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Stakeholders in Smith County Republican Party disagree over election judges

A dispute erupted again this week in the Smith County Republican Party over a list of people who are being asked to watch over polling places in November.

The Smith County Commissioners Court held an executive session Tuesday about pending or contemplated litigation regarding the list of election judges.

Election judges are people appointed by the two major parties who oversee individual polling places. Before every election, the county parties send lists of election judges to the county elections administrator, in this case Karen Nelson.

After the executive session on Tuesday, the Commissioners Court decided to approve a submitted list of Nov. 5 election judges for the Smith County Democratic Party, but did not take action on the list from the Smith County Republican Party.

“They left all of us off the list who are precinct chairs who have run our polling locations,” Sharon Guthrie, the chair for Precinct 71, an area near Hollytree, said after the meeting. “I’ve done it for 28 years. He wiped all of us off the list and has put people with no experience to be election judges.”

Guthrie was referring to party chairman Brent Thompson. Guthrie was one of many officials within the Smith County Republican Party who supported removing Thompson from his post after they said he had abandoned it. Despite the opposition, he has remained in his post but will leave when his term is up in 2020.

“Historically, when I came on in 1991 and was appointed to be precinct chair of Precinct 14 out in Lindale, they just told me it’s your responsibility as precinct chair to be the election judge,” Guthrie said. “So unless you turn it down, we expect you to do it. “

Back then, Guthrie said party officials paired her with someone who had experience so she could learn to be an election judge. She said the job isn’t very difficult, but it does require people to know what they’re doing.

“And so he’s filled the list with people who have no experience in clerking or being an election judge to be election judges,” Guthrie said. “And it’s retaliation because 42 of our 45 were basically against him because he wasn’t doing his job. So it’s just being vindictive.”

“So that’s where we are, and Republicans are going to have a hard time this fall election (on Nov. 5) and next year (the primary is March 3) because the people who have been put on the list, we don’t even know if they’re Republicans,” Guthrie said.

Although reached Friday, Thompson did not provide a comment before deadline. However, in a June interview after a contentious party meeting, Thompson said, “My role is to be fair to liberal Republicans, to moderate Republicans, and to conservative Republicans, to make them all feel welcome, and to promote whoever the primary chooses, whoever the voters (choose).

“As long as I’m the chairman, I will administer it with that in mind, that this party is not about choosing who gets to be a Republican, but executing the statutory responsibilities of the body, and I will do my best to unite that body as best I can.”

At the time, Thompson compared the county’s intraparty disputes to the factions that have formed in the national party. But he said he would stay in office because he was elected, and a small group of people should not be able to overturn the will of the voters.

“Elections should not be overturned by a party of 30 when thousands vote,” Thompson said. “The office is always more important than the man. This isn’t personal for Brent Thompson at all. It’s for the office.”

Elisabeth Ayub, spokeswoman for the Smith County Republican Party, said Thursday that the people involved in the dispute over election judges have come to a resolution. She said the primary administrator, Patricia Ayub, has been working with Nelson, the county elections administrator, and County Judge Nathaniel Moran.

“We have a list that is acceptable,” Elisabeth Ayub said. “This really has just been about polarizing politics. However, we feel very positive about the direction that we’re moving and the list, and it’ll be presented back to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday.”

Ayub said the list includes a majority of people who have previously served, minus about 10% who retired from doing it.

“I think whenever you use new names people get leery, but these are people who are very much affiliated with the party,” Ayub said.



Operation indiscriminately infects iPhones with spyware

Researchers say suspected nation-state hackers infected Apple iPhones with spyware over two years in what security experts on Friday called an alarming security failure for a company whose calling card is privacy.

A mere visit to one of a small number of tainted websites could infect an iPhone with an implant capable of sending the smartphone owner’s text messages, email, photos and real-time location data to the cyberspies behind the operation.

“This is definitely the most serious iPhone hacking incident that’s ever been brought to public attention, both because of the indiscriminate targeting and the amount of data compromised by the implant,” said former U.S. government hacker Jake Williams, the president of Rendition Security.

Announced late Thursday by Google researchers, the last of the vulnerabilities were quietly fixed by Apple by February but only after thousands of iPhone users were believed exposed over more than two years.

The researchers did not identify the websites used to seed the spyware or their location. They also did not say who was behind the cyberespionage or what population was targeted, but experts said the operation had the hallmarks of a nation-state effort.

Williams said the spyware implant wasn’t written to transmit stolen data securely, indicating the hackers were not concerned about getting caught. That suggests an authoritarian state was behind it. He speculated that it was likely used to target political dissidents.

Sensitive data accessed by the spyware included WhatsApp, iMessage and Telegram text messages, gmail, photos, contacts and real-time location — essentially all the databases on the victim’s phone. While the messaging applications may encrypt data in transit, it is readable at rest on iPhones.

Google researcher Ian Beer said in a blog posted late Thursday that the discovery should dispel any notion that it costs a million dollars to successfully hack an iPhone. That’s a reference to the case of a United Arab Emirates dissident whose iPhone was infected in 2016 with so-called zero-day exploits, which have been known to fetch such high prices.

“Zero day” refers to the fact that such exploits are unknown to the developers of the affected software, and thus they have had no time to develop patches to fix it.

The discovery, involving 14 such vulnerabilities, was made by Google researchers at Project Zero, which hunts the security flaws in software and microprocessor firmware, independent of their manufacturer, that criminals, state-sponsored hackers and intelligence agencies use.

“This should serve as a wake-up call to folks,” said Will Strafach, a mobile security expert with Sudo Security. “Anyone on any platform could potentially get infected with malware.”

Beer said his team estimated that the infected websites used in the “indiscriminate watering hole attacks” receive thousands of visitors per week. He said the team collected five separate chains of exploits covering Apple’s iOS system as far back as version 10, released in 2016.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment on why it did not detect the vulnerabilities on its own and if it can assure users that such a general attack could not happen again. Privacy assurance is central to the Apple brand.

Neither Google nor Beer responded to questions about the attackers or the targets, though Beer provided a hint in his blog post: “To be targeted might mean simply being born in a certain geographic region or being part of a certain ethnic group.”

Security manager Matt Lourens at Check Point Software Technologies called the development an alarming game-changer. He said that while iPhone owners previously compromised by zero days were high-value targets, a more widespread seeding of spyware at a lower cost per infection has now been shown possible.

“This should absolutely reshape the way corporations view the use of mobile devices for corporate applications, and the security risk it introduces to the individual and/or organization.”

Lourens said in an email.

In his blog post, the Google researcher Beer warned that absolute digital security can’t be guaranteed.

Smartphone users must ultimately “be conscious of the fact that mass exploitation still exists and behave accordingly;” he wrote, “treating their mobile devices as both integral to their modern lives, yet also as devices which when compromised, can upload their every action into a database to potentially be used against them.”


AP Cybersecurity Writer Frank Bajak on Twitter:

Friday Night Lights: More than 120 East Texas teams kick off the football season

It was back to the gridiron Friday night for student-athletes across East Texas.

With the start of the football season, stadiums came alive as players, coaches, band members, cheerleaders and drill teams took to the fields, competing and performing in front of friends and family.

More than 120 East Texas area teams were playing Friday night, with some 722 games in the Lone Star State this weekend. John Tyler and Grace Community were at home in Tyler and Tyler Lee played on the road. Games continue on Saturday during opening week.

—Staff Reports