National: Tech tiptoes into the voting process | GCN

While the country is probably still a long way from online voting, some states are testing the waters and building technology into election-related processes. For the 2016 presidential election, Ohio will incorporate a common data format in its election management systems that will help election officials quickly and accurately collect election data from precincts with non-interoperable election management systems, and then quickly release that information to the public and news outlets. It’s hoped that the common formats will reduce the opportunities for error on election nights, when deadlines are tight and pressure for results is keen. Ohio’s changes are based on the methods outlined in the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s special publication: A Common Data Format for Election Results Reporting. … Many believe that no matter how strong companies like Smartmatic make their security, it’s impossible to secure votes across the hardware and networks that would make up an electronic voting system.

Verified Voting in the News: Blockchains & Elections: Don’t Believe the Hype | Free & Fair

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin has risen into public consciousness over the past few years. It is the first digital currency to reach this level of success and notoriety. Bitcoin is based on a decades old cryptographic concept called a blockchain. As people and companies seek new ways to conduct elections that make better sense in our high tech world, several startups have proposed using blockchains, or even Bitcoin itself, to conduct elections. Using Bitcoin (or a blockchain) as an election system is a bad idea that really doesn’t make sense. While blockchains can be useful in the election process, they are only appropriate for use in one small part of a larger election system. A blockchain is basically a public database of information that is distributed across many different computers so that all users are able to verify that they have the same overall data even if some of the computers go down. There is no need to trust a central server or authority. A blockchain is a fundamental concept in cryptography that existed for decades prior to being used in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Arizona: Angry Voters Demand: Why Such Long Lines at Polling Sites? | The New York Times

Cynthia Perez, a lawyer, stopped by a polling site on her way to work here on Tuesday, thinking she could vote early and get on with her day. She changed her mind when she found a line so long she could not see the end of it. The line was just as big when she came back midafternoon — and bigger three hours later, after she had finally cast her ballot. “To me,” said Ms. Perez, 31, “this is not what democracy is about.” Days later, angry and baffled voters are still trying to make sense of how democracy is working in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, where officials cut the number of polling places by 70 percent to save money — to 60 from 200 in the last presidential election. That translated to a single polling place for every 108,000 residents in Phoenix, a majority-minority city that had exceptional turnout in Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primaries. All day, lines meandered along church courtyards, zigzagged along school parking lots and snaked around shadeless blocks as tens of thousands of voters waited to cast their ballots, including many independents who did not know that only those registered to a party could participate in the state’s closed presidential primaries.

Florida: Federal judge rules state prison gerrymandering unconstitutional | South Florida Times

A federal judge ruled Monday that prisoners can’t be counted for population or in drawing up boundaries of voting districts in Florida, a decision that could have repercussions statewide. The decision was based on the drawing of district maps for county commission and school board seats in Jefferson County, located in northwest Florida. According to the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, the decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker marks the first time a federal court has issued such an opinion on “prison-based gerrymandering.” The ACLU and several Jefferson County residents filed the lawsuit after the county – which had a non-prison population of 13,604 in the 2010 census – counted 1,157 Jefferson Correctional Institute inmates in one district.

Montana: Supreme Court rejects appeal; Montana primaries will stay open | Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a Republican Party appeal seeking to close Montana’s primary elections in June, meaning any registered voter will be able to select a GOP ballot. The Montana Republican Party and eight central county committees want to require primary voters to register as Republicans before being allowed to participate in the June 7 elections. Two lower courts had denied their request for an emergency injunction, resulting in the long-shot appeal to the nation’s high court. The court takes up very few petitions it receives, but in this case, Justice Anthony Kennedy had requested more information about the issue. That had given GOP attorney Matthew Monforton a glimmer of hope that the court would intervene, but it denied the appeal without comment a day after all the arguments had been filed. “We’re going to just continue on and seek relief with regard to crossover voting in the 2018 primaries,” Monforton said.

Utah: Online Caucus Gives Security Experts Heart Attacks | Wired

Security researchers pretty much uniformly agree that letting people vote online is a very bad idea, one that is fraught with risks and vulnerabilities that could have unknowable consequences for the future of democracy. This week, the Utah GOP is going to give it a whirl anyway. On Tuesday, registered Republicans in Utah who want to participate in their state’s caucus will have the option to either head to a polling station and cast a vote in person or log onto a new website and choose their candidate online. To make this happen, the Utah GOP paid more than $80,000 to the London-based company Smartmatic, which manages electronic voting systems and internet voting systems in 25 countries and will run the Utah GOP caucus system. Smartmatic’s system allows people to register to vote online. Then they receive a unique PIN code to their mobile phones or emails, which they use to vote on election day. Once the vote has been cast, the system generates a unique code, which voters can use to look themselves up on a public-facing bulletin board. Each code will match up to the name of a candidate, so people can check that their votes have been properly recorded. As of Monday morning, 59,000 Utah Republicans had registered to vote online. The new online process was spearheaded by Utah GOP chairman James Evans, who was looking for ways to make the caucus process more convenient and accessible for voters. That stands to reason, given the fact that voter participation in Utah has been in decline in recent years. Evans says he was aware of the potential security risks, but in a call with WIRED last week, he dismissed many of these oft-cited vulnerabilities as “far-fetched” and said that as a private political party, the Utah GOP isn’t held to the same security standards as the government. “We are a private political organization, so we can choose the acceptable level of risk that we choose,” he said, “and we will not be compared to a government-run election.” That idea alone should give anyone who cares about the integrity of this country’s elections pause. Just because a political party accepts a certain level of risk when it comes to online voting, should we?

Niger: Boycott helps Niger President Issoufou win re-election | Reuters

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou won a second term with 92.5 percent of the vote in a run-off election that the opposition coalition chose to boycott, the electoral commission said on Tuesday. Issoufou, an ally of the West in its fight against Islamist insurgents in West Africa, won the first round comfortably last month with 48 percent of votes but failed to clinch the outright majority required to avoid a second round. The candidate who came second, opposition leader Hama Amadou, has been in jail since November on charges relating to a baby-trafficking scandal, but was flown to France for medical treatment last week. Amadou says he is innocent and claims the charges against him are politically motivated.

Peru: Electoral court keeps Fujimori in presidential race | Reuters

The frontrunner to win Peru’s presidential election next month, Keiko Fujimori, has been given the go-ahead to stay in the race after vote-buying accusations were rejected by a court, a decision that will likely infuriate opponents and do little to calm a hotly disputed contest. An electoral court found on Thursday that the centre-right candidate had not broken a new law against the distribution of cash and gifts by candidates who are campaigning. The election in the metals exporter is due to take place on April 10, with a run-off in June if there is no outright winner, but has been thrown into disarray amid a barrage of citizen petitions to bar candidates over the breaking of electoral rules. The allegation against Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori, related to an event she presided over where cash prizes were distributed to the winners of a breakdancing competition.

Editorials: Blame government for voting crisis | Michael P. McDonald/USA Today

It was bad enough that some Arizona voters had to stand in line for up to five hours after the polls closed in their state’s primary election. Then it got worse: When asked who was to blame, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell replied, “The voters for getting in line, maybe us for not having enough polling places.” An election official blaming voters is appalling. These people were heroes of democracy, performing their civic duty despite losing their evening to bureaucratic incompetence. The real blame lies with sweeping failures across local, state and federal governments. That includes Purcell. Her job is to run a smooth election, yet she reduced the number of polling places in Maricopa County from more than 200 in the 2012 primary to 60 this year. It’s not hard to understand how this caused longer lines. Purcell made herself an easy scapegoat, but she’s far from the only one. There are deeper problems to address if we are to fix this crisis. We chronically underfund elections. Faced with budget shortfalls, Purcell hoped to persuade more voters to use an inexpensive mail ballot. She could then reduce the number of costly polling locations without creating long lines. She should have known this was a false hope. The 2016 primaries have been generating record turnout in Republican races and higher than usual Democratic turnout as well.

Voting Blogs: Election technology and the Legislature: NCSL election technology toolkit | Katy Owens Hubler/electionlineWeekly

The “impending crisis” in voting technology identified by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) two years ago is well-known in the election community, and starting to get noticed in other circles as well. We at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) have been having conversations with our constituents – state legislators and legislative staff – on this topic for the last two years. We’ll continue to work with legislatures on how they might be able to assist their local election officials as part of our Elections 2020 project. As part of the project we are bringing together legislators, legislative staff, and state and local election officials for a daylong meeting in a given state to discuss the topic of election technology. When did counties last purchase voting machines? What was the funding source? When might current equipment need to be replaced? What money is set aside for funding new equipment? We’ll conduct these meetings in a series of six states before the year is out. Local election officials are on the ground every day – they know the issues and they know how election law works in practice. Communication is key – legislators want to hear about how a given policy might affect their constituents (and election officials are their constituents!).

Arizona: “A national disgrace”: Arizonans vent about the primary day disaster that created massive lines and turned many voters away | Salon

Tucson resident John Read woke up on Tuesday ready to vote. When Read, 46, went to the Pima County Assessor’s office on March 22, he was told to go to his local polling place. Since Read had changed his address, officials directed him to his new site. When he checked in, the volunteer shuffled through the printed list and didn’t find his name so she placed a call to, Read believes, the Pima County Recorder’s Office. When she returned, the volunteer said something that left Read in shock: “You are registered as an Independent. You are not going to be able to vote today.” Only registered Democrats, Republicans, and Green Party voters were eligible to vote in the Presidential Preference Election. “I have been registered as a Democrat since I could vote in 1988,” Read said. Early on election day, Read’s Facebook stream had filled with friends reporting issues with voting. Because of this, he knew to ask for a provisional ballot if he wasn’t listed on the roster — so he could still vote, and election office staff could assess issues that would reconcile his district and his registered affiliation afterwards. But the volunteer told him he could not have a provisional ballot. No explanation was given. ”I left defeated,” he said. Read was not alone. On March 22, countless Arizonans visiting their polling sites to exercise their legal right to vote were met with roadblocks and red tape.

Arkansas: Jefferson County election chief urges inquiry at courthouse; access to voting machines by one campaign reported | Arkansas Online

At least one campaign in Tuesday’s runoff elections in Jefferson County had access to voting machines and voting records at the Jefferson County Courthouse after hours Monday evening, according to the election commission chairman. Michael Adam, chairman of the Jefferson County Election Commission, called for Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter to review courthouse surveillance footage after it was reported that workers for Jefferson County judge candidate Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV’s campaign “went places in the courthouse they weren’t supposed to be.” Adam said it wasn’t clear whether the workers would have been able to manipulate voting records, but he said they could have accessed voter sign-in sheets and voting machines.

Maryland: Hogan still plans to push for redistricting | The Washington Post

With less than three weeks left in the 90-day legislative session, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Thursday that he remains frustrated that the General Assembly has not moved on his proposal to provide tax relief to retirees and to create a nonpartisan redistricting panel to draw Maryland’s legislative and congressional districts. “It hasn’t even been discussed in this entire session; [the bill is] in somebody’s drawer somewhere and we want to put some pressure on them in these last 16 days to see an up-or-down vote,” Hogan said of redistricting during a wide-ranging interview in his office. “They can’t just ignore everybody in Maryland who wants to see this issue debated, discussed and voted on.” But there is little chance it will happen. Democratic legislative leaders have balked at the idea of making redistricting changes, arguing that the state needs to wait for national redistricting reform.

Montana: Panel considers options to ease growing burden on courts | Associated Press

A state commission responsible for redrawing judicial districts has released a slate of proposals aimed at making the court system more able to handle its growing caseload. But in the end, the commission’s work may only underscore the need for more judges, not judicial redistricting. The legislature established the commission last year to study if realigning the boundaries of the state’s 22 judicial districts might ease the pressures on courts because of the growing number of cases. “We’ve got to answer the question that the legislature gave us. The answer may be to redraw these lines … or the answer may be that redrawing the lines won’t help,” said District Court Judge Gregory Todd of Billings, who chairs the commission. “For the commission to do its job, it needs to look at some of these specific proposals and say why they won’t help.”

North Carolina: Wake County elections board makes first voter ID decisions | WRAL

The Wake County Board of Elections on Thursday waded through 7,940 provisional ballots from the March primary, making decisions on which would be counted, partially counted or rejected. Although county boards and the State Board of Elections give results on the night of an election – Wake County reported results based on 269,664 ballots counted – thousands of ballots wait to be counted until the county canvass. Wake County had so many provisional ballots that staff needed extra time to process them and delayed the bulk of their canvass work from Tuesday until Thursday. The provisional ballots that came to the board Thursday morning were cast due to some administrative problem with the voter’s registration. Among the 3,600 provisional ballots that were deemed eligible almost immediately were those cast by registered voters who hadn’t reported a move within the county and voters whose names were overlooked when poll workers tried to find them in a poll book.

Ohio: Franklin County official: Some 2014 ballots wrongly rejected | The Columbus Dispatch

Franklin County tossed out about a dozen voters’ ballots that should have been counted, elections board Director William Anthony testified in a federal trial in Columbus that could change how Ohio conducts its elections. Anthony’s concession that valid 2014 votes were not tabulated is merely the tip of the iceberg of problems plaguing Ohio’s vote-counting procedures since the GOP-dominated legislature passed and Gov. John Kasich signed a pair of laws that year dealing with absentee and provisional ballots, the groups pressing the federal lawsuit contend. During an extended period on the witness stand this week, Anthony, who also is chairman of the county Democratic Party, was shown ballot after ballot that he acknowledged should have at least been further examined by county elections officials before being cast aside.

Texas: Voter Suppression Coming Back To Texas? State’s Halted Voter ID Law Gets Appeals Court Hearing in May | International Business Times

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans scheduled a late May showdown for proponents and opponents of a Texas voter ID law, which the federal appellate court previously halted after finding it discriminatory to black and Latino voters in the state. Earlier this month, the court’s 15 judges agreed to reconsider the constitutionality of the law, raising alarm among voting rights advocates who fear the law could be reauthorized ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The May 24 hearing date was set Tuesday, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The Texas voter ID law, passed by lawmakers in 2011, requires the state’s 14.6 million registered voters to show specific forms of picture identification at the polling station. Poor, elderly, racial minority voters and Democrats are least likely to have the forms of ID required at polling station, voting rights advocates have said.

Utah: Gov. Herbert calls for return to presidential primary elections in Utah | Deseret News

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he would have preferred that Utah had held a presidential primary election instead of this week’s caucus voting, and he called for a return to the state-run primaries in the future. “It is kind of a good news, disappointing news scenario. The good news is we had great turnout to caucus night, which is good, and we need to have that continue,” he said during his monthly news conference on KUED Ch.7. But the governor said it was disappointing to find out that Tuesday’s turnout was down by “a significant amount” compared with the 2008 state-run presidential primary, nearly 200,000 voters. The drop from the most recent presidential primary with competitive races for both major parties came despite campaign stops this year by four of the five candidates and a record $1.6 million-plus in TV and radio commercials.

West Virginia: State May Become 3rd Automatic Voter Signup State | Associated Press

A push to automatically sign up voters that began with new laws in Oregon and California will soon likely hit a third, notably less liberal state — West Virginia. The proposed change has taken a less-than-conventional route to the governor’s desk. After condemning a Republican voter ID bill as the “voter suppression act,” Democrats offered an amendment to include automatic registration when people get driver’s licenses or IDs. The Republican-led Legislature accepted it without much resistance. The reception was much cooler on the West Coast — only one Republican in California and none in Oregon voted for similar automatic registration setups. And in New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar proposal cleared by Democrats last year.

Congo: President Wins Third Term | Wall Street Journal

Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, one of the world’s longest-serving autocrats, won a third term Thursday, following an election denounced abroad as unfair and potentially destabilizing for Central Africa. Mr. Nguesso won 60% of the ballots in Sunday’s vote, triumphing against a divided field of eight opposition leaders, Interior Minister Raymond Zéphirin Mboulou said on the country’s state-owned television channel. That handed seven more years in office to the 72-year-old president, a former French-trained paratrooper turned military dictator who has led his oil-rich country since 1979, apart from a five-year hiatus in the 1990s. France, the U.S., and the European Union have all criticized the election as unfair. None of them sent observers. The EU said in a statement that there was a “foreseeable lack of independence and transparency in the elections.”

Niger: Opposition parties reject election results | Africanews

Niger opposition parties have rejected the final round of the country’s presidential and legislative elections that took place on Sunday citing fraud. Niger’s electoral commission released results on Tuesday showing that President Mahamadou Issoufou received more than 92 percent of the runoff vote. His rival Hama Amadou received less than 8 percent of the vote, which saw a low turnout after the opposition called for a boycott. The candidates from the opposition parties in a statement have challenged any attempts by the incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou to claim victory. They have also accused the government of voter intimidation and warned of false results.

Peru: Peru Evades Electoral Chaos as Front-Runner Stays in Race – Bloomberg Business

Keiko Fujimori, the front-runner in Peru’s presidential election, was cleared of trying to buy votes, saving the election from slipping into farce after two other leading candidates were barred and another accused of irregularities. Fujimori didn’t offer or hand out money or gifts in exchange for votes, government news agency Andina reported, citing a ruling by the Lima Centro 1 electoral board. The ruling follows allegations she participated in a ceremony where a member of her Fuerza Popular party gave prize money to the winners of a dance contest. Fujimori has had at least 30 percent support in polls for the past two years and disqualifying her would have thrown the election wide open barely two weeks before the April 10 vote. The electoral board already excluded two of Fujimori’s rivals this month. Moreover, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the second-placed candidate, was accused this week of breaking the country’s new vote-buying rules.