Officially, it was a cybersecurity briefing on Capitol Hill hosted by Jean Morrison, Boston University provost, and the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, but it felt a little like a college freshman-level computer science seminar. Sharon Goldberg, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of computer science, was explaining some of the deep insecurities built into the internet, and why they matter. Her students were a group of Congressional aides and interns and other Hill staffers. They had crowded into a room in the Cannon House Office Building recently on their lunch hour and were taking copious notes so they could better inform policymakers, who are scrambling these days to catch up with technical reality. “The internet was designed several decades ago as a network for universities, for graduate students to send each other emails, to do scientific computing—not for what it’s doing today,” said Goldberg, one of three cybersecurity experts who addressed the briefing. It was a time, she added, “when basically everyone on the internet believed they could all trust each other because they were all graduate students playing with computers.”
The Democrats are going on the offensive to make voting easier. The draft language in the party’s 2016 platform is much stronger than it was in 2012, and that’s mostly good for democracy. The party’s shift from its defensive crouch started in the states, with the adoption of automatic-voter registration rules in Oregon, California, West Virginia, Connecticut, Vermont and Illinois. Hillary Clinton endorsed these efforts last summer, and now the national Democratic platform is being written accordingly. The smorgasbord of measures includes an expected call to restore Voting Rights Act provisions that the Supreme Court weakened as well as a relatively new fight at the national party level for “voting rights for those who have served their sentences,” referring to former felons. Currently, many states delay restoring the vote to ex-felons, and some states have a lifetime ban.
Regular readers of this blog will remember that the last year has seen a sharp uptick in stories about how issues with the U.S. Postal Service have begun to affect states’ and localities’ management of vote by mail ballots. Many of those officials have wondered what to do about it – and the Bipartisan Policy Center has just issued a new report that examines the “new realities” of vote by mail and makes recommendations about how everyone involved can and should respond. Here’s an excerpt describing this “new reality:”
The Postal Service of 2016 does not operate under the same service standards as it did even one or two presidential cycles ago. Mail volume is down, and the USPS has adjusted its infrastructure accordingly. A restructuring of the USPS’s backbone—called “rationalization”—has resulted in the closing of many smaller processing plants across the country. Mail is now routed to larger plants equipped with sophisticated automation equipment that allows for ballot tracking. Delivery standards have also changed. First-class mail is now delivered to recipients within a two-to five-day window; standard mail now reaches its destination in three to ten days.
The reduction of mail-processing plants coincided with a shorter production schedule at each remaining processing plant. The shorter schedule helps the post office to maximize efficiencies of resources and has resulted in many fewer plants operating during the weekend. The impact of this change, though, is slower mail and less processing capacity ahead of Election Day, when ballots must be returned to election offices.
Where a voter lives determines the ways by which he or she can request a ballot, receive it, and return it. Laws about ballot counting govern what a voter must do to ensure that the ballot is counted. There are policies that can be implemented to work within this new reality and to maintain a vibrant alternative to funneling all voters to the polls on a single Election Day.
California: Looking outside California for election reforms that improve turnout and save money | CAFWD
California elections are in a difficult place: fewer citizens are turning out to vote, the cost of running elections are on the rise, available funds are insufficient and the state’s voting systems are growing old and outdated. “The world is changing and voting should change too,” says Caitlin Maple, California Forward research analyst. She points out recent statewide strides in making it easier to register to vote. Online registration and the 2015 Motor Voter bill both work toward increasing the number of registered voters. Unfortunately, more registered voters hasn’t necessarily translated to more voting. This year in particular saw a significant early spike of registration in January, according to Mindy Romero, the founder and director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. But, the actual turnout of just over 47 percent was lower than the 2008 presidential primary turnout of 59 percent.
With Election Day rapidly approaching, Desmond Meade’s calendar has been jam-packed with political rallies and fundraising galas. In the past few months, the Miami native has been part of a handful of panel discussions about reforming the criminal justice system, appeared as a guest on MSNBC, and headed to Washington for the Black Men and Boys Day on Capitol Hill. When Meade doesn’t have his own engagement, he’s on the campaign trail with his wife, Sheena, who is running for Florida House District 46 in Orlando. But come November, he won’t vote for her — or anyone else, for that matter. That’s because Meade is both a felon and a Floridian, two things that disqualify him from casting a ballot. Over the past few years, Meade, a 2014 graduate of Florida International University’s College of Law, has been the face of the cause in Florida, circulating a petition and making media appearances in hopes of restoring voting rights to people who have served their time. The situation is dire — like Meade, nearly a quarter of black adults in the Sunshine State are disenfranchised because of a past felony conviction, according to the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice advocacy group. By now, this phenomenon is common knowledge — break the law, lose the right to vote. But if you’re a felon whose peak earning years have stretched longer than your sentence, there’s another way to influence the political process: with cold, hard cash.
If signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a change in state election law approved in the final hours of the 2016 legislative session would ensure the name of Phil Berger Jr. appears first on the ballot in his race against incumbent Court of Appeals Judge Linda Stephens in November. If not for the legislation, Berger’s name would have appeared below Stephens’ on the November ballot through a random ballot-order method used by the state Board of Elections. Berger, a Republican, is the son of state Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican. The elder Berger voted for the bill that would result in his son’s name being listed first. Numerous studies have shown that being listed first on a ballot can give that candidate at least a slight advantage, especially on down-ballot races like the Court of Appeals race where candidates aren’t as well-known as presidential or gubernatorial candidates, for example.
Editorials: Electronic voting may be risky, but what about vote counting? | Robert Merkel/The Conversation
Several advantages of online voting were identified in a recent post by Conversation columnist and software researcher David Glance who backed the introduction of such a scheme in Australia. He is correct that an online voting system would be faster, more convenient and have fewer accidental informal votes. It would also reduce the donkey vote problem (though the “donkey vote” bias can also be dealt with by the use of Robson rotation on printed ballots). But in my view he dismisses the very real risks not only of actual election tampering, but something equally important – the confidence that Australian elections aren’t being tampered with. A vote-counting system not only needs to be secure against threats to its integrity, it needs to be seen to be secure against such threats. The right technologies, deployed in the right way, can assist with speeding up vote counts without putting the integrity of our voting system at risk. The place for that technology is not as a replacement for the paper ballot.
The decision by Austria’s Constitutional Court to annul the outcome of the May presidential election has unsettled pro-European officials and politicians across the EU who fear that, after Britain, Austria could be the next country to turn its back on the European Union.
The rerun of the second round, which will be held on 2 October, has revived the spectre of an elected far right head of state in Europe for the first time since the Second World War. In May, the EU-sceptic and far-right candidate Norbert Hofer lost by less than a percentage point to the pro-EU Green Party-aligned contender Alexander van der Bellen. With national elections coming up next year in the Netherlands and France, where far-right parties pose a significant challenge, all eyes will be on the outcome in Austria.
For the first time ever, Prince Edward Islanders will have the option to vote online, by telephone or by traditional paper ballot in the upcoming plebiscite on electoral reform. The dates and rules for the plebiscite have been set and approved by executive council. Voting will be held over a 10-day period, from noon on Saturday, Oct. 29 until 7 p.m. Monday Nov. 7. Those who choose to vote online or by telephone can do so within this voting period. Every eligible voter will be issued a PIN (personal identification number) to use for Internet or telephone ballots.
Germany’s anti-immigration party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has been plunged into a leadership crisis over antisemitic views expressed by one of its MPs. Thirteen members of the AfD, including the co-leader of the party that is currently polling between 9% and 14%, walked out of its parliamentary group in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg on Wednesday in protest at the failure to expel fellow MP Wolfgang Gedeon. Comments made by Gedeon in a book published in 2012 surfaced in the media after he entered state parliament following regional elections in March. In the book, entitled Green Communism and the Dictatorship of Minorities, Gedeon compares Holocaust deniers such as David Irving to Chinese dissidents, claiming, among other things, that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a faked historical pamphlet purporting to outline a Jewish plan to control the global economy and media, were in fact real. Holocaust denial is a criminal offence in Germany.
Hungary will hold a government-initiated referendum on Oct. 2 seeking political support to oppose any European Union efforts to resettle refugees among its member states, the office of President Janos Ader said Tuesday. Ader’s office said that the question to be asked in the referendum will be: “Do you want the European Union to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of Parliament?” Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who staunchly opposes immigration, said earlier that a “no” vote would be “in favor of Hungary’s independence and rejecting the mandatory settlement plan.”
Despite the death of seven Japanese aid workers in the Dhaka siege last Friday, opposition parties are putting pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the run-up to this Sunday’s Upper House election not to rewrite security laws that will give the country more powers to protect itself and its citizens. They have vowed to block any attempts by Mr Abe to revise the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defence and go to the aid of any ally under attack. Mr Abe had alluded to the possible change at a rally after the Bangladesh attack, when he stressed he will take “all possible means” to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens around the world. “We’d like to join forces with the international community to root out terrorist acts. We will firmly secure the safety of Japanese nationals both at home and abroad,” he said last Sunday.
Japan: To Inspire Young Voters, Japan Tries Comics, Teen Models and a Talking Grain of Rice | Wall Street Journal
To persuade 18- and 19-year-olds to head to the polls for the first time this weekend, officials in Japan have launched marketing campaigns starring a series of ambassadors they believe will play to the budding democratic instincts of the country’s youth. They include a male model and his platinum-haired sweetheart, a lovelorn comic-book character and a talking grain of rice. The opposition Democratic Party hopes to increase turnout by inviting actual young people—in fact, teen models—to talk sessions with lawmakers where they chat about the latest cellphone apps and gossip about romance between members of parliament. At a recent event, participants suggested free ice cream and more shelters for abandoned pets as policies they wanted the government to adopt. “These models have a lot of big fans, and these events might be an opportunity to make those fans think that politics is actually a part of their lives and that they should vote,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Akihiro Hatsushika. Japan, which has the oldest population of any country on Earth, has good reason to want to get its young people engaged in politics. While most elderly Japanese vote, only about a third of people in their 20s voted in a lower house election in late 2014, when overall turnout hit an almost record low. The law to lower the voting age was passed last year. Nearly two-thirds of 18- and 19-year-olds say they aren’t affiliated with either of the two biggest political parties, according to a survey conducted in June by Asahi Shimbun.