years, suddenly turned red. Cohn explains that the Secretary of State at the time, Cathy Cox, had her image on Diebold advertising and her former boss was a Diebold lobbyist. Kathy Rogers, the election director, also pushed for the Diebold system. “In 2006, the Georgia legislature considered a bill that would at least have required the addition of a paper audit trail to the paperless voting machines themselves. But the bill was defeated by Rogers. Several months later, Kathy Rogers took a job with Diebold.” 

Brian Kemp, Georgia’s current governor won his first elected position in 2002 thanks to the Diebold system. Jenny Cohn reports that Kemp “defeated Doug Haines, a liberal incumbent in a left-leaning state House seat that had been held by Democrats for more than four decades. Kemp won by only 486 votes, an exceedingly small vote margin that likely would have triggered a recount, but for the paperless machines.” Diebold DREs can’t be audited, so recounts are impossible. 

COALITION FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE

After a leak of over 6 million voters’ personal data in Georgia;,reports of votes visibly changing on touchscreens; inaccurate poll tapes and statistically improbable results, particularly from the 2017 Special Election Runoff  (Ossoff-Handel) in my home district (GA06); our white knight in shining armor, Marilyn Marks, Executive Director of the Coalition for Good Governance investigated, then sued Secretary of State, Brian Kemp. (Curling v. Kemp) Once the suit was filed, the election servers were WIPED CLEAN of all evidence! The suit came to a halt. Not surprisingly, the GOP Attorney General at the time chose not to pursue an investigation. No explanation was given.

A HISTORIC WIN!

The Coalition appealed. Despite the system wipe, Mark’s team provided 800+ pages of evidence that the Diebold/ES&S DRE Voting System is antiquated, unsecured, unreliable and most critically, violates voters’ rights. After a long, tough battle Federal Judge Amy Totenberg ruled the Diebold system UNCONSTITUTIONAL (August, 2019.) Georgia must cease using DREs as of Jan. 1, 2020. A historic win thanks to Marilyn Marks and the Coalition for Good Governance! 

THE FIGHT ISN’T OVER 

So all is saved? No. Nope. Not at all. The fight is not over. The Coalition filed suit over the 122K missing votes in the Georgia Lt. Governor race in 2018 and against the $100M+ Dominion Barcoded Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger have purchased.

PAPER BALLOTS v. PAPER RECEIPTS 

Like the Diebold system, Dominion has touchscreen voting. But unlike Diebold, the Dominion machine prints out a list of a voter’s choices. While this sounds good, Jenny says that the paper receipts are hard to read because everything is abbreviated and often, party affiliations aren’t recorded. Cohn also points out that research shows most voters will only check the main races, but not the rest – if at all. Who can remember the names of all the candidates? I know I can’t.

Paper Ballots v. Paper Receipts: Using smoke and mirrors, voting machine vendors and politicians want you to believe the paper receipts produced by BMD touchscreen voting computers are “paper ballots.” They aren’t. Voters don’t record their votes directly onto the paper ballots. There’s a computer between voters and the record of their votes. Would you call your grocery receipt a “paper ballot”? No. No you wouldn’t. Don’t be fooled.

HUMANS CAN’T READ BARCODES!

Jenny Cohn wants you to know that what you read on that paper receipt, may or may not be, what the computer records. The touchscreen computer translates your votes in a BARCODE. The computer ONLY reads the barcode. Cybersecurity experts say it is easy to install malware that will produce an accurate paper receipt, but will ALTER your votes within the barcode. No one will ever know. Why? “Humans can’t read barcodes!” (Jenny’s mantra!)

In addition, Georgia has, once again, purchased a voting system that can’t be audited. Cohn stresses that transparent, fair elections require valid, reliable audits. Those audits must be able to determine whether voters’ intentions match votes recorded. 

Cybersecurity expert and Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Richard DeMillo recently published “Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) Cannot Assure the Will of Voter” in collaboration with Phillip Stark and Andrew Appel (mentioned above.) “This report identifies the essential security flaw of all commercial BMDs, including the system slated for use in Georgia.” Prof. DeMillo’s 2019 OpEd in the Atlanta Journal Constitution summarizes their findings. 

Prof. Wenke Lee – Professor and John P. Imlay Jr. Chair in the School of Computer Science, College of Computing and Co-Executive Director of the Institute for Information Security & Privacy (IISP) at the Georgia Institute of Technology – was the only cybersecurity expert on Georgia’s SAFE Commission. (Not surprisingly, there are no computer scientists on Georgia’s current State Election Board.) Prof. Lee reported on the many vulnerabilities of electronic election systems, particularly BMDs and warned the SAFE Commission against them. Lee acknowledges that no voting system is 100% secure, but in our 21st Century global technology, where computer data can be hacked from anywhere in the world, Prof. Lee emphatically told the Commission handmarked paper ballots are the safest option. But Georgia legislators refused and still refuse to listen. 

$100 MILLION v. $30 MILLION

In the past Republicans have prided themselves on being “fiscally conservative.” Dominion BMDs cost $100 million, plus enormously expensive annual upgrades that individual counties will bear the burden for paying. In contrast, handmarked paper ballots cost $30 million. No expensive upgrades. Not “fiscally conservative” at all. Not. at. all.

ELECTRONIC POLLBOOKS – YOUR PERSONAL DATA AT RISK 

It was Jenny Cohn who first taught me about electronic pollbooks. I’m grateful she did because, well – Georgia. Electronic pollbooks store voters’ personal data. In 2015, former Secretary of State Brian Kemp (now Governor) released 6.6 million voters’ personal information to 12 organizations including media outlets and political parties. “A clerical error,” Kemp claimed. In 2017, another 7.5 million voters’ personal data was breached. Kemp blamed Kennesaw State University, where Kemp’s team stored ALL the pollbooks, servers, keycards, voting machines, well – everything. An election security no-no! 

Four days before the 2017 Special Election in my home district (GA06) four electronic pollbooks were stolen (possibly containing my and my husband’s personal data!) Election officials didn’t alert the state until the day before the vote. Again in September 2019, two pollbooks were stolen in Fulton County. Those pollbooks contained voters’ personal data statewide. Even though pollbooks are password protected, cybersecurity experts say they are easy-to-hack if you know what you’re doing. Identity theft? Voter purging? Voter suppression? Racism? All of the above? We don’t know. Whatever the reasons for the pollbook thefts, it gives us more reasons for stronger electronic election security. In fact, during the course of writing this article, Chase Bank called to tell me my credit card number was being used fraudulently! Nothing online is safe.

ELECTION SECURITY ADVOCATE EXTRAORDINAIRE

In 2017, Jenny was a stay-at-home mom. Today, she is one of America’s leading election security advocates – and an inspiration for us all! Jenny’s articles on electronic election security can be found on Medium, the NY Review, Salon, WhoWhatWhy, DemWritePress, BradBlog, and TYT Network. Jenny’s been interviewed on radio stations and podcasts. In fact, Jenny was special guest on Mueller She Wrote’s theater event in Seattle on Friday, Sept. 13th – a good luck day for Jenny Cohn. A podcast of that show is available here.

A HUGE SLICE OF HUMBLE PIE is being served right now to the confidante who asked Jenny, “Who’s going to listen to you?” Hillary. Rodham. Clinton. – That’s who! On Constitution Day 2019, Hillary gave the keynote address at the ‘In Defense of American Democracy’ seminar held at George Washington University in D.C., organized by the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, and Onward Together, the organization founded and led by Hillary Clinton – and to that naysayer, we present this HRC quote: “As the lawyer and election integrity advocate, Jennifer Cohn, has pointed out, in recent years we’ve seen practices that should concern us all – from remote access software installed in election management systems to ballot scanners that connect to the internet opening them up to potential hacking.” 

Former Sec. of State Clinton further warned that ensuring the safety and security of our elections “is a both sides problem. It’s a problem of a foreign adversary actually interfering – hacking” into our voting systems. “And it’s a problem of our own decisions about what kinds of equipment and systems we are going to employ. Both those deserve the most serious attention.” I urge you, dear reader, to listen to Sec. Clinton’s full speech from that day. She outlines the clear and present dangers to our Constitutional Right to Vote. They are real and they are very serious. 

THE SOLUTION: HANDMARKED PAPER BALLOTS

Handmarked (with a PEN) Paper Ballots can’t be hacked! This is Jenny Cohn’s mantra. Her raison d’ȇtre. The only exception should be for voters with disabilities who are unable to hand mark. Don’t forget – the phrase ‘Paper Ballots’ MUST be prefaced with HANDMARKED. She will immediately correct you if you don’t begin with “handmarked” – and she’s absolutely correct to insist.

JENNY COHN’S TO-DO LIST FOR US

Contact Your Representatives:

  1. Urge your senators to pass THE SAFE ACT (formerly known as the Pave Act.)
  2. Demand Handmarked (with a PEN) Paper Ballots (with an exception for voters with disabilities)
  3. Oppose systems that translate votes into barcodes. 
  4. Demand robust manual audits.
  5. Demand a ban on election equipment that can connect to the internet.
  6. Demand a ban on election equipment that can be remotely accessed.
  7. Demand transparency by calling on the House to subpoena voting system vendors to testify about ownership, control, past security lapses, and where specifically they have installed remote-access software and wireless modems, which connect systems to the internet.

When asked at the Mueller She Wrote event what ‘We the People’ can do to join Jenny in her fight for our Constitutional right to fair, transparent elections, Cohn replied, “Donate to the Coalition for Good Governance!” Why? The Coalition for Good Governance’s work is done primarily by pro bono lawyers and volunteers. Lawsuits are expensive. This is why Jenny is asking us to support them.

“Every single issue we care about depends on secure elections. Secure elections are what separate democracy from tyranny. They are non-negotiable.” – Jennifer Cohn


DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.


Elisa Goldklang is a former speech-language pathologist and learning-specialist who now, like Jenny Cohn, advocates for electronic election security. Her essays and articles have been published in Atlanta Parent Magazine. She resides in Georgia with her husband, their two seniors - one in high school and one at UGA - and their dog, Misty. Find her on Twitter @heartfulmom.

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