Could hackers swing a U.S. election? With the 2016 presidential race already well underway, it’s time for us to take cyber threats to our electoral process much more seriously. Over the years, a number of security researchers, ‘ethical hackers’ and government agencies have warned about the risks, but little has been done to prevent these attacks. Hacking just a few electoral districts could allow an attacker to swing an election in a close race. The U.S. has had close elections multiple times in the past. In 1960, John F. Kennedy squeaked out a victory over Richard Nixon by just 0.1%. In the 2000 presidential election, the decision came down to just a few votes in Florida. In the end, the Supreme Court had to determine the winner.
Why don’t more people vote? Only about 36 percent of the voting population turned out for the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest turnout election since 1942, according to stats from the United States Election Project. That’s a big problem and a group of experts in technology, journalism, civics and elections met at the Belo Center for New Media at the University of Texas at Austin campus last week to discuss how to get more people civically engaged. They participated in an invitation-only daylong conference hosted by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life focused on increasing civic engagement before, during and after elections. The conference featured speakers from Google, Microsoft, Code for America, Rock the Vote, Vox Media, Texas Tribune, the clerk of Travis County and many more.
This was supposed to be the presidential campaign that ends the dominance of TV ads — the Snapchat election, the live streaming election. “If 2004 was about Meetup [and] 2008 was about Facebook, 2016 is going to be about Meerkat (or something just like it),” vowed President Barack Obama’s ex-communications guru Dan Pfeiffer. Not yet. It’s increasingly clear, as two dozen campaigns and their super PACs plot their strategies, that 2016, will be, once again, about television. Between campaigns and independent groups, television ad spending during the 2016 elections is projected to top $4.4 billion. That’s over a half-billion more than in 2012. And it’s at least four times what campaigns and groups are preparing to spend on their online strategies.
In a rare meeting with reporters in early July 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren answered readily when asked which of the Court’s decisions in his momentous years on the Supreme Court were most important. The series of rulings, he said, that created the constitutional idea of “one person, one vote.” That is a basic theory of democratic representation: no individual’s vote may be weighted more heavily than any other’s. Election districts, for Congress and state legislatures, must be drawn as close to equal in population as can practically be done. The clearest expression of that idea came in the 1964 decision in Reynolds v. Sims. Now, a half-century later, the Court has assigned itself the task of deciding — remarkably, for the first time — how to get to that goal. What, it will answer in one case, population measure should be used: total people in a district, total citizens, total citizens of voting age, total numbers of registered voters? And, in a second case, the Court will answer whether it violates the equality principle if districts are drawn in a way that favors one party’s candidates. Both cases involve cross-currents of political theory, and both have the potential to directly change election outcomes and the election fortunes of the two major political parties. There is considerable complexity here, so let’s try to make this simple.
The federal government has all but surrendered to the powerful, rich donors whose anonymous contributions threaten to undermine the 2016 elections. The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, John Koskinen, signaled as much on Thursday when he told a House committee that there would be no change in the tax code in 2016 to end its growing abuse by political operatives using nonprofit “social welfare” institutions to disguise the identities of affluent campaign contributors. “I don’t want people thinking we are trying to get these regs done so we can influence the election,” Mr. Koskinen declared later to reporters. The statement was remarkable for blessing further procrastination at the I.R.S., whose clear obligation is to enforce existing law in a way that would end the current flood of “dark money” financing politics.
Alaska: Mallott switches out election chief as lawsuit, other voting issues loom | Alaska Dispatch News
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott abruptly removed Alaska’s longtime elections chief from office on Friday, saying through an aide that he appreciated her work but also wanted a change in the department, which has been embroiled in a lawsuit over Native voting. Claire Richardson, a special assistant to Mallott, confirmed Monday that he sought the resignation of Gail Fenumiai, who had been with the Division of Elections for 15 of the last 20 years and the department’s director since January 2008. Her last day was Friday, the same day she was asked for her resignation by administrative director Guy Bell, Richardson said. “The lieutenant governor is certainly wishing her well in her future endeavors. This was nothing personal,” she said. Fenumiai was a professional elections official with a long history of service, she said.
Any legal challenges stemming from the Florida Legislature’s third attempt at drawing congressional district boundaries next month was set for a late September hearing Monday. Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis set Sept. 24-25 for a hearing on a map lawmakers are expected to approve during a 12-day special session, set to begin Aug. 10. A trial on whether the state’s Senate boundaries also are unconstitutional is set to begin in Leon County on Sept. 25.
For the past two weeks, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder has presided over a crowded federal courtroom as lawyers challenging key provisions of the state’s election law presented witness after witness. This week, attorneys for the state began presenting their witnesses to counter claims by the NAACP, League of Women Voters and others that a 2013 North Carolina voting law overhaul was a not-so-subtle attempt to limit the participation of black, Hispanic and young voters in the electoral process. … On Monday, Trey Hood, a University of Georgia professor of political science, testified he could find no evidence that limiting the number of early-voting days had discouraged a significant number of people from voting.
A federal court in North Carolina is now hearing testimony in a case that could have an impact on the rollback of voting rights across the country. At the start of this decade, North Carolina’s voting laws were a model of inclusion. The state allowed 17 days of early voting, teenagers who were approaching voting age could pre-register to vote, there was same-day registration and voters could even cast ballots outside their assigned precinct. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles was also required to contact drivers about being registered when they reported an address change. Then, three things happened. First, a Republican tide swept through the North Carolina legislature in 2010. Next, after the 2010 Census, the legislature drew a congressional district map that some have called the most gerrymandered in the country. The gerrymandering worked; most of the state’s Democratic voters were packed into a few odd, snake-like districts. Democrats won only four congressional seats in 2012, when the state’s registration and voting numbers indicated they should have won seven.
A federal judge threw out provisions in Pennsylvania law on Friday that he said make it unconstitutionally difficult for independent or minor political party candidates to get onto ballots because of the threat of costly court challenges. The decision was cheered by ballot-access advocates who regard Pennsylvania as harboring the nation’s toughest barriers to candidates who are not Republicans or Democrats. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel in Philadelphia targets the financial penalties that judges can impose on candidates who lose a court challenge to the validity of the signatures of registered voters on their nomination petitions.
The Montgomery County Election Commission will extract and store the November 2014 election results because of a pending legal challenge to the passage of Amendment 1. The State Election Commission has ordered Montgomery County – as well as all of Tennessee’s county election commissions – to extract all of the November 2014 election data, and store it that on external devices, according to a notice from the local Election Commission. The lawsuit, challenging how the state calculated the votes for Amendment 1 – a constitutional amendment giving the the Tennessee General Assembly more leeway in enacting abortion restrictions – has not yet been resolved. Thus the 2014 election data will need to be extracted and preserved to be used in the lawsuit, said Vickie Koelman, the administrator of elections.
Virginia: Proposed changes to Virginia voter registration stirs fears among GOP | The Washington Post
People registering to vote in Virginia would no longer be required to check boxes to indicate whether they are U.S. citizens or felons whose right to vote has not been restored under changes being considered by the Virginia Board of Elections. Voters would still have to affirm elsewhere on the application, under the threat of a felony conviction, that they are citizens and otherwise eligible. But instead of responding to separate questions about their citizenship or felony status, they would simply sign the form on a line near language that attests to their eligibility based on those and other requirements.
Gov. Scott Walker has called for the dissolution of Wisconsin’s nonpartisan elections and campaign finance agency, but the Government Accountability Board’s director said that’s a “short-sighted” opinion. Kevin Kennedy also said in an interview on WKOW-TV’s “Capitol City Sunday” that recent suggestions that his agency teamed with the Internal Revenue Service to investigate conservative groups were “absolutely ridiculous.” The GAB has been the target of scorn from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who specifically has mentioned ousting Kennedy as a goal. Vos and other Republicans have been critical of the GAB’s role in the John Doe investigations into alleged campaign finance coordination between Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and an outside advocacy group.
A United Nations observer mission said Monday that last week’s presidential elections in Burundi were relatively peaceful but had not been “an inclusive free and credible” vote. Separately, the 15 UN Security Council members plan to hold consultations on the crisis Tuesday. In a preliminary report, UN observers said Thursday’s vote, which saw President Pierre Nkurunziza re-elected, was marred by violence and obstacles to freedom of expression and the press.
o the Burmese government has finally set a date for the next national election. That’s good news. At least we know that there’s definitely going to be a vote. The government’s dithering had raised fears that it might be angling for a postponement. Yet Burma’s tribulations are far from over. The country’s nascent democracy is in deep trouble. The country’s nascent democracy is in deep trouble. And you don’t have to rely on me as the source. Just ask the Burmese. Recently I had the privilege to meet up here in Washington with Wai Wai Nu, a 27-year-old Burmese political activist. She had come to speak with U.S. government officials and human rights organizations, but ended up getting a bit more than she’d bargained for. On June 23, President Barack Obama invited her (and a diverse bunch of American Muslims) to the White House for iftar, the evening meal that marks the daily breaking of the Ramadan fast. Wai Wai Nu is a Rohingya, the Muslim minority that has been the object of considerable violence and discrimination in Burma in recent years.
Because New Zealand has an unwritten, largely informal constitution, it can change in quite major ways without generating much fanfare. One such development took place last Friday with the delivery of the High Court’s judgment in Taylor v Attorney-General. This case involved a challenge by five prisoners to a 2010 law that prevents all sentenced prisoners from voting. (Before 2010, only prisoners sentenced to three or more years in jail were stopped from doing so.) After hearing this challenge, Justice Heath concluded that the 2010 law limits prisoners’ right to vote as guaranteed under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, and does so in a way that cannot be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” That finding was no real surprise; the Attorney-General already had warned Parliament about the problem before the law was passed.
The reform committee of the main opposition party has opened a political Pandora’s Box by recommending a wholesale reorganization of electoral districts and proportional representatives, a plan that would ultimately increase the number of seats in the National Assembly by nearly a fourth. The New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s (NPAD) reform committee, headed by Kim Sang-gon, a liberal icon in the education community, presented a plan on Sunday that would redraw the current electoral map. It is based on an earlier proposal by the National Election Commission. In October, the Constitutional Court ruled the current electoral constituency map unconstitutional, saying it resulted in unequal representation caused by population changes. The National Election Commission presented its plan in February and the National Assembly created a special committee in March to discuss the issue. The redistricting is supposed to be finalized by October.