The Voting News Daily: State systems for overseas voters vulnerable, Securing democracy with stats, spreadsheets, and 10-sided dice

National: State systems for overseas voters vulnerable | USAToday.com States trying to make it easier for troops overseas to vote have set up voting systems that are vulnerable to hacking when they allow voters to return ballots online, via e-mail, or Internet fax, says a state-by-state report to be released today. The report, Counting Votes 2012,…

Editorials: Saving throw: securing democracy with stats, spreadsheets, and 10-sided dice | Ars Technica

Armed with a set of 10-sided dice (we’ll get to those in a moment), an online Web tool, and a stack of hundreds of ballots, University of California-Berkeley statistics professor Philip Stark spent last Friday unleashing both science and technology upon a recent California election. He wanted to answer a very simple question—had the vote counting produced the proper result?—and he had developed a stats-based system to find out. On June 2, 6,573 citizens went to the polls in Napa County and cast primary ballots for supervisor of the 2nd District in one of California’s most famous wine-producing regions, on the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. The three candidates—Juliana Inman, Mark van Gorder, and Mark Luce—would all have liked to come in first, but they really didn’t want to be third. That’s because only the two top vote-getters in the primary would proceed to the runoff election in November; number three was out. Napa County officials announced the official results a few days later: Luce, the incumbent, took in 2,806 votes, van Gorder got 1,911 votes, and Inman received 1,856 votes—a difference between second and third place of just 55 votes. Given the close result, even a small number of counting errors could have swung the election. Vote counting can go wrong in any number of ways, and even the auditing processes designed to ensure the integrity of close races can be a mess (did someone say “hanging, dimpled, or pregnant chads”?). Measuring human intent at the ballot box can be tricky. To take just one example, in California, many ballots are cast by completing an arrow, which is then optically read. While voters are instructed to fully complete the thickness of the arrow, in practice some only draw a line. The vote tabulation system used by counties sometimes do not always count those as votes. So Napa County invited Philip Stark to look more closely at their results. Stark has been on a four-year mission to encourage more elections officials to use statistical tools to ensure that the announced victor is indeed correct. He first described his method back in 2008, in a paper called “Conservative statistical post-election audits,” but he generally uses a catchier name for the process: “risk-limiting auditing.”

Editorials: GOP’s voter ID tactics could undermine a Romney win | Harold Meyerson/The Washington Post

Suppose Mitt Romney ekes out a victory in November by a margin smaller than the number of young and minority voters who couldn’t cast ballots because the photo-identification laws enacted by Republican governors and legislators kept them from the polls. What should Democrats do then? What would Republicans do? And how would other nations respond? As suppositions go, this one isn’t actually far-fetched. No one in the Romney camp expects a blowout; if he does prevail, every poll suggests it will be by the skin of his teeth. Numerous states under Republican control have passed strict voter identification laws. Pennsylvania, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Georgia require specific kinds of ID; the laws in Michigan, Florida, South Dakota, Idaho and Louisiana are only slightly more flexible. Wisconsin’s law was struck down by a state court. Instances of voter fraud are almost nonexistent, but the right-wing media’s harping on the issue has given Republican politicians cover to push these laws through statehouse after statehouse. The laws’ intent, however, is entirely political: By creating restrictions that disproportionately impact minorities, they’re supposed to bolster Republican prospects. Ticking off Republican achievements in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, their legislative leader, Mike Turzai, extolled in a talk last month that “voter ID . . . is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” How could Turzai be so sure?

National: Million-dollar donors account for nearly half of GOP super PAC fundraising | The Washington Post

If super PACs are indeed saving Mitt Romney early in the 2012 election (as we posited Tuesday morning), he’s got a lot of very wealthy people to thank for it. About four dozen donors and families have given at least $1 million to super PACs this election cycle, with three-quarters of them giving to the GOP. Combined, these four dozen donors have provided $130 million of the $308 million super PACs have raised this cycle (more than 40 percent) — a reflection of how much these outside groups are funded by extremely wealthy donors. And that goes double on the GOP side, where nearly half of the $228 million raised by super PACs has come from about three dozen million-dollar donors. Million-dollar donors have contributed $111 million out of $218 million raised by super PACs this election cycle, while million-dollar Democratic donors have contributed less than one-fourth, $19 million out of $80 million raised.

Hawaii: Elections Office Closed ‘For Auditing’; Reason Unknown | Big Island Now

In a move one veteran state election official called unprecedented, the Hawai`i County Elections Division office in Hilo was closed today. A sign on the front door said the office was “closed for auditing.” The notice signed by County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said the office would reopen on Tuesday. The sign said telephone calls were being routed to the Kona elections office at 323-4400. Walk-ins were directed to the Council Services office across the hall. It was not immediately clear who was conducting the audit or why, or if it is related to the primary election 19 days away. Staff at the Council Services office said they did not know. That office has pamphlets and other elections information on the counter to hand out to anyone seeking basic information, but its staff was taking down names and telephone numbers of anyone with other questions to be answered tomorrow. Staff there also said Kawauchi, who heads the county’s Election Division, was not immediately available for comment, but would return queries after 4:30 p.m.

Michigan: Townships want state to pay for special election in Detroit-area congressional district | MLive.com

Michigan townships are asking the state to pay the estimated $650,000 cost of a special election to replace former Republican U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who resigned after an embarrassing six-week-long saga surrounding his failure to qualify for the ballot. A special primary is scheduled for Sept. 5 in the 11th Congressional District – which includes parts of Wayne and Oakland counties. “Townships and other local government entities in this congressional district have been hit particularly hard by property tax revenue declines and revenue sharing cuts,” Judy Allen, director of legislative affairs for the Michigan Townships Association, said in a statement Tuesday. “While the state may not be legally obligated to cover the cost of the special election, MTA believes it isn’t right for the significant election costs to be borne solely by struggling local governments.” The special election to serve the last two months of McCotter’s term was reluctantly called by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration after a review of the U.S. Constitution and state law. Snyder has resisted suggestions that the state pay all or some of extra cost.

Pennsylvania: Voter ID Law Goes to Court | The Nation

Tomorrow the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania will hear a challenge to the state’s new voter ID law from the ACLU and other voting rights groups. The lead plaintiff is Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old great-great grandmother who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. Applewhite worked as a hotel housekeeper and never had a driver’s license. Four years ago, her purse was stolen and she lost her Social Security card. Because she was adopted and married twice, she cannot obtain the documents needed to comply with the state’s voter ID law. After voting in every election for the past fifty years, she will lose the right to vote this November. The ACLU will argue that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law needlessly disenfranchises voters like Applewhite and violates Article I, Section 5, of the state constitution, which states: “Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” As in Wisconsin, where two federal judges have blocked that state’s voter ID law, the Pennsylvania Constitution affords strong protections to the right to vote. (The Justice Department is also investigating whether the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.)

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Voter ID Trial: State Admits There’s No In-Person Voter Fraud | TPM

As the Justice Department investigates Pennsylvania’s voter ID law on the federal level, a coalition of civil rights groups is gearing up for a state trial starting Wednesday examining whether the law is allowable under Pennsylvania’s constitution. In that case, Pennsylvania might have handed those groups and their clients (including 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite) a bit of an advantage: They’ve formally acknowledged that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and there isn’t likely to be in November. The state signed a stipulation agreement with lawyers for the plaintiffs which acknowledges there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.”

Tennessee: 1,000 ballots incorrect, but still count, Shelby County election official says | The Commercial Appeal

The chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission conceded Tuesday that nearly 1,000 voters received the wrong ballots during early voting for state and federal primary races in the Aug. 2 elections. But voters who received the wrong ballots won’t get to vote again with the right ballots, said commission chairman Robert Meyers. Meyers, a Republican, publicly thanked the Democratic nominee for a Shelby County Commission seat, Steve Ross, for identifying the glitch that caused the problem. Saying that the information Ross released on his popular progressive blog Monday was “a correct report,” Meyers at a late afternoon news conference Tuesday tried to assure voters that proper “corrective action” had been taken. The mistakes appear to be related to a late rush by the Election Commission to update voter files based on redistricting in state and federal races. The votes that were cast for the wrong race will still count, and those voters will not get a chance to cast ballots in the correct race, Meyers said, citing the one-man, one-vote principle. The wrong ballots appear to be dispersed across several races, with the vast majority in state House contests.

Editorials: Déjà Vu in Texas Voter-ID Fight | The Root

If you’re a strong believer in maintaining the status quo, the outbreak of voter-identification laws across the nation just might make sense. If you’re a student of American politics and history, on the other hand, you see it slightly differently. In that case, what you see is what we’ve got: voter suppression. Thirty-three states, almost all of them Republican-controlled, now require some sort of voter ID. A decade ago, none did. A decade ago, there was no evidence of massive voter fraud. Today, there remains little evidence of voter fraud. But there is clear evidence that the rash of voter-ID laws could have a profound impact on African-American participation at the polls. As Attorney General Eric Holder pointed out at the NAACP convention earlier this month, recent studies show that 8 percent of white voting-age citizens lack a government-issued ID, while 25 percent of black voting-age citizens lack one. Considering that Barack Obama received 95 percent of the African-American vote in 2008, if you think Republicans might be interested in suppressing that vote, you might be right.

Virginia: Ex-councilman challenges felony disenfranchisement | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Sa’ad El-Amin, a former Richmond city councilman convicted of a federal tax charge, filed an unusual suit Tuesday challenging felony disenfranchisement in Virginia. Among other things, the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond recounts the history of felony disenfranchisement in Virginia and contends the state unfairly took the right away from felons but not from those who rebelled in the Civil War. A recent report by The Sentencing Project estimates more than 350,000 Virginians — including 20 percent of voting age blacks — cannot vote in Virginia because of felony convictions. In Virginia, only the governor can restore voting rights. The state is one of 11 that does not automatically restore rights to felons after their prison and/or parole or probation terms have been completed. The suit names the state, Gov. Bob McDonnell, the secretary of the commonwealth and the registrar for Richmond as defendants. A spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office said he could not comment on pending litigation. Felony disenfranchisement arrangements have withstood various legal challenges over the decades. The Virginia State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is scheduled to hold a news conference on the suit this morning.

Wisconsin: Cullen breaks with Democratic caucus in Wisconsin Senate, may become independent | Wisconsin State Journal

State Sen. Tim Cullen, a moderate Democrat from Janesville, broke with his party’s caucus Tuesday, saying he may become an independent over what he felt were political “insults” by the Senate majority leader. Cullen said he made his decision, announced to the rest of the caucus by email, after Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, slighted him with committee assignments. Every senator in the caucus was given at least two committee leadership positions. Cullen has none. Miller said in a statement Tuesday that Cullen turned down an “important” committee overseeing small business and tourism. The immediate result of the defection is not known. Democrats took control of the Senate on July 16 by a 17-16 margin and are still moving into new offices. State Sen. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, is stepping down Aug. 6 to take over as Gov. Scott Walker’s deputy chief of staff, so even if Cullen leaves the party, Democrats will still hold a slim majority: 16-15-1. The Senate isn’t scheduled to meet until January, and 16 of 33 seats are up for election in November. Cullen said he did not know why he was ignored for leadership positions that appealed to him, but imagined it had to do with his independent nature and track record of working with Republicans on certain issues.

Mexico: PRI Party Says Runner-up Used Illegal Funds | Latinos Post

Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, winner of the July 1 presidential election, on Monday accused the leftist runner-up of exceeding spending limits and using illegal funds to finance his bid. The allegations were a tit-for-tat exchange after leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador challenged the 3.3 million-vote victory by the PRI’s Enrique Pena Nieto. Lopez Obrador alleges the PRI resorted to money laundering and vote-buying to win. PRI officials fired back on Monday, saying Lopez Obrador’s campaign spent 1.2 billion pesos ($88.65 million) more than was allowed in the presidential campaign.

Papua New Guinea: One seat, two winners in PNG election | ABC Radio Australia

The deadline for the return of writs in PNG’s elections has been extended, with counting still progressing. Last week PNG’s Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen set the deadline of today Wednesday for all the writs to be returned. But he says that’s now unlikely, with two Highlands provinces starting voting late, and several parts of the country still tallying results. “I will now assess the counting in those provinces that are still ongoing, like the Eastern Highlands, Simbu, Jiwaka, Western Highlands, parts of Southern Highlands, and the Milne Bay province, the Western and Gulf provinces,” he said. “Then I will advise the governor general with the appropriate time frame.”

Romania: Opposition Urges Voters to Boycott Impeachment Ballot | Businessweek

Romania’s opposition Democratic Liberals urged voters who support suspended President Traian Basescu to boycott a referendum on July 29 to help win his reinstatement by invalidating the impeachment vote. The opposition said voters should stay away from the polling stations because the ruling coalition won’t meet the same organizational standards as in the 2009 presidential election, increasing the possibility for electoral fraud, Democrat Liberal leader Vasile Blaga told reporters in Bucharest today. The ruling Social Liberal Union don’t understand that they “should set up the vote under the same conditions as in 2009, when we also had surveillance cameras, so we ask citizens to stay away from this masquerade” Blaga said.