Federal courts have reined in strict voter ID laws in Texas and Wisconsin, while a legal battle continues to rage over North Carolina’s rules mandating showing identification at the polls — even after lawmakers there took pre-emptive steps to soften them. The court ruling almost certainly won’t be enough for Democrat Hillary Clinton to win fiercely conservative Texas in November, and Wisconsin has been reliably blue enough in recent presidential cycles that the legal setback for its voter ID law may not prove decisive, either. North Carolina could be enough of a swing state that the fate of its election rules may have an impact — but exactly where its voter ID requirements will stand by Election Day on Nov. 8 remains to be seen. What is coming into clearer focus is just how hard it could be for Republican-controlled states to enforce tougher ballot box restrictions that energized conservative activists when they were approved in statehouses around the country in recent years. That means an issue that looked to be a slam dunk for the right following the rise of the tea party in 2010 may actually be little more than an afterthought during this year’s make-or-break presidential election.
As the U.S. heads toward an especially contentious national election in November, 15 states are still clinging to outdated electronic voting machines that don’t support paper printouts used to audit their internal vote counts. E-voting machines without attached printers are still being used in a handful of presidential swing states, leading some voting security advocates to worry about the potential of a hacked election. Some makers of e-voting machines, often called direct-recording electronic machines or DREs, are now focusing on other sorts of voting technology, including optical scanners. They seem reluctant to talk about DREs; three major DRE vendors didn’t respond to questions about security. … While a hacked election may be unlikely, it’s not impossible, said Joe Kiniry, a long-time election security researcher. Researchers have found many security holes in DREs, and many states don’t conduct comprehensive election audits, said Kiniry, now CEO and chief scientist at Free and Fair, an open-source election technology vendor. “I would say that a determined adversary, with the standard skill that people like me have, would be able to hack an election nationally,” he said. “With enough money and resources, I don’t think that’s actually a technical challenge.” Voting results are “ripe for manipulation,” Kiniry added. Hacking an election would be more of a social and political challenge than a technical one, he said. “You’d have a medium-sized conspiracy in order to achieve such a goal.”
Voting is partially a social endeavor, in which people consider the opinions of others when making up their own minds. Increasingly, though, they’re being influenced by an inhuman force: software robots specifically designed to deceive them. Lest democracy be undermined, humans need help in distinguishing their brethren from the bots. Two years ago, in a report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the social networking site Twitter estimated that more than 23 million of its active user accounts were being run by “bots” — software agents or bits of code that act on their own to respond to news and world events. They interact with real users, never revealing their true nature.
A Cook County judge on Wednesday tossed from the fall ballot a constitutional amendment to take away the General Assembly’s power to draw legislative district boundaries, dealing a loss to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and a win to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. The ruling marked the second time in three years that the Independent Maps group suffered a major legal setback in attempting to ask voters whether the state should remove much of the politics from redistricting. The stumbling block was the same as last time, with a judge finding the proposal did not fit a narrow legal window for a petition-driven initiative to change the Illinois Constitution. Independent Maps chairman Dennis FitzSimons vowed to appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, in hopes the question could still appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. Both FitzSimons’ coalition and the People’s Map group that filed the lawsuit anticipated that’s where the case would end up anyway.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday seeking to block a Kansas election rule that could throw out thousands of votes in state and local races by people who registered at motor vehicle offices or used a federal form without providing documents proving U.S. citizenship. The temporary rule, sought by Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach and approved last week by the State Rules and Regulation Board, will count votes only for federal races by that segment of new Kansas voters through Nov. 8, the date of the general election. It comes in response to a federal judge’s recent decision that voters do not need to show citizenship papers to register for federal elections as required by a 2013 Kansas law. If allowed to stand, thousands of Kansas voters will be denied their right to vote in state and local elections in a year when all 165 seats of the Kansas Legislature are up for election, the ACLU argued in its lawsuit.
Texas’ voter identification law violates federal laws prohibiting electoral discrimination and must be amended before the November election, an appeals court ruled Wednesday. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the heart of the 2011 state law, widely viewed as one of the nation’s strictest requirements, ruling that it violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling does not nullify the entirety of the law, so voters will still need to show identification at the polls in November. But a lower court will need to create some form of interim relief until it can develop a more comprehensive solution for those who face obstacles to obtaining an ID. “The record shows that drafters and proponents of SB 14 were aware of the likely disproportionate effect of the law on minorities, and that they nonetheless passed the bill without adopting a number of proposed ameliorative measures that might have lessened this impact,” Judge Catharina Haynes wrote in the ruling.
Virginia: State Supreme Court strikes down McAuliffe’s order on felon voting rights | Richmond Times-Dispatch
The Supreme Court of Virginia on Friday struck down Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to 206,000 felons, dealing a severe blow to what the governor has touted as one of his proudest achievements in office. In a 4-3 ruling, the court declared McAuliffe’s order unconstitutional, saying it amounts to a unilateral rewrite and suspension of the state’s policy of lifetime disenfranchisement for felons. The court ordered the Virginia Department of Elections to “cancel the registration of all felons who have been invalidly registered” under McAuliffe’s April 22 executive order and subsequent orders. As of this week, 11,662 felons had registered to vote under McAuliffe’s orders. The court gave a cancellation deadline of Aug. 25. McAuliffe, a Democrat, took the sweeping action in April, saying he was doing away with an unusually restrictive voting policy that has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. In a legal challenge, Republican leaders argued McAuliffe overstepped his power by issuing a blanket restoration order for violent and nonviolent felons with no case-by-case review. The court majority found that McAuliffe did indeed overstep his authority.
Wisconsin: Judge issues injunction, allows voters without IDs to cast ballots | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Paring back the state’s voter ID law four months before the presidential election, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that Wisconsin voters without photo identification can cast ballots by swearing to their identity. The decision by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee creates a pathway for voters with difficulties getting IDs who have been unable to cast ballots under the state’s 2011 voter ID law. “Although most voters in Wisconsin either possess qualifying ID or can easily obtain one, a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort,” Adelman wrote in his 44-page decision. The judge issued his preliminary order because he found that those arguing for a pathway for some voter without IDs were “very likely” to succeed.
Joshua Wong, the teenage leader who is the face of the youthful pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, was convicted Thursday of participating in an unlawful assembly that snowballed into a massive sit-in known as the Umbrella Movement. Two fellow youth movement leaders, Alex Chow, 25, and Nathan Law, 23, were also convicted on various charges. Both are former presidents of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which organized the class boycott that led to mass demonstrations in 2014 demanding more direct public participation in the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive. For nearly three months, thousands of protesters filled the financial district and other parts of the city demanding democratic reforms in China’s most significant public demonstrations since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
A Japanese court has found an election law provision denying prisoners the right to vote in a national poll is constitutional, in the latest ruling in a series of lawsuits filed over the controversial issue. The Hiroshima District Court on Wednesday rejected a claim by a prison inmate in his 50s who sought the right to vote on the grounds the election law contravenes the Constitution, which guarantees the “inalienable right” to choose public officials. “We cannot say it is against the Constitution,” presiding Judge Masayuki Suenaga said in the ruling, adding there is a “certain degree of reasonableness” in the restrictions set by Article 11 of the Public Offices Election Law, which says imprisoned individuals cannot vote.
We described the current state of the Guccifer 2.0 purported disclosures as leaking documents of minimal intelligence value for possible political points in the U.S. and reinforcing Kremlin themes to a Russian audience about the failings of democracy and the West. Here, we outline a couple of different trajectories for the Guccifer 2.0 persona and identify some of the indicators that would help us determine which path we’re on. … To have a substantial impact on the U.S. media, we assess Guccifer 2.0 would have to release documents that otherwise would have been used for higher priority intelligence objectives. If a release like this were to happen, it would be closer to the election as a final coup de grâce to push late media coverage in a way that benefits Russia’s desired outcome. If this scenario is part of a plan, we would expect to see efforts to make Guccifer 2.0 a more trusted interlocutor over the next few months by releasing higher quality documents or verifiable claims that establish his bona fides. However, if some external shock changes the Russian calculus, we might not see that on-ramp. In other words, the on-ramp would be indicative, but a lack of on-ramp does not necessarily preclude this outcome.
As the Republican National Convention comes to a close and the Democrats gear up for next week, there is one looming question about the focus each party will place on voting rights—an issue that was not front and center during the presidential debates but should be at the forefront of national discussion as we approach the general election. If and when they do turn to voting rights, there is much to address—most especially concerning the restoration of voting rights for returning citizens. Our democracy is strengthened when as many eligible citizens as possible are able to freely participate in elections. However, in 2016, many states are holding firm to laws that deny Americans the right to vote because of a prior criminal conviction from their past. So-called “felony disenfranchisement” laws hurt people with criminal histories and their home communities. Publicly available data demonstrates that an estimated 5.85 million Americans are currently disenfranchised as a result of these arcane laws.
Voting Blogs: First-in-the-nation course on election design | Whitney Quesenbery and Dana Chisnell/electionlineWeekly
If you want to bring out your inner election designer, or just learn how identify good and bad election design, there’s a new opportunity designed just for you. As part of the first-in-the-nation Certificate in Election Administration at the University of Minnesota, we are really proud to be teaching the first-in-the-nation course on election design. The program is the brainchild of Doug Chapin, aiming at current and future election administrators and anyone interested in civic engagement. The course is entirely online, and built on the idea that adults learn best by doing. Through small, weekly assignments students practice new skills with real election materials. We will be there with students the whole way, with group discussions and collaborative reviews because we’ve seen that the best ideas happen when there’s a place to brainstorm and people to do it with. Usability testing will help students learn from their own voters (and to see how to make it part of all of their work).
A federal judge says a lawsuit over Alabama’s voter identification law will go to trial in the fall of 2017. U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler has set the trial for Sept. 11, 2017, in Birmingham federal court. Greater Birmingham Ministries and the NAACP challenged the law as an infringement on voting rights that disproportionately affected the black and Latino voters.
Starting next week, island residents can begin in-office voting. And for the first time, the Guam Election Commission will be utilizing a new machine that will help voters with disabilities vote independent and privately. “It’s a long time coming and to finally have it here on Guam, it’s overwhelming,” expressed Mangilao resident Gerard Cruz may be blind, but this coming election, he’s looking forward to casting his vote. “Freedom – that’s the only way I can describe it to come in to vote independently and privately on my own without the assistance of somebody reading to me the ballot and then marking it down for me, I can do everything on my own as I did when I was sighted before.”
The Illinois State Board of Elections’ online voter registration system remained down Thursday afternoon in the wake of a cyberattack last week. The attack on the statewide Illinois Voter Registration System occurred July 12, and the system was shut off July 13 as a precaution once the board realized the severity of the attack, according to a message sent to local election authorities. Hackers exploited “a chink in the armor in one small data field in the online registration system,” said Ken Menzel, the board’s general counsel.
State election officials plan to appeal a court order striking down Michigan’s new law banning straight-ticket voting, potentially creating complications for the November election. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson will file an appeal on Monday or Tuesday on U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain’s decision to issue four preliminary injunctions against state election officials, Schuette spokesman John Sellek said Thursday. “We have no further comment at this time other than to confirm that we will appeal in defense of this state law as passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor,” Selleck said. In a passionate 37-page opinion announced Thursday, Drain said the new law will reduce African-Americans’ opportunity to participate in the state’s political process and puts a disproportionate burden on African-Americans’ right to vote.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann says Mississippi’s voter ID law was crafted with input from the U.S. Department of Justice, which was completely different than Texas’ voter ID law that was struck down this week by the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. “We took a completely different tactic than Texas,” Hosemann said Thursday. “We did it right.” He said the voter ID law struck down in Texas had a charge to verify birth certificate and no funds were provided for a public awareness program. Hosemann said Mississippi will provide free rides to and from circuit clerk’s offices for individuals to obtain free voter photo ID cards that can be presented at the time of voting. If individuals need it, circuit clerks can search for a person’s birth certificate at the clerk’s office that can be used to verify that person’s identity so a voter ID card can be issued.
North Dakota: Attorney for Native Americans challenging voter ID law says Texas ruling ‘enhances our case’ | INFORUM
An attorney for Native Americans fighting recent changes to North Dakota’s voter identification laws said Thursday a federal appeals court ruling this week declaring a similar Texas law to be discriminatory “certainly enhances our case.” Seven members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa filed a federal lawsuit in January against North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger, arguing that voter ID requirements passed by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature in 2013 and 2015 are unconstitutional and “disproportionately burden and disenfranchise” tribal members. One of their attorneys, Tom Dickson of Bismarck, was encouraged by Wednesday’s 9-6 ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which found a Texas law requiring voters to show a government-issued ID is discriminatory and violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
Rhode Island is acquiring 590 new electronic voting machines that will be used for the fall elections. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea on Thursday unveiled the new equipment, which replaces machines from the 1990s. The Democrat says the vote-scanners will be secure and report results quickly because they use wireless technology. The paper ballot will be different from what Rhode Island voters have used for many years. Voters will now fill in ovals instead of connecting arrows.
Ever since Texas’ strict voter identification law was passed in 2011, Democratic lawmakers and minority groups had focused on how to get it struck down. This week, after a federal appeals court ruled that the law discriminated against minorities, there is a new, equally vexing question: how to fix it. The appellate court’s decision kept the law in place but instructed a lower court judge to come up with procedures to minimize the law’s effect on those who do not have an approved form of government-issued photo ID or who face hurdles in easily obtaining one, many of whom are black or Hispanic. North Carolina, South Carolina and other states that have passed voter ID requirements have had similar court battles over how, and whether, to loosen their rules to accommodate poor and minority voters. One option is allowing voter-registration cards to be used as ID. Those cards are mailed to voters and do not have a photograph, and might be more readily available to an impoverished voter than a government-issued photo ID. Another option is expanding the list of acceptable IDs to include student IDs or government-employee IDs. And yet another possible solution involves having the state exempt the poor from having to show a photo ID to vote, an exception modeled on Indiana’s voter ID law.
Wednesday’s ruling by a federal appeals court against Texas’s voter ID law looks likely to lower a massive barrier to voting that had threatened to disenfranchise large numbers of the state’s minority voters. The ruling also offers a stinging rebuke to state lawmakers and officials who enacted and defended the law. And its cogent dismantling of many of the key claims advanced by backers of strict ID laws — all the more remarkable coming from a conservative-leaning court — could have implications beyond the Lone Star State. Still, exactly what happens next — and what it all means for voters this November — remains somewhat up in the air.
Texas will have to engage in a “meaningful” education campaign about its beleaguered voter ID law and some people lacking required photo identification may be allowed to once again use voter registration cards to cast ballots in the November election, a federal judge said Thursday. In a two-page order, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi provided the first blueprint for potential fixes for Texas’ voter ID measure – one day after a federal appeals court said the law violates federal protections against discrimination at the ballot box. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, largely considered one of the most conservative courts in the country, dealt Texas Republicans a big hit in ruling that the law violates a key section of the Voting Rights Act. The court sent the case back to Ramos, who ruled last year the law flouts federal protections for blacks and Hispanics. She was ordered to make changes before the presidential election to ensure it no longer unfairly harms poor and minority Texas residents.
In time for the presidential election, an appeals court has determined that Texas’ voter identification law is discriminatory. Those without a government-issued photo ID will therefore have their votes counted on the basis of other evidence of residency. If Texas turns out to be in play in November, the result could have a small but meaningful effect in Hillary Clinton’s favor. More important, the decision has great symbolic significance in an election in which Donald Trump has focused on illegal immigration. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a voter ID law in Indiana as a permissible way to avoid voter fraud. The different result in Texas — a state with distinctly different demographics — highlights how much things have changed in the last eight years. A federal district court had previously found that the Texas law, S.B. 14, violated both the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld part of the decision. Texas then asked the entire court to sit and reconsider the result. In the meantime, the 5th Circuit issued a stay that kept the law in place. The plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the lower court decision and block the law. In an unusual move, the justices told the 5th Circuit that if it didn’t decide the case by July 20, 2016, the court would be willing to consider a motion to block the law. The Fifth Circuit got the message — and issued its carefully crafted opinion on July 20.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law was a mistake from the start; a political talking point dressed up as policy, aiming to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. And although the law isn’t particularly onerous for most people, there are some for whom obtaining the necessary ID is substantially difficult. So difficult that some won’t — or won’t be able to — go through the hassle of getting one. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman threw those people a lifeline, or “safety net,” as he called it. Adelman issued a preliminary ruling allowing Wisconsin voters without photo identification to cast ballots by swearing to their identity. Good for Adelman; allowing people to use affidavits to vote opens the ballot door to those who otherwise might not cast a ballot.
The House of Commons special committee on electoral reform has started hearings into alternatives to the first-past-the-post system that has been at the core of Canadian democracy since Confederation. No matter which model it ends up proposing, significant changes to how MPs are selected and, accordingly, how our federal government is formed must be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada and a referendum should be held. Any major electoral reform proposal should first be referred to the top court to guarantee that it is within the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament to adopt. Only this will ensure the legality of proposed changes.
Ghana’s parliament failed on Thursday to secure the two-thirds majority needed to change the presidential election date from Dec. 7 to Nov. 7, sources in parliament said. The Electoral Commission wanted to bring the vote forward to allow for a second round to be held if necessary and still have time for a smooth transition before Jan. 7, when a new government must be sworn in. The opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) voted against the measure, arguing it would reduce the time available to the Electoral Commission to organize the election, witnesses said. “The idea (for a Nov. 7 election) is good and many of us have worked hard on it. But we don’t like the shortness of the timetable for the Electoral Commission,” the NPP’s legal secretary Mike Oquaye told Reuters.
India: Government exploring involving start-ups to make EVMs and VVPAT units | Business Standard News
With an eye on better technology and competitive prices, the government is exploring possibility of involving start-ups to make EVMs with the voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) units, which are being currently produced by the PSUs Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), said informed sources. The decision to rope in the start-ups for producing the EVMs coupled with paper trail machines was taken following the cabinet decision to allocate Rs 920 crore for the purchase of the EVMs by the Election Commission. The only caveat is that machines to be produced by the start-ups will have to comply with the security requirements, they said.
Opposition parties in Zambia are questioning the choice of a Dubai printing company to supply the ballots for the August 11 general election. The electoral commission awarded the contract to the Al Ghurair Printing Company to prepare all ballots to be used, and the government says the printing is complete. But opposition parties, including the United Party for National Development, say the printing of ballots by a company outside the continent is too expensive and could be used by the government to rig the elections. Until this year, ballots for the Zambian elections were printed in South Africa. Jack Mwiimbu, the UPND’s head of legal affairs, said the decision could undermine the integrity of the presidential, legislative and local elections. He also said the party had documentary proof of some Zambians celebrating after the chairman of the electoral commission, Justice Essau Chulu, officially declared that the Dubai company had won the bidding for the ballot job.
Editorials: The 5th Circuit left an opening for Texas to lose control of its discriminatory voting laws. | Rick Hasen/Slate
This week’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit—holding that Texas’ strict voter identification law violates the Voting Rights Act—is good news for those who believe such laws are discriminatory and do nothing to prevent voter fraud. But there is potentially much better news buried within the eight separate opinions of the 203-page ruling, which comes from one of the most conservative courts in the nation. There you’ll find a road map for returning Texas’ voting rules to the supervision of the federal government. That’s something that states like Texas—which has passed laws that handicap a portion of its voting-age population—have proved they still need. Let’s start with the most straightforward part of the 5th Circuit decision. Texas passed one of the strictest voter identification laws in the nation in 2011—a law notorious, for example, for allowing citizens to show a concealed weapons permit but not student identification in order to vote. The suit challenging the law argued, among other things, that members of protected minority groups in Texas, who are more likely to be poor, are also more likely to lack the right kind of identification and to face extra hurdles (such as traveling 100 miles or more) to get a “free” piece of identification from the state.