It’s Oct. 17, three days before early voting commences in Texas, and about 20 election judges—the folks who oversee polling sites—are spread out around an oblong training room in the Travis County clerk’s building in Austin, listening to an hour-long, rapid-fire lecture by a trainer named Alexa Buxkemper. The walls are lined with paraphernalia that most Americans see just once every two or four years—stacks of ballots, voting machines, old-model laptops that still process voter information. “Pick the correct voter,” Buxkemper says, rattling off the basics. “Collect 100 percent of statements of residence. Fill out all the forms completely, legibly. Give every voter the right ballot style.” And then, more pointedly: “Always follow the steps in the manual—don’t wing it. I hate to say, ‘Don’t think, just follow the manual,’ but we have sat around and done the thinking. So follow these steps.” The election judges nod solemnly and scribble notes. Most are over 60, and they’ve been through similar trainings before. They’ve run the polls during tough elections before, too. But they are nervous. Finally, interrupting the trainer’s staccato marching orders, a woman raises her hand and asks what’s on everyone’s mind: “Can they change the law on us again after we start?” “Don’t even ask that question!” Buxkemper says, only half-joking. “I would just say be ready for anything.” This fall, “be ready for anything” has become the credo of local election offices in Texas and several states like it, where legal challenges to new voting laws have resulted in a steady stream of court rulings that have confused voters and forced elections administrators to invent new procedures on the fly. In recent weeks, as the election judges know, Texas’s voter-ID law was ruled discriminatory and unconstitutional by a federal District judge—and then abruptly reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. With fewer than 72 hours before polls open, the Supreme Court still hasn’t made a final call. The steps the election judges are being instructed to follow still could change by the time voters show up.
Threats to the integrity of Internet voting have been a major factor in keeping the practice to a bare minimum in the United States. On the heels of the recent midterm elections, researchers at Galois, a computer science research and development firm in Portland, Ore., sent another reminder to decision makers and voters that things still aren’t where they should be. Researchers Daniel M. Zimmerman and Joseph R. Kiniry published a paper called “Modifying an Off-the-Shelf Wireless Router for PDF Ballot Tampering” that explains an attack against common home routers that would allow a hacker to intercept a PDF ballot and use another technique to modify a ballot before sending it along to an election authority. PDF ballots have been used in Internet voting trials in Alaska, and in New Jersey as an voting alternative for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy. The ballots are downloaded, filled out and emailed; the email is equivalent to putting a ballot into a ballot box. Election authorities then either print the ballots and count them by hand, or count them with an optical scanner. The Galois attack is by no means the only attack that threatens Internet voting; malware on a voter’s machine could redirect traffic or cause a denial of service condition at the election authority. But the attack described in the paper is certainly a much more quiet attack that the researchers say is undetectable, even in a forensics investigation.
National: We probably just saw one of the lowest-turnout elections in American history | The Washington Post
Turnout was low last week. Not “midterm low,” or “unusually low,” but “historically low.” As we noted on Monday, it was probably the lowest since World War II. But it was possibly also one of the four lowest-turnout elections since the election of Thomas Jefferson. You know, before there was such a thing as “Alabama.” The U.S. Election Project, run by Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, compiles data on voter turnout over time. It’s tricky to estimate voter turnout in the 1700s and 1800s, and McDonald explains on his site how the numbers are calculated. So comparing 2014 to 1804 (the Jefferson example) should be considered a rough comparison at best. … The figure for 2014, currently 36.3 percent, is not yet final. McDonaldexplains that, too, in his compilation of vote tallies from the states. These numbers are not percentages of registered voters, the common metric for evaluating turnout. Instead, McDonald compares the number of votes with the number of people in the state eligible to vote.
Editorials: Voter suppression laws are already deciding elections | Catherine Rampell/The Washington Post
Voter suppression efforts may have changed the outcomes of some of the closest races last week. And if the Supreme Court lets these laws stand, they will continue to distort election results going forward. The days of Jim Crow are officially over, but poll-tax equivalents are newly thriving, through restrictive voter registration and ID requirements, shorter poll hours and various other restrictions and red tape that cost Americans time and money if they wish to cast a ballot. As one study by a Harvard Law School researcher found, the price for obtaining a legally recognized voter identification card can range from $75 to $175, when you include the costs associated with documentation, travel and waiting time. (For context, the actual poll tax that the Supreme Court struck down in 1966 was just $1.50, or about $11 in today’s dollars.) Whatever the motivation behind such new laws — whether to cynically disenfranchise political enemies or to nobly slay the (largely imagined) scourge of voter fraud — their costs to voters are far from negligible.
Basic cyberattacks could tamper with electronically submitted ballots, leaving no trace behind, according to research from computer science firm Galois. On the heels of election watchdog groups criticizing Alaska’s use of ballots submitted online, Galois demonstrated that electronic ballots could be modified through simply hacking into home routers, which often have minimal security measures. “An off-the-shelf home Internet router can be easily modified to silently alter election ballots,” said the researchers, Daniel Zimmerman and Joseph Kiniry. A few states now allow voters to receive and return a ballot electronically. Election officials argue it is a way to increase voter participation, while technologists insist heightened turnout isn’t worth the high risk of fraud.
Supreme Court rulings forced last-minute changes in state voting procedures for the midterm elections across the country, but the battle over voting rules is far from over. Courts are still hearing arguments over voter ID and early voting laws, legal challenges that could reshuffle voting rules again before 2016, when a presidential election will probably increase voter turnout and long lines at polls. “The cases are not over,” says Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine and author of the Election Law Blog. “In a number of states, restrictions, which have been on hold or which were scheduled to be phased in, will be in effect. More states will pass new restrictive voting rules. And some states may pass rules making it easier to vote.”
• In Ohio, legislation shortened early voting and eliminated “Golden Week,” a time period in which voters could register and early-vote on the same day. The Supreme Court upheld the changes for the midterm election, but the case challenging the law must go to trial in federal court.
As long as politicians are entrusted with drawing legislative maps, they will use their pen to gain partisan advantage. Courts generally do not interfere with that process, but there are limits to this where race is involved. The problem is figuring out which motive — race or partisanship — underlies the redistricting. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court considered this issue in a thorny case that could have significant implications for the future of the Voting Rights Act. The main legal question before the justices was whether Alabama lawmakers had paid too much attention to race when they redrew the state’s district lines. The 1965 voting law requires states to create districts where minorities can elect candidates of their choice, specifically in places where whites and blacks tend to pick different candidates. That’s clearly the case in Alabama, where, in 2008, Barack Obama received 98 percent of the black vote and 10 percent of the white vote. The Constitution also requires that state legislative districts contain roughly equal populations.
U.S. Representative Ron Barber, an Arizona Democrat who was an aide to Gabrielle Giffords, faces a recount after his Republican challenger finished the race for a congressional border district with 161 votes ahead of him. Tea Party favorite Martha McSally claimed a razor-thin victory over Barber, who was struck by gunfire alongside Giffords in the 2011 shooting rampage that killed six people and injured 13 outside a suburban Tucson supermarket. But Arizona law requires an automatic recount because the final tally in the Second Congressional District left the two candidates separated by less than 0.1 percent of the total, in this case fewer than 200 votes after the Nov. 4 election.
The state’s top election official say she wants the General Assembly to consider reforming the way elections are supervised. Every city and town has at least two Registrars of Voters with paid staff, but there always seems to be a major problem. The report card on last week’s election shows a lot of A’s in most towns, some B’s for minor problems, and a big red F in the Capitol City. Second-grade kids at the Gilead Hill Elementary School in Hebron got to participate in Democracy Thursday, unfortunately it’s the adults that are messing it up. The kids were drawing the names of 77 voting districts across the state for the annual post-election audit. State law requires that 10-percent of the state’s 763 voting precincts be audited after every election.
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously rejected a Republican political consultant’s efforts to keep his redistricting records private, promising to give the public its first glimpse of documents that helped lead to the state’s congressional districts being thrown out this summer. While different justices signed onto two separate opinions about the case, both found that Pat Bainter and his consulting firm, Data Targeting Inc., waited too long to claim that releasing some of the documents would violate his First Amendment rights. The documents were requested by voting-rights organizations challenging the state’s congressional districts. Writing for five members of the court, Justice Barbara Pariente used unusually harsh language to paint Bainter’s efforts as part of a monthslong stalling tactic as the battle over the congressional map played out in a Leon County court.
A Chicago election official has been fired in the aftermath of a contentious election that has resulted in a criminal probe of disruptive robocalls and complaints about “irregularities” in handling ballots in the state treasurer’s race. A division supervisor for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has been fired, said Jim Allen, a board spokesman. Allen would only say the person fired was a division supervisor and not “a top manager.” He declined to say why the person was fired, saying it was a personnel issue. But the firing comes amid complaints from the campaign of Republican candidate for state treasurer Tom Cross. A lawyer for the campaign wrote a letter to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners about “numerous irregularities identified by election monitors in the handling of ballots” for the Nov. 4 election.
Mississippi garnered unexpected national attention this summer as its system of open primary voting became a contributor to the wider debate of how best to fairly and legitimately select candidates and representatives. If you haven’t been paying attention, Mississippi’s long running Republican Senator, Thad Cochran, came very close to losing his seat to Tea Party Conservative Chris McDaniel in a rather ugly, tight primary race. In an effort to overcome his challenger in a runoff election, Cochran strategically capitalized on Mississippi’s use of open primary voting by asking traditionally Democratic voters to support him in the primary runoff against his far more conservative opponent. In a state where Democrats’ primary voters turned out in less than half the number of participants as the Republican primary, Cochran’s gambit to garner those as-yet uncast primary votes could be considered borderline tactical genius. McDaniel and his supporters are pretty sure, however, that it should be considered less than legal.
The Oklahoma Election Board on Wednesday certified the results of last week’s election despite a request by Democrats for a special election in the 2nd Congressional District where Democratic nominee Earl Everett died two days before the vote. After a closed-door session with attorneys from Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, the three-member board returned to open session and certified the results based on the attorneys’ recommendation. Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax says state law in this case is pre-empted by federal law.
Republican Scott Milne will not call for a recount of last Tuesday’s gubernatorial election, the candidate said Wednesday. Milne acknowledged that incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin received the most votes of any candidate for governor, but opted not to concede. He left open the possibility of an appeal to the Legislature, which will formally elect the next governor because no candidate got a majority of the vote. Milne said he will talk next week about how he believes the Legislature should vote in January. He has denied claims that he is lobbying legislators to vote for him. Debate since the election has centered around whether lawmakers should vote for the candidate they choose or the one who won their legislative district. The Legislature has elected the first-place finisher in every instance since 1853.
Voting rights should be extended to Irish citizens living abroad, an Oireachtas committee has recommended. In its Report on Voting Rights of Irish Citizens Abroad, to be published later today, the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs said “Irish emigrants should continue to have a stake in the future of their home country”. More than 120 countries around the world have provisions for their citizens abroad to cast a ballot, but Ireland does not currently allow emigrants to vote in presidential or Dáil elections. The Oireachtas committee review was prompted by criticism from the European Commission earlier this year, which said Ireland was “disenfranchising” its citizens living in other EU member states by not providing them voting rights in national elections. “Such disenfranchisement practices can negatively affect EU free movement rights,” it said.
A sub-committee of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms has asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to provide a practical demonstration of electronic voting machines (EVM) on November 17 before these can be woven into the country’s electoral laws. ECP officials on Thursday gave a briefing to the sub-committee on merits and demerits of using EVMs — an idea that the commission wants to implement in the next general elections due in 2018. The panel, holding its in-camera session, asked the ECP to bring the vendors who have prepared these machines for a practical demonstration in the next meeting scheduled on Monday. It has also asked ECP officials to come up with a detailed plan that should include the cost to implement electronic voting method and also a time-frame to implement the proposed system.
First of all, let’s look at the facts. On November 9, an important cross-section of Catalan society went to vote. Was it a referendum? Or was it –as the Catalan government insisted – a “non-referendum consultation”? Technically it was neither. Instead, it was a kind of peaceful manifestation, a massive civic ceremony symbolically consisting of putting ballots inside of boxes. It did not meet even the most basic standards of an official referendum. It had no legal basis (and in fact had been suspended by Spain’s constitutional court), no list of registered voters, no impartial staff at voting booths, no legally bound electoral management bodies etc… If this were not enough, we found out on Monday that some voting venues would be open until….the end of the month! No this was something different: an original, massive, protest event. As such, it was highly successful, regardless of what the Spanish government says. They seem to be sticking to the ostrich’s approach.