Did Republican nominee Donald Trump just ask Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to cast the deciding vote in the US presidential election? On Wednesday morning, Trump said he hoped Russia would find and publish 30,000 e-mail messages deleted by his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, from the personal server she used as secretary of state. It was a startling spectacle: a presidential candidate urging a foreign government to play a role in America’s game of thrones. But there’s a chance Putin is already a player. The trove of embarrassing e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, which were leaked to the press just in time for this week’s party convention in Philadelphia, were probably swiped by Russian hackers, according to US intelligence officials and independent cybersecurity companies. Russia’s apparent election tampering — and Trump’s call for the Russians to expose Clinton’s deleted e-mails — shows that the insecurity of America’s data networks could undermine our ability to hold free and fair elections. But if the Russian president would go this far to pick our next president, why not take the direct approach? Why not tamper with the computers that manage the nation’s voting systems? Maybe that has already happened. Those voting systems are certainly vulnerable.
Editorials: By November, Russian hackers could target voting machines | Bruce Schneier/The Washington Post
Russia was behind the hacks into the Democratic National Committee’s computer network that led to the release of thousands of internal emails just before the party’s convention began, U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded. The FBI is investigating. WikiLeaks promises there is more data to come. The political nature of this cyberattack means that Democrats and Republicans are trying to spin this as much as possible. Even so, we have to accept that someone is attacking our nation’s computer systems in an apparent attempt to influence a presidential election. This kind of cyberattack targets the very core of our democratic process. And it points to the possibility of an even worse problem in November — that our election systems and our voting machines could be vulnerable to a similar attack. If the intelligence community has indeed ascertained that Russia is to blame, our government needs to decide what to do in response. This is difficult because the attacks are politically partisan, but it is essential. If foreign governments learn that they can influence our elections with impunity, this opens the door for future manipulations, both document thefts and dumps like this one that we see and more subtle manipulations that we don’t see.
Voting rights activists scored legal victories in key presidential election states Friday, the most important being a federal appeals court ruling that North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature enacted new voting restrictions in 2013 to intentionally blunt the growing clout of African American voters. The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was an overwhelming victory for the Justice Department and civil rights groups. Election law experts consider North Carolina’s voter law one of the nation’s most far-reaching. In Wisconsin, where one federal judge already had eased restrictions on voter-ID requirements, a second judge found that additional elements of the law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) were unconstitutional.
The Illinois’ Voter Registration System, IVRS, is still down after officials discovered a security breach on July 12. The system was shut down the day after the breach was discovered, according to Kyle Thomas, the state board of elections’ director of voting and registration systems. “Once the severity of the attack was realized, as a precautionary measure, the entire IVRS system was shut down, including online voter registration,” Thomas wrote in a memo to the election authority that was posted to McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael’s Facebook page. A look-up field on IVRS that allowed voters to find out if they were already registered to vote, and at which address, could have allowed hackers access to the system, Ken Menzel, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, told StateScoop.
A Shawnee County judge has ruled that 17,500 voters can have their votes counted in state and local races as well as federal ones in Tuesday’s Kansas primary election. “Losing one’s vote is an irreparable harm in my opinion,” Judge Larry Hendricks said in his bench ruling Friday. A state board approved a rule earlier this month to allow people to vote only in federal elections – not state and local ones – if they registered at DMV offices but failed to provide proof of citizenship as required by Kansas law. The rule, crafted by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was meant to put the state in compliance with a recent ruling by a federal judge to let these voters vote under the federal “motor-voter” law. Kobach contended that the federal ruling applied only to federal elections and that the state’s proof of citizenship requirement still barred these voters from casting votes in state and local races. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the rule under the equal protection clause in the Kansas Constitution. “You’re either registered or you’re not,” ACLU attorney Sophia Lakin told the judge. “There’s no such thing as half registration.”
Federal appellate judges on Friday struck down a 2013 law limiting voting options and requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, declaring in an unsparing opinion that the restrictions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law was adopted with “discriminatory intent” despite lawmakers’ claims that the ID provision and other changes were designed to prevent voter fraud. The ruling – which could have implications for voting laws in other states and possibly for the outcome of close races in the swing state of North Carolina – sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who in April issued a 485-page decision dismissing all claims in the legal challenge.
Texas: What’s the Fix for Texas’ Voter ID Law? “Time is short” to implement a replacement | The Austin Chronicle
Voter ID in Texas violates the Voting Rights Act, and the state must develop new rules before the November election. That was the definitive statement in a majority opinion, nine to six, issued by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last week. But don’t put your driver’s license away quite yet. While the court has ruled that the current state rules are in the wrong, no one knows what the replacement rules will look like. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said, “We don’t know very much. The takeaway is that we don’t know what to do.” The core issue was the strict photo ID requirements passed in 2011’s Senate Bill 14, which have been facing legal challenges for half a decade. In 2012, the Justice Department blocked implementation of the rules, and then the state lost its first major defense in 2014, when U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that the law did indeed suppress minority voters. The majority opinion of the 5th Circuit’s 15-member appeals bench upheld the core ruling of the lower court, and instructed it to create interim rules in time for the November 8 general election.
Virginia: ‘Why don’t they want us to vote?’ Felons cope with losing voting rights twice in Virginia | The Washington Post
Louise Benjamin, 48, looked forward to casting her first ever ballot in Virginia this November, after Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored her voting rights and those of more than 200,000 other convicted felons who had also completed their sentences. She saw voting as a chance for redemption after serving time for assault charges. Then, last week, the state Supreme Court decided she couldn’t vote after all. “I was so hurt. I couldn’t even believe it,” said Benjamin, after the state’s highest court ruled that McAuliffe had overstepped his authority by restoring voting rights en masse instead of on a case by case basis. “Why they don’t want us to vote?” Across the state, more than 13,000 ex-offenders who had registered to vote after McAuliffe signed his wholesale clemency order in April have been thrust into a kind of voting limbo. “They have felt like they just had their rights restored and before they could even savor that for long, here comes the court just swooping in and taking it all away again,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive of New Virginia Majority which has been registering ex-offenders including Benjamin. “A lot of them are hearing the message that they don’t belong, they don’t deserve a voice.” The court directed the state elections commissioner, Edgardo Cortés, to cancel the registrations by Aug. 25 of the 13,000 felons and add their names to a list of prohibited voters.
Finding that Republican lawmakers had discriminated against minorities, a federal judge Friday struck down parts of Wisconsin’s voter ID law, limits on early voting and prohibitions on allowing people to vote early at multiple sites. With the presidential election less than four months away, GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel said he plans to appeal the sweeping decision by U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson. Peterson also turned back other election laws Republicans have put in place in recent years. “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities,” U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote. “To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”
Russia: Why would Russia interfere in the U.S. election? Because it sometimes works. | The Washington Post
Late last week, WikiLeaks released private emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Experts suspect the documents were obtained by hackers affiliated with the Russian government. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager has even charged that the Russians are trying to use the emails to help elect Donald Trump. Since then, people on the left and right have expressed outrage that a foreign government would seek to influence American politics. That furor is naive. Foreign governments have sought to shape other country’s politics before. The United States has honed interventions in other countries’ elections to something of an art form. They (we) do it because such interventions can succeed, especially if they find willing accomplices in the targeted country.
Venezuela’s opposition has demanded authorities move forward on a a referendum to force Nicolás Maduro from office, amid complaints that the government is digging in its heels to delay the process. Groups of opposition members attempted to march to the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE) in Caracas to demand it set a date by which they would have to collect signatures of nearly 4 million voters to trigger a presidential recall. Police and national guard barricades blocked the way, leading marchers to retreat. “We did not come to confront the police, just to demand a date for the 20%,” said Henrique Capriles, a leading opposition figure and former presidential candidate, referring the percentage of the electorate they would have. The CNE had been expected to announce on Tuesday whether referendum organizers had managed to collect enough valid signatures – 1% of the electorate – to put a process in motion to force a recall vote on Maduro. But late on Tuesday, officials said they would meet on 1 August to further discuss the issue.
Russia has attacked the U.S. in cyberspace in an attempt to influence our national election, many experts have concluded. We need to take this national security threat seriously and both respond and defend, despite the partisan nature of this particular attack. There is virtually no debate about that, either from the technical experts who analyzed the attack last month or the FBI which is analyzing it now. The hackers have already released DNC emails and voicemails, and promise more data dumps. While their motivation remains unclear, they could continue to attack our election from now to November — and beyond. Like everything else in society, elections have gone digital. And just as we’ve seen cyberattacks affecting all aspects of society, we’re going to see them affecting elections as well. What happened to the DNC is an example of organizational doxing — the publishing of private information — an increasingly popular tactic against both government and private organizations. There are other ways to influence elections: denial-of-service attacks against candidate and party networks and websites, attacks against campaign workers and donors, attacks against voter rolls or election agencies, hacks of the candidate websites and social media accounts, and — the one that scares me the most — manipulation of our highly insecure but increasingly popular electronic voting machines.
Thanks to Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling weakening the Voting Rights Act, a slew of restrictive voting laws will be in force this fall for the first time in a presidential election. But now the Shelby ruling is putting voting rights at risk in a whole new way: Citing the ruling, the Justice Department recently announced that it would significantly reduce the number of federal observers that it deploys at polling places to guard against voter suppression and intimidation. The impact of the cutbacks could be particularly severe this year, when several states will be asking poll workers to implement new voter ID laws, upping the chances that on-the-ground errors or other problems keep voters from the polls. Meanwhile, some voting rights advocates are critical of the Justice Department’s decision to reduce the number of monitors, saying it relies on an overly conservative reading of the Shelby decision.
The FBI is investigating a cyber attack against another U.S. Democratic Party group, which may be related to an earlier hack against the Democratic National Committee, four people familiar with the matter told Reuters. The previously unreported incident at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, and its potential ties to Russian hackers are likely to heighten accusations, so far unproven, that Moscow is trying to meddle in the U.S. presidential election campaign to help Republican nominee Donald Trump. Hacking of the party’s emails caused discord among Democrats at the party’s convention in Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate. The newly disclosed breach at the DCCC may have been intended to gather information about donors, rather than to steal money, the sources said on Thursday.
Political robocalls may be an irritating feature of modern campaigning, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve protection under the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled. A decision handed down Wednesday in Arkansas federal court struck down a state law passed 35 years ago that banned political robocalls. The statute restricted commercial robocalling and also made it unlawful to solicit information “in connection with a political campaign” using an automated phone system for dialing numbers and playing recorded messages. The restriction was challenged by a Virginia-based communications firm, Conquest Communications Group, which sought “to conduct automated telephone calls in the state, including surveys, messages concerning voting, express advocacy calls, and a variety of other calls made in connection with political campaigns.”
Somebody — probably, though not certainly, Vladimir Putin’s intelligence apparatus — has hacked the Democratic Committee’s email servers and released some of what it found via the Wikileaks site. As Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith notes, this is something new: Although meddling in foreign elections is old stuff for intelligence agencies (including our own), this sort of email release is unprecedented. As disruptive as the DNC email release has been, there’s room for something much worse: A foreign government could hack voting machines, shut down election computers, or delete or alter voter registration information, turning Election Day into a snarled mess and calling the results into question regardless of who wins. Worse yet, hackers are already working on this. Voting systems rely on trust. Voters have to trust that their own vote is recorded and counted accurately; they also have to trust that the overall count is accurate, and that only eligible voters are allowed to vote. (When an ineligible voter casts a vote, it cancels out the vote of a legitimate voter every bit as much as if his or her ballot had simply been shredded.) The problem is that electronic systems — much less the Internet-based systems that some people are talking about moving to — can’t possibly provide that degree of reliability. They’re too easy to hack, and alterations are too easy to conceal. If the powers-that-be can’t protect confidential emails, or government employees’ security information, then they can’t guarantee the sanctity of voting systems.
Some foreign leaders settle for stealing billions of dollars. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, may have wanted to steal something even more valuable: an American presidential election. As our election takes a turn that could be drawn from a Cold War spy novel (except it would be too implausible), Putin has an obvious favorite in the race: Donald Trump. “It’s crystal clear to me” that Putin favors Trump, says Michael McFaul, a Stanford professor who was ambassador to Russia until 2014. “If I were Putin, I would rather deal with Trump, too, given the things he has said about foreign policy.” Look, Democratic Party leaders exchanged inappropriate emails showing bias for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and a hacker’s disclosure has properly triggered a ruckus. But that scandal pales beside an effort apparently by a foreign dictatorship to disrupt an American presidential election. It also seems scandalous to me that Trump on Wednesday effectively invited Russia to hack into Clinton’s computers for deleted emails from when she was secretary of state, saying at a press conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Yes, Trump is entertaining. But increasingly, the antonym of “gravitas” is “Trump.” Clinton could have responded by inviting Russia to hack into Trump’s computers and release his tax returns; she didn’t because the hack would be illegal and her plea would be unpresidential.
With legal action pending or recently decided, but certainly not settled and with the clock ticking until the November 8 general election — and some primaries yet to happen — elections officials in several states are faced with some looming known unknowns. For example, in Texas and Wisconsin, it’s voter ID. In Virginia it’s voting rights restoration. In Ohio it’s voter purges. In Kansas it’s a dual-system for voters with proof-of-citizenship and those without. And in North Carolina, it’s a bit of everything — ID, same-day registration, early voting. “The nature of our job is to adapt to constant change,” said Sharon Wolters, Smith County, Kansas clerk and current president of the Kansas County Clerks and Elections Officials Association. “We expect it and work together to give ideas that will facilitate the changes in the most efficient way possible.”
Japan: Tokyo turmoil: race to rule world’s largest city mired in sex scandal and misogyny | The Guardian
It is a race to take charge of the world’s largest city – a metropolis with a population more than half the size of the United Kingdom and with a GDP greater than all but 10 countries. But the election for the post of governor of Tokyo has piqued interest not only because of the size of the task which falls to its victor, but also for the mud slinging and misogyny which has characterised the fight between the candidates. Voters in Tokyo will go to the polls on Sunday amid a campaign marred by events that some say highlights the worst of Japan’s male-dominated politics. The winner will take over after the two previous incumbents resigned in disgrace, and is tasked with overseeing the 2020 Olympics, coming up with ways to offset problems caused by the capital’s rapidly ageing population, and providing better child care services. It is a weighty job serving approximately 37 million people in the Tokyo metro area and a record 21 candidates are running.
More Alabamians will be voting in the upcoming municipal elections and the general election in November if Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has anything to do with it. Merrill announced Thursday approximately 1.2 million eligible Alabamians who either are not registered to vote or in need of updating voter registration information will receive a Mail-In Voter Registration Application thanks to the state’s new partnership with the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). ERIC — whose sole mission is assisting states to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens — will identify eligible citizens who are not yet registered to vote using a combination of public and private data to more accurately identify voters who have moved or died allowing voter rolls to be appropriately updated. Current, unregistered Alabama residents will receive a voter registration application in the mail from the secretary of state’s office following identification by ERIC.
A Shawnee County judge will decide whether thousands can vote in state and local elections when Kansas holds its primaries next week. Judge Larry Hendricks will review Friday whether Secretary of State Kris Kobach has the authority to set up a dual voting system. A state board approved a new rule earlier this month to allow people who registered at DMV offices to vote in federal elections even if they failed to provide proof of citizenship as required by Kansas law. The rule is meant to put the state in compliance with a recent ruling by a federal judge to let these voters vote under the federal “motor-voter” law.
Montana’s Supreme Court is being asked to strike a ballot issue that commits Montanans to spending $200 million on medical research. The Montana Taxpayers Association and others say Initiative I-181 is unconstitutional because it commits public money to a private group not under control of the state. Slated for the November ballot, the initiative would commit Montanans to providing $20 million in bonds each year for 10 years for medical research. A research board would determine who received the money. The state would not have a return on investment for any successful research. “This method is bad public policy, bonding for programs,” said Bob Story of MonTax. “If you want to bond to build assets, that’s one thing, but if you want to bond for basically a spending program.”
In the last few years, many states have tried to make it easier for people to vote. New York is not one of them. As a result, millions of New Yorkers fail to make it to the polls on Election Day. In 2014, barely more than one in four eligible voters actually voted — the fourth-lowest rate in the country. Voters did a little better in this year’s presidential primary, but the numbers were still abysmal. Here are some of the ways New York’s lawmakers make it harder than necessary to cast a ballot. In New York, there is no early voting in person — elections are held on one workday, usually a Tuesday, and that’s it. Absentee ballots are a pain — voters have to claim they will be out of town or unable to appear “because of illness or physical disability.” The boards that run elections have barely acknowledged the arrival of the computer, let alone the internet. Anyone who votes in New York City, for example, must first sign a large paper ledger that looks like something from the Smithsonian archives. Attempts to move to computerized voting lists — like other efforts to modernize the system — have too often stalled in Albany because incumbents want to preserve the system that got them elected.
Ohio voters who haven’t cast a ballot in the past six years could be out of luck if they go back to the polls in November. The state is preparing to purge voter registration rolls of everyone who hasn’t voted since 2010, unless they’ve updated their registration or responded to queries seeking to confirm their address. Opponents of the annual purge went to court Wednesday in Cincinnati to stop it, arguing it could violate the rights of tens of thousands of Ohioans who should be eligible to vote. As always in an election year, the stakes are especially high in Ohio. The swing state could be crucial in a close presidential election this fall, and partisans on both sides are closely watching the case. Adding to the drama is uncertainty over the fate of voters who already have been purged from the rolls, including those who last voted in 2008, the year Barack Obama first won the presidency.
Various stakeholders, including political parties, analysts and the media, joined Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) officials to sample the stand-alone electronic vote machine, which is expected to be debuted at the 2019 general elections. To avoid disruptions during the power cuts, the machines use batteries, and are not connected to a data network. The portable and light machine allows a voter to first check if they have voted for a party of their choice before selecting a candidate by pressing a button. While several companies were invited to demonstrate their own voting machines yesterday, only Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) turned up, with analysts saying this placed the Indian company in poll position for the tender to supply the machines. BEL machines are already in use in Namibia, one of the few African countries using electronic voting.
The government of Sao Tome and Principe on Thursday fixed the second round of a presidential election for August 7 despite unrest after a challenge to the first-round result. The ruling party candidate and former prime minister Evaristo Carvalho appeared to have scraped past the required 50-percent mark needed for an outright win in the July 17 poll. But incumbent Manuel Pinto da Costa challenged the outcome and election officials in Africa’s second smallest state called a second round after revising Carvalho’s tally to 49.8 percent and 24.83 for Da Costa, the candidate of Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada. Carvalho, standing for the Independent Democratic Action party, had initially been credited with a 50.2 percent score.
The separatist movement in Catalonia’s parliament has escalated its battle with Madrid after it defied Spain’s constitutional court by debating a controversial pro-independence roadmap, and the region’s president announced a confidence vote to consolidate the move towards sovereignty. The angry, last-minute debate – in which the pro-independence Together for Yes coalition and the smaller, far-left Popular Unity Candidacy secured approval for the unilateral disconnection plan by 72 votes to 11 – represents another open challenge to the Spanish judiciary and to Spain’s acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. It also provoked a furious reaction in the Catalan parliament from Ciudadanos and Popular party MPs who left the chamber rather than take part in a vote they described as “illegal” and flagrantly undemocratic. One Ciudadanos MP accused the separatist faction of “wanting to take us not only out of Spain and the EU, but out of the 21st century and modern democracy”. However, the president of the Catalan parliament, Together for Yes’s Carme Forcadell, insisted the parliament was exercising its sovereign rights.
Thais head to the polls next week to vote in a referendum designed to breathe life into what has become a stagnant democratic process. An affirmative vote on Aug. 7 will see Thailand adopt a new constitution — its twentieth since 1932. Junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in 2014, has promised general elections next year — but not before a fresh constitution is adopted. But that next step is by no means a fait accompli for, once again, Thailand is polarized as many fear that Prayuth and his cadres are getting a little too comfortable in the government’s shoes. While there are undoubtedly some who approve of the substance of the draft charter, which was painstakingly drawn up by a military-appointed committee, millions of disillusioned Thai citizens just want to see the wheels of democracy moving again.