First and last names. Recent addresses and phone numbers. Party affiliation. Voting history and demographics. A database containing this information from 191 million voter records was mysteriously published over the last week, the latest example of personal voter data becoming freely available, alarming privacy experts who say the information can be used for phishing attacks, identity theft and extortion. No one knows who built the database, or precisely where all the data came from, and whether its disclosure resulted from an inadvertent release or from hacks. The disclosure was discovered by an information technology specialist, Chris Vickery, who quickly alerted the authorities and published his findings on Databreaches.net. NationBuilder, a nonpartisan political data firm, has said it may have been the source of some of the data, although the actual database that was released was not the company’s.
The stunning success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race suggests that American voters are very restless, and very displeased with the political status quo. That’s certainly true. But it’s also nothing new. And perhaps no statistic shows this better than the continuing popularity of recall elections. For the fifth year in a row, more than 100 officials across the U.S. have either faced an actual recall vote or resigned in the face of such a threat. The use of the recall may in some ways be seen as a product of an empowered, technologically connected, and occasionally enraged electorate. After all, for the better part of the 20th century, the recall was an almost forgotten relic of the Progressive Era. But no more. As we saw in Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012, and Colorado in 2013, recalls have become a major part of the political landscape. And when they get on the ballot, they work. This year, 108 recalls got on the ballot or led to a resignation. Of those 108, 65 officials were ousted, and 15 resigned. Only 28 survived the voters’ wrath.
Voting equipment across Colorado’s 64 counties will have to be replaced in the next two years in order to comply with requirements of a 2009 state law. And Secretary of State Wayne Williams just designated one company, Dominion Voting Systems, as the sole vendor for all the needed gear. The transition is going to be expensive, especially for rural counties that haven’t seen the economic boom experienced across the Front Range. County officials argue forcing them to use one vendor — and not the cheapest — may violate the law and sane fiscal management.
A state judge on Wednesday approved an entirely new map of Florida’s 40 Senate districts that was recommended by a coalition of voting rights groups. The decision is yet another political and legal setback for the Republican-controlled Legislature and adds much more political uncertainty with the next session less than two weeks away and at the dawn of a presidential election year. “This is another great result for our clients but also a great result for every voter in the state of Florida,” said David King, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. King said voters will elect senators and members of Congress from constitutional districts in the 2016 election, and added: “I’m confident that there are a substantial number of more competitive districts in this map.” The Senate had no immediate comment on Circuit Judge George Reynolds’ order, in which he accepted a map recommended by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other plaintiffs. Reynolds’ 73-page ruling orders the Senate to randomly assign district numbers to all 40 districts within three days of a final judgment being entered.
Caucus Night 2012 was not exactly a banner evening for the Republican Party of Iowa. Reporting problems plagued the vote-counting during the crucial first-in-the-nation presidential contest. The initial headlines credited frontrunner Mitt Romney with the narrowest of victories over Rick Santorum, by a mere eight votes out of more than 100,000 cast. When the state party certified the results of the election more than two weeks later, however, it declared Santorum the official winner by 34 votes. Yet Republican officials had already acknowledged the embarrassing truth: Because of inaccuracies in dozens of precincts and missing results from eight of them, the real victor of the Iowa caucus would never be known for certain. Needless to say, the Iowa GOP would like to have a smoother—and more accurate—election on February 1. So would Iowa Democrats, who are running their first competitive caucus in the state since 2008 and whose process for nominating a presidential candidate is even more complicated than the one Republicans use.
Virginia’s strict voter-identification law will go on trial in a federal court in Richmond in February, part of a national strategy by Democrats to remove what they say are barriers to voting by African American, Latino and poor voters. Although Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, is sympathetic to the core issue in the lawsuit brought by two activists and the state Democratic Party, the state must defend its voter-ID law. A statute requiring photo ID was passed in 2013 and signed into law by McAuliffe’s Republican predecessor, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. To defend against the lawsuit, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) appointed an independent counsel, Mark F. “Thor” Hearne II, who represented the 2004 reelection campaign of then-President George W. Bush.
Canada: Federal Liberals rule out referendum on electoral reform — despite recent precedent | National Post
Justin Trudeau and his party swept into power in October’s election on a series of big promises, including a pledge 2015 would mark the last election under first-past-the-post. Since the Liberals have formed government, enacting some of those plans — whether it’s a pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees or withdraw fighter jets from the battle against Syria — is turning out to be harder than expected. Now, the sunny plan to create a more democratic democracy is casting a shadow over those lofty ambitions. Despite calls from both the left and right that any changes to how Canadians elect their government require the direct input of the people, Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said Sunday that’s not in the cards. “Our plan is not to have a national referendum, our plan is to use parliament to consult Canadians,” Leblanc said during an interview on CTV’s Question Period. “That’s always been our plan and I don’t have any reason to think that’s been changed.”
Central African Republic: Long Delayed, Central African Republic Elections Are Peaceful | The New York Times
Citizens of the Central African Republic began casting ballots on Wednesday in long-delayed elections that represent the best hope of reuniting the country, one of the world’s poorest, after three years of sectarian violence that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Turnout was heavy among the 1.8 million registered voters, nearly 40 percent of the population. Stores were largely closed so that workers could cast their ballots, a process that took hours. Many lined up outside schools and other polling places well before they opened at 6 a.m., as United Nations peacekeepers from Burundi, Egypt, France, Mauritania, Pakistan and other countries, along with 40 election monitors from the African Union, kept watch. As polls prepared to close at 4 p.m., people were still waiting to vote, including older men with walking sticks and women carrying babies on their backs.
Editorials: Supreme Court Grapples, Once Again, With Redistricting | Michael Barone/Rasmussen Reports
Fifty-one years ago the Supreme Court handed down its one-person-one-vote decision, requiring that within each state congressional and legislative districts must have equal populations. That gave redistricters a relatively easy standard to meet. Census data provides block-by-block population counts every 10 years, and it’s possible now to draw lines for districts so that their populations are identical or vary by just one person. But redistricting cases keep making their way to the Court nonetheless. One reason is that the Voting Rights Act amendments of the 1980s have been interpreted as requiring the creation of a maximum number of districts with majorities or near-majorities of black or Hispanic residents. This has produced many grotesquely shaped constituencies and much litigation.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Tuesday that his office is working to verify claims that confidential voter information had been publicly posted online. Padilla said the records were not posted by the California Secretary of State, and that he is collaborating with Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office to provide any necessary assistance. Harris’ office would not comment on a potential or ongoing investigation, to protect the integrity of any probe, a spokeswoman said. CNET, citing DataBreaches.net researcher Chris Vickery, reported that a massive trove of voter data was found on a publicly available Web server. The database of 191 million registered voters, including many in California, is no longer publicly accessible, Vickery wrote in an update.
The Libertarian Party has filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut, challenging laws pertaining to gathering signatures on petitions to place candidates on election ballots. Specifically, the Libertarians object to a provision that requires Connecticut residents to gather the signatures. The lawsuit is part of a national effort by the Libertarians, the nation’s third largest political party, which has resulted in similar laws being overturned in 11 other states and the District of Columbia. The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has joined Day Pitney in bringing the suit on behalf of the party. “For us, it’s a First Amendment issue,” said Dan Barrett, legal director for the ACLU of Connecticut. “Evert [federal appeals court] has concluded that restrictions like this are a major restriction to reach voters. This is democracy, [the issue is] letting the party get its message to the people and to get on the ballot.”
Arguing that an east-west configuration for her district “combines far-flung communities worlds apart culturally and geographically,” lawyers for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown asked a federal judge Tuesday to void Florida’s latest congressional redistricting plan. The complaint marks the next phase of a legal battle over the state’s political boundaries that has raged for nearly four years. The first two drafts of a congressional plan — approved by the Legislature in 2012 and tweaked in 2014 — were thrown out by state courts for violating a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering. But the reorientation of Brown’s congressional district, which has long ambled from Jacksonville to Orlando but now would run from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west, prompted the Democratic congresswoman to file suit this year against the change. After the Florida Supreme Court officially approved the new district early this month, Brown was allowed to update her case Tuesda
Kansas: League of Women Voters keeps close eye on incomplete voter registrations | Topeka Capital Journal
The League of Women Voters of Kansas has requested from the state an updated list of incomplete voter applications and intends to revisit the matter quarterly. Co-president Carole Neal said her group expects to complete a fresh analysis of pending applications next month. In 2013, Kansas began requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. This October, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach called for applications to be canceled if kept on file for 90 days or longer without the applicant meeting paperwork requirements. There were more than 30,000 names on the list at the time. When the nonpartisan League of Women Voters analyzed the list and found a third of the names were people under the age of 30 — a fact that surprised them — they increased outreach efforts that target college students and high-schoolers. This includes collaborating with faculty at Washburn University, Wichita State, Emporia State and Fort Hays State universities to incorporate curriculum related to voter registration into political science classes. It also includes visiting high schools to discuss registration and the right to vote.
Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign chairman on Wednesday threatened legal action against the state GOP to stop the “statement of affiliation” that voters must sign in order to cast ballots in the March 1 Republican primary. Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said Trump’s campaign believes the requirement is an attempt by the GOP establishment “to confuse and scare off” new Republican voters Trump is attracting. “If this is not corrected we’re not going to sit back and tolerate it,” Stewart said in a telephone interview. He said Trump’s campaign hopes to persuade state GOP officials to drop the requirement without taking legal action. But he said it is discussing legal recourse, adding that a suit would likely “involve RPV and the State Board of Elections.” The state GOP declined comment Wednesday on the legal threat.
The Conservative Party is vowing to use any means necessary, including a Senate blockade, to keep the Liberal government from forcing through electoral-reform legislation without first holding a referendum. “The entire Conservative caucus, both in the House and the Senate, will be opposing any radical changes to the electoral system without a referendum” Don Plett, the Conservative Whip in the Senate, said in an interview Wednesday. “We would look at all avenues” to stop such a bill, interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said. “My hope is that the Liberals will come to their senses.” The Conservatives are up in arms over a recent declaration by Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc that electoral reform, which would replace the existing first-past-the-post system of electing MPs with some form of proportional representation or a ranked ballot, will simply be passed as a law by Parliament.
Polling stations have opened in Central African Republic’s much-delayed national elections, which residents and the international community hope will bring stability after years of sectarian violence. A transitional government led by Catherine Samba-Panza has steered the country towards the presidential and parliamentary elections. The National Election Authority proposed the most recent delay, from 27 December to 30 December, to deal with technical and organisational difficulties. “This time, everything will be fine throughout Central African Republic,” said Julius Rufin Ngoadebaba, spokesman for the National Electoral Authority. He denied allegations that illegal voter cards had been distributed.
Haiti: Electoral Commission Seeks to Discover If Presidential Elections Were Fraudulent | teleSUR English
An independent electoral commission in Haiti is due to deliver its report on the first round of the presidential election this Thursday amid fervent claims of electoral fraud, while it seems highly unlikely that the second round of voting will take place Jan. 3 as originally planned. Five representatives from varying religious groups and nongovernmental organizations were appointed to the commission by electoral decree in December to investigate the claims of foul play. However it seems unlikely the second round of voting will go ahead Sunday. Rosny Desroches, spokesperson for the independent electoral commission, said the commission had established a sample of 2,000 ballot tallies out of 13,000 local counts and was working to analyze them. He admitted that it would be difficult to complete the task by Wednesday, as had been mandated by presidential decree.
Voters in Kiribati go to polls today in the first round of the national election. 133 candidates are standing for 44 seats. The chief electoral officer Takiakia Beneteti says there are about 40,000 registered voters. She says final figures may be slow to be compiled because of communication problems with some of the outer islands. “We are still working on it now, like we informed all the electoral officers from the outer islands to use every means of communication available. We use internet for some outer islands and some islands they are not access to internet VHF radio.”
China on Thursday warned of a serious disruption of ties with Taiwan as the island’s voters appear set to elect a new president with a far more skeptical view of dealings with Beijing. The year ahead is bringing “complex changes” and the sides face “new challenges,” the director of the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office Zhang Zhijun said in a News Year’s greeting to Taiwan’s 23 million people. Recalling the progress in relations made over the past seven-plus years under Taiwan’s China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, Zhang said he hoped Taiwanese realized those gains could evaporate if the island defied China’s insistence that it remained a part of the Chinese nation. “We don’t want to wait until the street light goes out to appreciate the illumination it has brought, or to wait until the fruits of peaceful development are lost to appreciate their value,” Zhang said.
Time to get out your deerstalker hat. Somewhere out there is a publicly available database with approximately 191 million voting records, with details like names, birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, and political party affiliation. The problem? Nobody knows who owns the database, who set it up, how it got online, or why its information is public. According to CSO, which first reported on the story after being alerted to its existence by researcher Chris Vickery, it’s likely that the information in the database came from the political data firm NationBuilder, but it’s not necessarily the company’s fault that the information is live. A customer possibly purchased this information and made it public, but it’s unclear if they did so on purpose or by mistake. “NationBuilder is under no obligation to identify customers, and once the data has been obtained, they cannot control what happens to it,” writes CSO’s Steve Ragan. “In short, while they provided the data that’s in my newly leaked voter record, they’re not liable in any way for it being exposed.”
With three seats open on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and a chance to flip control of the judicial branch, a wave of campaign cash, independent expenditures and negative TV ads flooded the state in the weeks before the November election. Six candidates combined for $12.2 million in contributions, with two independent groups spending $3.5 million. The record sum for a state judicial election serves as a hint of what lies ahead when voters in two dozen states will cast ballots for state supreme court justices in 2016. The flow of money into state judicial races has been rising in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down. Races in a handful of states, including Ohio and North Carolina, are among those that will be watched closely.
At least for some Americans, it could be harder to vote in next year’s presidential election than in any for several decades. And yet, there are genuine reasons for new-found optimism about the state of U.S. voting rights. If that sounds hard to square, consider that perhaps for the first time this century, there’s now unquestionably more energy behind efforts to make voting easier than to make it harder. Continuing a trend that began after the 2012 election, numerous mostly blue states — with an important nudge from Hillary Clinton — have introduced, and sometimes passed, a slew of expansive bills, including one idea that could transform access to the ballot. Meanwhile, the march of major new GOP-backed restrictions that characterized the period from 2011 to 2014 essentially came to a halt. But voting rights advocates are a long way from celebrating. Nothing happened to undo existing restrictions, and the worst of them remain in place. And as 2016 approaches, the Roberts Court, with its conservative majority, looks likely to play the lead role in shaping the voting landscape going forward.
Reports of Republican officials convening a closed-door session over the possibility of a deadlocked convention are feeding speculation over what happens if 19 weeks of primaries, caucuses and conventions leave a muddled picture. The past nine Republican conventions began with a presumptive nominee. And the chances of delegates arriving at the convention in Cleveland next July with no clear nominee remain small. But the odds are no longer infinitesimal thanks to the multicandidate field, required early proportional voting, and the fact that only 16.2% of the delegates will have been chosen in decisive, winner-take-all contests. Three convention scenarios can emerge after 56 states and territories choose their delegates between Feb. 1 and June 7: There will be a clear winner, a bunched up field of several candidates, or a leader who can’t get a majority of delegates on the first ballot. The latter two scenarios would make Cleveland uncharted territory.
California: Low turnout prompts initiative extravaganza for November ballot | San Francisco Chronicle
Measures ranging from a $9 billion school bond to a condom requirement for actors in pornographic movies are set to join the presidential candidates on November’s California ballot, with plenty more still to come. Battle lines are being drawn in what could be one of the busiest — and most expensive — initiative seasons in California history. “It’s likely to be a very long ballot,” said Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog, a progressive group that’s sponsored a number of consumer-oriented initiatives over the years. Besides the seven measures that have already qualified for the ballot — including one of nationwide interest that would cut prescription drug prices for state agencies — supporters of others are out on the streets, haranguing passersby in an effort to collect enough signatures to go before the voters next year.
Unless you’re a diehard political party member in Colorado, chances are low you’ve participated in the state’s early voting process. Frankly, to many, it’s baffling. And if you’re an unaffiliated voter who wants to get involved, act fast. You have until January 4 to join a party so you can help determine which candidate gets the nomination. Then what? Get ready for Super Tuesday. What you think might be a quick trip to a polling place is nothing of the sort in Colorado. Instead, it’s a night of discussion among your neighborhood party members where you’ll find yourself pitching for your favorite candidate, hearing from others about theirs, and maybe even having to fend off the aroma of home baked cookies luring you to another candidate’s side.
With a presidential primary right around the corner, many Florida voters are being told they must update their legal signatures to ensure that their absentee ballots will be counted. Hundreds of thousands of voters have received letters from county elections supervisors urging them to fill out new voter registration forms or risk having their ballots rejected. The practice of signature verification is becoming increasingly common as more Floridians vote by mail rather than at early voting sites or on Election Day. Now that the Legislature allows voting by mail for any reason, experts say it’s inevitable that it will become the preferred way of casting ballots in Florida. “You MUST complete the enclosed voter registration application and check the ‘signature update’ box so that we can update your voter registration record,” reads a letter from Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley. “If you plan to vote by absentee ballot in an upcoming election, be sure to submit your signature update at least 15 days prior to the election.”
On the face of it, Iowa’s online voter registration system, scheduled to launch next week, should make it easier to participate in elections. But legitimate concerns have been raised over the system’s potential impact on the rights of the disadvantaged, and so far the state has been slow to respond. The new system will enable only those individuals who have a driver’s license or non-operator identification card issued by the Iowa Department of Transportation to take advantage of online voter registration. That’s a problem because, according to the DOT’s own estimates, roughly 145,600 eligible Iowa voters don’t have a license or ID card. This new process is also inconsistent with state law, which doesn’t require Iowans to be a licensed driver or to possess a DOT-issued ID card to exercise their right to register and vote in an election.
New Mexicans should be able to register to vote online by the end of this week, as the Secretary of State’s Office is putting the final touches on new regulations that will allow the option for the first time in state history. Online voter registration has surged in popularity in recent years and is already available in 26 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Mexico is one of three additional states – Oklahoma and Florida are the others – implementing such a system. Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill, approved by legislators during this year’s 60-day legislative session, that mandated online voter registration, among other changes, and officials in the Secretary of State’s Office have been working to have it ready to go by Friday – more than a year before their deadline.
Gov. John Kasich says he wants to change the way Ohio draws congressional districts, but other supporters of the idea say it will take a change of heart by Ohio’s federal lawmakers to make it happen. Ohio’s congressional districts are currently drawn by the legislature, which can gerrymander districts to favor the party that controls the chambers. The process has led to a number of districts that make little geographic sense, allow for few competitive races and have given Republicans 12 of 16 seats. “I support redistricting reform dramatically,” Kasich said last week. “This will be something I’m going to do whether I’m elected president or whether I’m here. We carve these safe districts, and then when you’re in a safe district you have to watch your extremes, and you keep moving to the extremes.”
Wisconsin: Federal judge’s ruling on evidence could fuel John Doe appeal to U.S. Supreme Court | Wisconsin State Journal
Investigators have asked a federal judge to overrule a state Supreme Court order that they turn over evidence from their secret criminal investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign. Should U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman grant the request, it would set up a high-level clash between state and federal courts, perhaps giving the U.S. Supreme Court another reason to intervene, according to a former state Supreme Court justice. “The (Wisconsin) Supreme Court has created a hornets’ nest over this evidence and I don’t know how they get themselves out of it,” former Justice Janine Geske said in an interview Monday. “I suspect there are going to be some justices at the U.S. Supreme Court who say, ‘We’ve got to look at what’s going on in Wisconsin.’ ”