When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, it threw New Jersey into an ad hoc experiment in online voting. … Had New Jersey’s experiment gone well, it would have been a major victory for advocates of online voting, who’ve long argued that the internet could be a valuable tool to protect the right to vote and increase dismal U.S. voting rates. It did not, however, go well at all: Email servers were overwhelmed, leaving voters unable to request or return their ballots. In an attempt to fix the situation, one elections official gave out his personal email address to voters to submit their ballot requests—and a security researcher discovered that his password recovery question was apparently his mother’s maiden name after looking at Hotmail’s password-reset form. The official says he was never hacked. … Security experts cried foul at the election, which saw an estimated 50,000 ballots cast electronically. They were concerned that voters’ personal data was potentially exposed, and were worried that there was an opportunity for ballots to go uncounted. “We don’t know how many of these votes were actually counted or shouldn’t have been counted versus lost, or how many people tried to use this system but were unable to get ballots,” Ed Felten, who was then the director of Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, told Al Jazeera in 2014. “We can’t measure it, but certainly there are indications of overflowing mailboxes, big backlogs and problems processing requests. So I don’t think you could conclude at all that this was a successful experiment.”
Battles are being waged across the country over new voter ID laws and other election changes that have never before been tested in a presidential election. National and local civil rights groups also have launched grass-roots efforts to fight state laws that they say could suppress voting by minorities and the elderly. President Obama joined the cause in pledging during his Jan. 12 State of the Union Address to travel the country lobbying for steps to make voting easier. “You’re going to see some ramping up of activism,’’ said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “The president is right, but everybody should be joining in that (effort).’’ Barber’s group will lead a voting rights rally Feb. 13 in Raleigh. … Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Election Project, said voters in some of those states, “are going to be voting in a presidential election with fewer federal protections than they’ve had in the last 50 years.”
The Supreme Court said Monday that it won’t hear an appeal from lawyers representing Shelby County, Alabama, who tried to recover $2 million in attorney fees from the U.S. government in a case that nullified a key part of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County prevailed in 2013 when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to eliminate the Justice Department’s ability to stop potentially discriminatory voting laws before they take effect. The county had challenged the constitutionality of a section of the Voting Rights Act that required jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices to get preclearance from the federal government before changing local voting protocol.
Kansas: Kris Kobach proposes voting-machine audits, files new voter fraud cases | The Kansas City Star
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Monday unveiled a plan that would require counties to perform audits of voting equipment for all elections starting in 2017. The proposal would provide for a percentage of precincts or districts to be manually audited after election day election day and before the vote is certified by county officials. Kobach presented his bill to the House Elections Committee, calling it a “robust” plan that would allow for a broader audit if discrepancies were found. “It goes well beyond what most states do,” Kobach said. Kobach had come under fire when he turned down requests from Beth Clarkson, a Wichita State University statistician, to review Sedgwick County voting machine tapes from 2014. Clarkson said she had identified anomalies in election results.
Lawyers and advocates were back in a courtroom in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Monday, for a second challenge to the state’s strict new voting laws. A group of plaintiffs, led by the NAACP and the Department of Justice, is seeking to overturn a new rule, which is set to take effect in March’s primaries, requiring voters to present a photo ID before voting. The voter-ID law was one of several major changes made by Republicans who control the Old North State’s government, in a 2013 law passed shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a clause in the Voting Rights Act that required some states to seek approval of changes to voting laws from the Justice Department. In addition to requiring a photo ID to vote, the new rules reduced early voting; ended same-day voter registration; banned the practice of casting ballots out of precinct; and ended pre-registration for teens. Proponents said the laws were essential to guarantee the integrity of the state’s elections. A group of plaintiffs sued the state, alleging that the changes would suppress minority votes and that they represented the return of Jim Crow to the South. In July, federal district-court Judge Thomas Schroeder heard a challenge to some of those provisions, but not to the voter-ID law.
For nearly two years, election officials in Northeast Ohio have known that the state’s failure to keep pace with modernization at the U.S. Post Office could result in absentee ballots getting tossed, even if voters followed the rules perfectly. Beacon Journal interviews last week revealed that officials in at least Summit, Stark and Portage counties were aware in 2014 that a problem loomed as the U.S. Postal Service increasingly used bar codes to process mail and did not print the time and date across the postage stamp. State law continues to require an old-fashioned postmark, and as a result last year, nearly 1,800 absentee ballots were rejected in Summit and Cuyahoga counties alone. Now, with Ohioans only weeks away from voting in a highly charged presidential primary — and their governor among the contenders — the issue remains unresolved and there is no guarantee that ballots dropped in the mailbox will get counted.
Central African Republic’s Constitutional Court has annulled the results of a legislative election, setting back a transition to democracy after years of conflict. Observers had praised the peaceful nature of the polls, meant to end a rocky transition punctuated by violence between militias drawn from the Christian majority and a mostly Muslim alliance of Seleka rebels. Although France and other international partners urged transitional authorities to hold the election, Some analysts had questioned whether Central African Republic was prepared for one. The Constitutional Court’s decision cited irregularities in the vote.
Before he went into politics, Haitian President Michel Martelly was a nationally renowned pop star whose stage antics included mooning his adoring fans. As president, Mr. Martelly, whose five years in office are drawing to a close, has treated his constituents, Haiti’s 10 million citizens, with no more dignity or respect. Mr. Martelly is largely to blame for having led the country into electoral and political chaos, with no prospect of electing a successor to replace him by Feb. 7, as the Haitian constitution requires. Having governed as a virtual autocrat for much of his term, as a consequence of failing to hold timely elections to replace term-limited local officials and members of parliament, Mr. Martelly was instrumental in creating the conditions for a shambolic first round of presidential elections, in October.
Three ballot initiatives have been proposed in California to require the state to allow online voting, but security experts and some voting officials say the technology is nowhere near secure enough for something so crucial as the democratic process. “When people stop me in the supermarket and ask, ‘When am I going to be able to vote on my cell phone?’ I say ‘Pretty soon—in about 20 years,’” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the county clerk for Travis County, Texas. She was one of three speakers Wednesday in a session on online voting and security issues at Enigma 2016, a computer security conference held in San Francisco. So much of daily life now happens online, including shopping, banking, communication, that voters naturally wonder why voting can’t too, said J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. who researches voting and security. However, the ongoing litany of breaches, hacks and crashes in those realms are an object lesson in why voting shouldn’t happen there. It’s just too important, he said. “Imagine the incentives of a rival country to come in and change the outcome of a vote for national leadership. Elections require correct outcomes and true ballot secrecy,” Halderman said.
President Barack Obama spent the last chunk of his 2016 State of the Union Address talking about how to “fix our politics.” His first solution? Stop gerrymandering, the shaping of congressional districts to guarantee electoral outcomes. “We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” he said. At least one geographer has heeded Obama’s call to action. Using data from the US Census Bureau, Alasdair Rae, a geographer and urban planner at Sheffield University, built maps of every congressional district—all 435 of them—to show just how screwed up they really are. When Rae maps them individually, removed from the context of their surrounding districts, you can really see the extent of the problem. “There are some shapes that are quite egregious,” Rae says.
If you lived in north-east Iowa, the evangelical stronghold where the battle for the soul of conservative American politics will play out in person on Monday, and happened to have given Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign your email address sometime in the last few months, you might find something especially appealing this weekend in your Facebook feed. You might see, amid the family photos, a menacing video of Donald Trump talking about how “my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa”. LIKE ON ABORTION, blares the sponsored ad from Cruz’s deep-pocketed, social media-savvy digital team. And you might wonder how this campaign managed, by paying Facebook, to differentiate between Trump’s “New York values” and “OURS”. Facebook, which told investors on Wednesday it was “excited about the targeting”, does not let candidates track individual users. But it does now allow presidential campaigns to upload their massive email lists and voter files – which contain political habits, real names, home addresses and phone numbers – to the company’s advertising network. The company will then match real-life voters with their Facebook accounts, which follow individuals as they move across congressional districts and are filled with insightful data.
National: Voting Rights Act: After Supreme Court Ruling, 2016 Election Could Endanger Black, Latino Rights | International Business Times
Decades after many Americans fought, bled and died for the right to vote, millions of voters could be once again be turned away from the polls this year because of a regime of voting laws that disproportionately burden minorities, the elderly, immigrants and the poor. With both presidential and congressional elections in November, advocates warn that the stakes are high. “Basically, all hell is breaking loose,” said Katherine Culliton-González, director of the voter protection program at the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project, who spent five years working on voter issues at the U.S. Department of Justice. “Unless you are in the elite — and that doesn’t even mean in the middle class — voter restrictions are going to impact you, one way or another.” This year’s presidential election will be the first one held after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the historic Voting Rights Act in 2013, which required federal pre-clearance of voting law changes for states with a history of voter discrimination. Without those protections in place, pending legal battles over the fairness and constitutionality of recently enacted voting laws will get unprecedented scrutiny this year, advocates on both sides have said. If the courts uphold, for example, a voter ID requirement in North Carolina or allow Texas to redraw districts and reduce political power in heavily immigrant communities, they’d potentially be denying millions the right to vote and be equally represented by their state lawmakers. “Voting laws seem to be changing every day, and that in and of itself is disenfranchising to so many Americans,” González said.
Elmus Stockstill and Edward Course surely have no devious intentions in wanting to get the external printers off Leflore County’s touch-screen voting machines. But the county’s two top election officials are just wrong — and obviously not well-schooled — on how susceptible electronic voting machines are to hacking and why these printers are the only safeguard against it. Just 10 minutes on the Internet will turn up a decade worth of studies and reports showing that all it takes is access, a basic knowledge of electronics and a few minutes to rig voting machines like those used in Leflore County. I recommend the Board of Supervisors spends 30 minutes reading the study summaries or watching the videos produced by university and government researchers demonstrating the vulnerabilities of so-called “direct recording electronic” (DRE) voting equipment made by Diebold or any of the other touch-screen manufacturers. If the supervisors educated themselves the tiniest bit on this subject, they would see how comical it was of Stockstill, the circuit clerk, to talk — in response to a column I wrote last Sunday — of the memory card inserted in the machines as some kind of fail-safe against hacking. The memory card is actually one likely conduit for introducing a vote-stealing virus.
Online voter registration has become a “thing” in the last couple of years. When implemented properly, it makes it easier for voters — especially military and overseas voters — to register. It also helps maintain the accuracy of voter rolls; reduces the cost of list maintenance; reduces the inherent potential for error in paper-based systems; saves significant amounts of money; reduces delays and congestion at polling places; and improves the voter experience because voters get immediate feedback when they are registered or when their information has been updated. There are complications and subtleties, but as online voter registration becomes widespread, more ways are emerging to refine the process to better serve voters and election officials.
Early voting in the DuPage County primary election will be delayed nearly two weeks due to pending petition objections in a judicial race in the county, in one at the state level, and to presidential candidates. Early voting was to begin Thursday at the offices of the DuPage County Election Commission, with early-voting satellite offices planned to open Feb. 29. Due to the challenges, voters will not be able to cast early ballots at the commission’s office in Wheaton until Feb. 17. By that date, the commission anticipates the ballot challenges will have been determined, said Robert Saar, executive director of the county election commission. The postponed early voting period also will mean a delay in ballots being mailed out, he said. However, at this point it does not appear there will be any delay in the start of early voting at the satellite sites, he said.
The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is raising questions about the involvement of Microsoft in the Iowa Caucuses, now just days away, and has built an independent system to check the official results. For the first time this year, Microsoft partnered with the Iowa Democratic and Republican Parties to provide a technology platform with which the parties will run their caucuses. The software giant created separate mobile apps for each party, which officials at hundreds of caucuses across the state will use to report out results from individual precincts to party headquarters for tabulation. The arrangement has aroused the suspicions of aides to Sanders, who regularly warn that corporate power and the billionaire class are trying to hijack democracy. Pete D’Alessandro, who is running the Iowa portion of Sanders’ campaign, questioned the motives of the major multinational corporation in an interview with MSNBC: “You’d have to ask yourself why they’d want to give something like that away for free.” The Sanders campaign has built their own reporting system to check the results from the official Microsoft-backed app. It has trained its precinct captain on using the app, which is designed to be as user friendly as possible, and the campaign will also staff a hotline system as further redundancy.
The Louisiana Supreme Court has overturned a constitutional amendment barring felons from running for office because voters approved a version without a last-minute legislative change. “Simply stated, what the citizens voted on was not what the legislature enacted,” Justice John L. Weimer wrote for the 6-1 majority in a lawsuit brought by former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd. Voters had approved an amendment in 1997 forbidding convicted felons from running for office for 15 years after the end of their sentences. However, the version on the ballot omitted an amendment exempting those sentenced only to probation.
Sen. Adam Morfeld’s proposal to allow voters to take selfie photos at their voting precincts that display their ballots and how they voted and show the photos on social media bumped into opposition Thursday from the secretary of state’s office. Deputy Secretary of State Neal Erickson told the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee that it would be “bad public policy” to share photos online that “may well influence how others vote” and cautioned that the practice “could be used by partisan activists.” The broader concern is “preventing fraud at the voting booth,” Erickson said. In response, both Morfeld, a Lincoln senator, and Committee Chairman John Murante of Gretna said people have a constitutional right to express themselves and to attempt to influence how others may vote. “It’s no different than orally encouraging people to vote for candidates you support,” Morfeld said. “Freedom of expression is a protected fundamental constitutional right.”
North Carolina: NAACP lawyers grill elections director in trial over photo IDs | Winston-Salem Journal
After four days of testimony, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice rested their case Thursday in a federal trial challenging North Carolina’s photo ID requirement for voting. Their last witness was Kim Strach, the state’s elections director. It was through sharp questioning of Strach that plaintiffs argued that state elections officials had failed to educate the public about a recent amendment to the photo ID requirement that state Republican legislators passed last June. The amendment allows voters who don’t have photo ID to fill out and sign a “reasonable impediment” declaration form. That form has examples of reasons why voters weren’t able to get one of six acceptable photo IDs, including lack of transportation, work schedule or not having the necessary underlying documents, such as a birth certificate. After filling out the form, voters will get to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted later after their reasons are verified.
Wisconsin: Clerks fear loss of support after Government Accountability Board dissolves | Kenosha News
As Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board enters its last election cycle, some local clerks are hoping that at least some of the agency’s functions remain in place. Republican legislators led the effort to eliminate the board, replacing it with two new agencies: an elections commission and an ethics commission. The GAB will dissolve on July 1, the two new agencies taking over the board’s duties. While the legislative focus of the change was on campaign finance laws, some local clerks are worried about whether the training, election support and legal advice for clerks now handled by the GAB will remain in place.
Wisconsin: IDs from Wisconsin towns, counties could not be used for voting under Republican bill | Cap Times
Towns and counties wouldn’t be allowed to issue photo ID cards to their residents under a bill discussed by a Senate committee on Tuesday. Any IDs previously issued by towns or counties could not be used to vote, register to vote or obtain public benefits like food stamps or Medicaid, under the bill. Towns and counties would still be able to issue employee ID cards, cards for vendors or contractors and cards required to use services and facilities like transit systems or golf courses. Cities and villages could still issue photo IDs, but those IDs also could not be used for proof of residence or to receive public assistance. IDs issued by a city or village would be required to state clearly, “Not authorized for voting purposes.”
Editorials: Allowing transnational voting during European elections could alleviate the EU’s democratic deficit | LSE
The European Union is facing one of the most challenging moments in its recent history. While the struggle for a solution to the common challenge of migration and refugees continues, the spectre of debt, recession and high unemployment continues to haunt the countries of the southern Eurozone, with the likelihood high of another round of acrimonious negotiations between creditor and debtor countries in the near future. These crises have been toxic for public perception of the EU across the union, with trust in institutions such as the European Parliament declining to record lows in recent years (though they somewhat recovered in 2015). One common element among both of these crises is the question of whether the EU has any democratic legitimacy when making key decisions which appear to produce winners and losers among nation states. The EU’s (lack of) legitimacy as a democratic body is, of course, a classic problem in EU studies which has plagued the organisation since its inception.
Troubled Central African Republic said Thursday it will hold a deferred presidential runoff alongside a new legislative vote on February 14. The presidential run-off, originally due to be held on Sunday but delayed due to organisational problems, will see two former premiers — Anicet Georges Dologuele and Faustin Archange Touadera — compete for election. A presidential decree said a December 30 legislative election annulled due to irregularities will be held along with the runoff on February 14. The elections have been widely seen as turning a page on the worst sectarian violence in the traditionally unstable and dirt poor nation. Dologuele won 23.74 percent of the vote in the first round on December 30, trailed by Touadera, who picked up 19.05 percent.
Estonia: European human rights court accepts appeal of Estonian e-voting critics | The Baltic Course
NGO Ausad Valimised (Honest Elections) connected with the Estonian Center Party announced that European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accepted their appeal regarding a fine which was imposed on them by the Consumer Protection Board for a campaign which criticized Estonia’s e-elections, informs LETA/BNS. “The European Court of Human Rights decided to accept the appeal of MTU Ausad Valimised regarding a fine which was imposed on the NGO for a campaign that notified about the dangers and risks of e-election, and proposed to the sides a deal according to which the state would have to pay the NGO 9,000 euros,” said member of the NGO’s board Siret Kotka who is also a member of the Center Party board. According to Kotka, it means that the NGO won against the Estonian state.
Michel Martelly, Haiti’s president, had planned to mark the end of his term in office by going back to his old job as a popular singer of compas, a Haitian form of merengue. The idea was to perform once more as “Sweet Micky” at the Carnival in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, which begins on February 7th, the day he is due to step down as president. The problem is that there is no one to succeed him. The second round of the presidential election, scheduled for January 24th after two postponements, was called off two days before the vote. Jude Célestin, the runner-up in the first round of voting in October, had condemned the ballot as a “ridiculous farce” and refused to campaign further. Thousands of his supporters, and those of candidates who lost in the first round, took to the streets to demand that the run-off be cancelled. Haiti’s electoral council said the danger of violence was too great for it to go ahead.
Protesters in tiny ex-Soviet Moldova on Thursday pondered their next move after the authorities snubbed a deadline to call early elections in the latest twist in the country’s protracted political crisis. Demonstrators—including both pro-European and pro-Russian groups—issued a Thursday ultimatum for parliament to be dissolved after ratcheting up street protests against rampant corruption among the impoverished state’s ruling elite. But the authorities blanked the demands from the protesters, insisting that a new government formed last week would remain in power.