If the Russian government is behind the theft and release of embarrassing emails from the Democratic Party, as U.S. officials have suggested, it may reflect less a love of Donald Trump or enmity for Hillary Clinton than a desire to discredit the U.S. political system. A U.S. official who is taking part in the investigation said that intelligence collected on the hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails released by Wikileaks on Friday “indicates beyond a reasonable doubt that it originated in Russia.” The timing on the eve of Clinton’s formal nomination this week for the Nov. 8 presidential election has raised questions about whether Russia may have been trying to hurt her, to help Trump, her Republican rival, or to fan populist sentiment against establishment politicians as it has sought to do across Europe in recent years.
Just 15 weeks before Election Day, lawsuits in nine states are raising the possibility that voters in crucial battlegrounds will face confusion over how and when to cast their ballots. The lawsuits, mostly brought by civil rights groups, take aim at the flurry of election laws recently put in place by states, including requirements that voters provide photo identification or proof of citizenship. In recent weeks, several courts have issued rulings blocking or upholding the laws, but those rulings have at times been contradictory, sowing even more confusion. The suits, which have spent years in a maze of federal courts, focus mainly on laws passed by Republican-led legislatures after the 2010 midterm elections. Those laws, voting rights advocates say, are part of a determined strategy to restrict access to the ballot box. “There is no question that a series of legislative actions by Republican legislatures have made it harder for some people to register and vote in the upcoming elections,” said Richard Hasen, a voting rights expert at University of California-Irvine School of Law.
In recent times, all data breaches that are taking place are finding its way to the principal black market known as ‘Dark Web’. One can easily find any kind of data that they are looking for here. It is now learnt that a hacker is trying to sell a database that supposedly contains registration records for voters in all 50 US states, Tech Insider reported. A seller using the pseudonym of ‘DataDirect’ is offering US voters’ registration records on the dark net marketplace “The Real Deal.” The Real Deal, a popular site many cyber criminals use for buying and selling everything from illegal drugs to zero-day software exploits. The seller is offering US voters’ records for each state at 0.5 BTC (around USD 340). The seller is also ready to offer the records at a “bulk rate” of 12 Bitcoin, or about $7,800. “US voter registration records. Selling the DB on a State-by-State basis. 0.5 BTC per state (you must tell me which State you want. Some people think it’s unfair to make each State cost the same amount because some States are much bigger than others. I think it’s just easier this way.” states the item description.
Though the presidential race is tightening, few observers are forecasting a replay of the 2000 election—when the vote was so close that it took 35 days and a Supreme Court decision to name a winner. But if predictions about what will transpire on November 8th are as reliable as last year’s dismissals of Donald Trump’s prospects in the primaries, the Trump-Clinton outcome may end up resting on a few thousand votes in a handful of states. In that event, three recent court rulings against Republican efforts to stack the electoral deck in their favour may play a role in staving off a President Trump. In Michigan, where Mrs Clinton’s lead over Mr Trump is narrowing by the day, a federal judge on July 21st ruled against a Republican Party-sponsored law meddling with the contours of the election ballot. For 125 years, Michigan voters have had the option of straight-ticket voting, where filling in a single bubble registers one’s preference for every candidate from a given party. Banning this practice, said Judge Gershwin Drain, disproportionately impacts black voters who use the straight-party option in high numbers. Since “African-Americans in Michigan, as in the rest of the country, tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats”, and since filling in a bubble for each candidate takes much longer, the law will increase “voter wait times…greatly in African-American communities”, endangering their right to vote and dimming Democrats’ chances for electoral success. In a remarkable series of references, Judge Drain cited Mr Trump’s “ethnocentric” speeches, situating the Michigan law in the context of the “racially charged rhetoric” of the presidential campaign.
While there is nothing new in one nation using its intelligence services to try to influence an election in another, doing so by hacking into a political party’s computers and releasing their emails does seem somewhat new. The combination of pilfering sensitive information and then “weaponiz[ing] Wikileaks” or some similar organization will surely recur. The possibilities do not end there. Foreign governments could “hack a voting machine,” “shut down the voting system or election agencies,” “delete or change election records,” “hijack a candidate’s website,” “dox a candidate,” “and target campaign donors.” (See also here.)
Editorials: With crucial election looming, voting rights are even more important | Los Angeles Times
It’s been nearly three years since the U.S. Supreme Court stuck its gavel in where it didn’t belong and gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Predictably, states with histories of vote-suppression quickly adopted fresh laws that have made it harder for the poor and for minorities — groups that often overlap — to exercise their right to vote. Some states now require costly or hard-to-obtain voter IDs, while others have reduced the days and hours during which voters can register or cast their ballots. A welcome decision Wednesday by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals buttresses the argument that the Supreme Court underestimated the willingness of some states to abridge the right to vote. The 5th Circuit held that Texas’ law requiring IDs discriminated against African Americans and Latinos, who were less likely to have ready access to the narrow list of accepted forms of identification (including passports and driver’s licenses), and ordered a lower court to find a fix before the November election. It also asked the lower court judge to consider anew whether Texas legislators crafted the law intentionally to suppress minority voting; if the court finds it did so, Texas could be forced back into the ranks of jurisdictions that require the federal Justice Department’s permission before changing or adopting voting laws.
Arkansas: Error flags voters on registration list; thousands in jeopardy of having their registration canceled | Arkansas Online
Flawed data sent out by the Arkansas secretary of state’s office in conjunction with the Arkansas Crime Information Center incorrectly flagged thousands of people to be removed from voter registration lists, meaning several Arkansas voters will have to prove their status before this year’s presidential election if the issue isn’t fixed. In many cases, that will result in undue burden to voters, some county clerks have said, even hinting at possible future lawsuits over the mess-up. The problem arose when the secretary of state’s elections division sought to update voter lists with new felon data to ensure that felons still in prison or on parole or probation aren’t allowed to vote, per state law. In the process of getting the data from the Arkansas Crime Information Center, known as ACIC, about 4,000 people who have never been convicted of a felony were included on the list and flagged by error. Some of them may have been notified by their county clerks’ offices that their voter registration has been canceled, even though it shouldn’t have been.
California: Governor Brown vetoes measure that would have allowed cancellation of uncontested elections | Los Angeles Times
California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday vetoed a bill by the late Sen. Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster) that would have allowed him to cancel an election to fill a vacancy in the Legislature if only one candidate makes the ballot. That candidate would have been declared the elected legislator, under the bill. Runner, who died earlier this month after complications from lung disease, was seeking to streamline the process for filling a legislative vacancy to save taxpayers money. She noted it cost counties $1.6 million to hold one recent special election. Runner was elected to the Senate in 2015 in a special election in which she was the only candidate on the ballot.
Texas: Judge in Texas voter ID case agrees to allow affidavits at polls to cast ballots in San Antonio runoff | San Antonio Express-News
Texas’ strict voter ID law will be weakened to allow voters lacking required photo identification to cast ballots in a San Antonio special election by signing an affidavit, a federal judge ordered. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi has agreed to an affidavit option for voters facing a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining one of seven photo IDs accepted under state law. Ramos’ order is tailored specifically to the runoff election for the House District 120 seat vacated by former state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, but it marks the first time the state’s voter ID law will be implemented in a watered-down manner. The law has been used since 2013.
When Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia ordered the blanket restoration of voting rights to more than 200,000 former felons in April, Republicans who control the state legislature swiftly filed a petition in court, accusing him of exceeding his authority. And when the state’s highest court agreed on Friday, voiding the governor’s declaration in a biting ruling, that briefly seemed to put the matter to rest. But Mr. McAuliffe is not giving up so easily. And the decision may have laid the groundwork for more legal and political maneuvering in a state that both presidential campaigns regard as a major prize. After the Virginia Supreme Court said on Friday that the governor could restore voting rights only on a case-by-case basis, Mr. McAuliffe said he would forgo his blanket declaration — and, instead, individually sign about 206,000 restoration orders for ex-felons, including 13,000 who had registered after his April order. “I cannot accept that this overtly political action could succeed in suppressing the voices of many thousands of men and women,” the governor said in a statement. “The struggle for civil rights has always been a long and difficult one, but the fight goes on.”
Thousands of Virginia felons who had their voting rights restored have had them stripped away again and the back and forth is creating quite a mess for state registrars. In April, Democratic Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored the voting rights of all of Virginia’s formerly convicted felons. On Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled the order unconstitutional. That puts thousands of felons and registrars in limbo. “There’s general confusion about how this is going to be handled,” said Anne Hemenway the president of the city of Charlottesville Board of Elections. Of the 200,000 felons of what their voting rights restored, 13,000 already registered to vote. “There’s never been a situation where this many have been challenged at the same time this close to an election too,” said Hemenway.
Barely two weeks before the next statewide election day, the people who run Wisconsin’s new voting information website are making last-minute changes in an effort to ensure that the site does what it says it will. The month-old site, MyVote.Wi.Gov, was undergoing updates and outright fixes Friday afternoon in advance of the Aug. 9 primaries. And upgrades are likely to continue this week, State Elections Commission officials said. The biggest Friday fix repaired a glitch that made it so no one in Green Bay could look up his or her polling place via the site. Officials with the Elections Commission worked with the Green Bay City Clerk’s Office to solve the problem after being alerted by a USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter that part of the site wasn’t working for anyone with a Green Bay address.
Canada: Political scientists recommend against electoral reform referendum, online voting | iPolitics
The Special Committee on Electoral Reform resumed its deliberations Monday after a two-week break, hearing from three political science professors who all opposed the option of a national referendum on electoral reform. Though Ken Carty (professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia), Brian Tanguay (professor at Wilfred Laurier University), and Nelson Wiseman (professor at the University of Toronto) expressed different views on which electoral system is the best for Canada, they were in complete agreement on the politically charged question of whether a referendum on electoral reform should be held, expressing a consensus against a national plebiscite. … All three also agreed that security concerns about online voting remain too great to try implementing it at the federal level any time soon. “The preponderance of experts are opposed to it, because…you can hack the system,” Wiseman told the committee, citing the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee as an example of a threat and e-voting “snafus” during the 2012 NDP leadership race, but adding that he could support its limited use for those with mobility issues.
Editorials: Putin’s suspected meddling in a U.S. election would be a disturbing first | The Washington Post
Credit for the internecine furor that disrupted the Democratic Party on the eve of its convention should go to Vladimir Putin. As The Post has reported, cybersecurity experts say Russian intelligence operatives were likely responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer network, as well as for leaking to the Moscow-friendly WikiLeaks website some 20,000 emails. The trove appeared online Friday, just in time to create discord between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as they headed to Philadelphia. To no one’s surprise, the emails showed that DNC staffers opposed the attempt of the socialist Mr. Sanders to take over the party. Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to announce her resignation, and — as Russia likely intended — Ms. Clinton’s campaign took a hit. Mr. Putin’s regime has tried to intervene in the internal politics of numerous European countries, from Ukraine and Moldova to Italy and France. But the evident attempt to meddle in a U.S. presidential election is a first. That may reflect the reckless aggressiveness Mr. Putin has embraced in foreign affairs since returning to the presidency in 2012. It likely also reveals Moscow’s judgment that it stands to reap a geopolitical windfall if Donald Trump is elected president.
Thai army cadets march in formation west of Bangkok with one goal: to win the people’s hearts and minds ahead of next month’s referendum on a new constitution. Fresh-faced student recruits, local government officials and schoolchildren thrust leaflets into the hands of shopkeepers, restaurant owners and passers-by — and urge them to vote on August 7 as a national service. “We want everyone to do this referendum,” says Chinnapat Laohachaibun, a 16-year-old green-uniformed cadet flanked by a banner showing the monkey-god Hanuman casting his vote. “If everybody does, our country can go forward.” Propaganda blitzes like these are taking place across the nation as the generals, who have cracked down on dissent since their May 2014 coup, seek to consolidate power along with their allies in the bureaucratic elite. At the heart of the plebiscite lies a paradox: the public is being pressed to turn out yet new laws threaten them with 10 years in jail should they debate the subject on which they are voting.
The European Union (EU) has called for voter education to enhance effective participation in next month’s elections. EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) chief observer Cecille Kyenge said this yesterday when she met some Copperbelt civil society organisations at Mukuba Hotel in Ndola to discuss their activities and contributions to the electoral process. Ms Kyenge said the voters were an important component in the electoral process and that having met Ndola-based civil society organisations, the mission was pleased with their strong dedication.