The Obama administration is weighing new steps to bolster the security of the United States’ voting process against cyberthreats, including whether to designate the electronic ballot-casting system for November’s elections as “critical infrastructure,” Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, said on Wednesday. In the wake of hacks that infiltrated Democratic campaign computer systems, Mr. Johnson said he was conducting high-level discussions about “election cybersecurity,” a vastly complex effort given that there are 9,000 jurisdictions in the United States that have a hand in carrying out the balloting, many of them with different ways of collecting, tallying and reporting votes. “We should carefully consider whether our election system, our election process is critical infrastructure, like the financial sector, like the power grid,” Mr. Johnson told reporters at a breakfast in Washington. “There’s a vital national interest in our electoral process.” A national commission created as part of a voting overhaul enacted in 2002 in response to the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election “raised the bar” on security, Mr. Johnson said. “But there is more to do,” he added. “The nature of cyberthreats has evolved.” Mr. Johnson said that he was considering communicating with state and local election officials across the country in the coming weeks to inform them about “best practices” to guard against cyberintrusions, and that longer-term investments would probably have to be made to secure the voting process.
This week, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump openly speculated that this election would be “rigged.” Last month, Russia decided to take an active role in our election. There’s no basis for questioning the results of a vote that’s still months away. But the interference and aspersions do merit a fresh look at the woeful state of our outdated, insecure electronic voting machines. We’ve previously discussed the sad state of electronic voting machines in America, but it’s worth a closer look as we approach election day itself, and within the context of increased cyber-hostilities between the US and Russia. Besides, by now states have had plenty of warning since a damning report by the Brennan Center for Justice about our voting machine vulnerabilities came out last September. Surely matters must have improved since then. Well, not exactly. In fact, not really at all. … So electronic voting machines aren’t ideal. The good news is, it’s entirely possible to mitigate any potential harm they might cause, either by malice or mistake. First, it’s important to realize that electronic voting machines aren’t as commonplace as one might assume. Three-quarters of the country will vote on a paper ballot this fall, says Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a group that promotes best practices at the polls. Only five states—Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and New Jersey—use “direct recording electronic” (DRE) machines exclusively. But lots of other states use electronic machines in some capacity. Verified Voting also has a handy map of who votes using what equipment, which lets you drill down both to specific counties and machine brands, so you can see what’s in use at your polling station.
Has the tide against restrictive voting laws turned? In the last few weeks, voting rights groups, in some instances working with the Department of Justice, have posted a series of victories that seemed unlikely when their cases against these laws were first brought. The rights of hundreds of thousands of voters are at stake. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, perhaps the most conservative federal appeals court, ruled 9-6 last month that Texas’ strict voter identification law had a racially discriminatory effect on African-American and Latino voters. Not only did the Fifth Circuit send the case back to the trial court to establish a procedure to make it easier for those who lacked one of the narrow forms of identification to be able to vote, but also to decide if Texas had acted with racially discriminatory intent. Such a finding could lead the courts to put Texas back under direct federal supervision. Last Friday, a Fourth Circuit panel ruled that a North Carolina voting law, possibly the largest rollback of voting rights since the 1965 Voting Rights Act, was enacted with racially discriminatory intent. The court threw out not only the state’s strict voter ID law, but also other voting restrictions that could make it especially hard for minorities to vote.
North Dakota: Federal judge blocks North Dakota’s voter-ID law, calling it unfair to Native Americans | The Washington Post
A federal judge on Monday called North Dakota’s strict voter-ID law unfair to Native Americans and blocked its use in the coming election, continuing a series of recent victories against restrictions imposed by state legislatures. In recent days, judges have blocked or loosened voting restrictions in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Kansas. The fights have pitted Democrats and civil rights groups who say restrictive ID laws discriminate against minorities against Republican legislators, who say they enacted the laws to combat voter fraud and protect the public’s confidence in elections. U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland said North Dakota for years had provided a safety net for those unable to provide the specific kinds of ID required, and that eliminating it in 2013 would mean eligible voters are disenfranchised. Before 2013, the state allowed many forms of identification for use at the polls, and those without could sign affidavits to their identity. But the 2013 law allowed only four forms of ID: a North Dakota driver’s license; a North Dakota non-driver’s ID card; a tribal government-issued ID card; or an alternative form of ID prescribed by the secretary of state. A provision added last year prohibited the secretary of state from allowing college IDs or military IDs to be used.
Ohio: Multimillion-dollar voting rights battle could prove even more costly for taxpayers | Cleveland Plain Dealer
The state of Ohio has racked up more than $2.7 million in legal fees it will likely have to pay to attorneys who have engaged in a decade’s worth of litigation over voting laws passed by the state’s legislature and enforced by the secretary of state’s office. And while a federal appeals court said part of that amount must be re-calculated, the cost is expected to increase significantly in the future, as those same lawyers still need to add in the nearly three years of legal work completed since the last time a judge ordered payment. The legal battle at issue has raged on since 2006, though it is in line with challenges to a series of laws passed by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country in the past few years. Courts in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, North Dakota and Kansas issued scathing opinions in the past week that invalidated key parts of voting legislation passed in each state, with each court stating that the laws were aimed at curbing minority participation in elections. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless first filed suit against the secretary of state over laws passed by the legislature that required voters to provide identification at polling places. The case has evolved and continued after elected officials passed laws that affected provisional ballots. This resulted in a trial earlier this year, after which Columbus federal Judge Algenon Marbley issued a constitutional rebuke of the state’s laws pertaining to the disqualification of absentee and provisional ballots for technical violations.
Texas agreed Wednesday to weaken its voter ID law as courts across the U.S., with only months before the November election, are blocking Republican-controlled states from imposing polling place restrictions that critics say target minorities and the poor. The changes must still be approved by a federal judge. But the looser rules have the important blessing of the U.S. Justice Department and minority rights groups, who sued over the 2011 law and said that 600,000 voters would otherwise lack a suitable ID to cast a ballot this fall. Those voters would now be allowed to sign an affidavit to cast a regular full ballot, and their vote would be counted. Texas must also spend at least $2.5 million on voter outreach before November, according to the joint proposal that Texas and opponents of the law submitted to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos. “The provisions we’ve agreed to now are critical safeguards for voters,” said Houston attorney Chad Dunn, who is one of the lead attorneys in the lawsuit against Texas. “It’s a critical leap forward.” A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Texas worked fast to soften the law before Election Day after a federal appeals court last month ruled that the tough ID restrictions – which accepted concealed handgun permits at polling place, but not college student IDs – violated the federal Voting Rights Acts.
Attorney General Brad Schimel is seeking an emergency stay in a federal court ruling in a case challenging voting policies signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker between 2011 and 2015. “It would cause major disruption and voter confusion to require Defendants to change election procedures and inform the public of those changes, only to change the procedures back, and re-inform the public, after an appeal,” Schimel wrote in his request. The state’s request comes one day after lawyers representing One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and individual voters filed a motion of appeal with the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, although U.S. District Judge James Peterson’s ruling went heavily in their favor. In a decision released late Friday afternoon, Peterson found a series of voting changes signed into law by Walker over the last five years to be unconstitutional, but did not overturn the state’s photo identification requirement. Laws that limited in-person absentee voting to one location, limited early voting hours and eliminated weekend voting are unconstitutional, Peterson ruled. A 2013 law limiting hours for in-person absentee voting “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race,” he wrote.
Long before Billy Lawless became the first expatriate to serve in the Irish Senate, he was a regular guest at a uniquely Irish event known as the “American wake.” A full-blown going-away party held in a small Irish village, this occasion earned its dour name “because Johnny or Mary were going to the United States and that was probably the last we’d ever see of them,” said Mr. Lawless, a Chicago restaurateur who grew up on the outskirts of Galway. “But that day is gone now. Everything has changed.” Though emigration once implied a dramatic severing of ties, today’s expats are remaining more engaged than ever with the political affairs of their home countries, following local news on the internet and voting from abroad. In a more profound break with old patterns, expats like Mr. Lawless are even taking on political roles in their native countries. Most nations, including 23 of 28 European Union member states, now allow some form of voting for non-resident citizens, said Jean-Thomas Arrighi, a political scientist specializing in the issue at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Thirteen countries have gone further, establishing “external constituencies,” with representatives directly elected by citizens abroad.
Thailand’s military junta will hold a national referendum Sunday on a new constitution that it casts as an essential step toward restoring democracy. But the junta has blocked opponents from campaigning against the measure, banned election monitors and restricted news coverage of the referendum. And the proposed constitution, critics say, would weaken the role of elected…
Venezuela’s opposition got a green light Monday to proceed with efforts to remove President Nicolas Maduro in a referendum, but the crumpling oil giant still appeared far from holding a vote. The National Electoral Council (CNE) said the opposition had collected nearly double the requirement of 200,000 valid signatures on a petition demanding the leftist leader face a recall referendum. But it did not set a date for the next stage in the lengthy process, in which the opposition must collect four million signatures in just three days. And, in a boost to the Maduro camp’s claims of rampant fraud, the council’s chief, Tibisay Lucena, said the authorities had detected more than 1,000 apparently fraudulent signatures.
When Princeton Professor Andrew Appel decided to hack into a voting machine, he didn’t try to mimic the Russian attackers who hacked into the DNC’s database last month. He didn’t write malicious code, or linger near a polling place where the machines can go unguarded for days. Instead, he bought one online. With a few cursory clicks of a mouse, Appel parted with $82 and became the owner of an ungainly metallic giant called the Sequoia AVC Advantage, one of the oldest and vulnerable, electronic voting machines in the United States (among other places it’s deployed in Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania). No sooner did a team of bewildered deliverymen roll the 250-pound device into a conference room near Appel’s cramped, third-floor office than the professor set to work. He summoned a graduate student named Alex Halderman, who could pick the machine’s lock in seven seconds. Clutching a screwdriver, he deftly wedged out the four ROM chips—they weren’t soldered into the circuit board, as sense might dictate—making it simple to replace them with one of his own: A version of modified firmware that could throw off the machine’s results, subtly altering the tally of votes, never to betray a hint to the voter. The attack was concluded in minutes. To mark the achievement, his student snapped a photo of Appel—oblong features, messy black locks and a salt-and-pepper beard—grinning for the camera, fists still on the circuit board, as if to look directly into the eyes of the American taxpayer: Don’t look at me—you’re the one who paid for this thing. Appel’s mischief might be called an occupational asset: He is part of a diligent corps of so-called cyber-academics—professors who have spent the last decade serving their country by relentlessly hacking it. Electronic voting machines—particularly a design called Direct Recording Electronic, or DRE’s—took off in 2002, in the wake of Bush v. Gore. For the ensuing 15 years, Appel and his colleagues have deployed every manner of stunt to convince the public that the system is pervasively unsecure and vulnerable.
It’s widely believed that Russian hackers were behind the recent attack on the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail servers. While the consequences of the attack for this year’s presidential election remain to be seen, it’s not hard to imagine how hackers could influence or disrupt our elections—and that could undermine our national stability and security. That’s why the government should take the advice of security experts who say it must intervene to protect the voting system from cyberthreats. As Bruce Schneier, a technologist and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, argued recently in the Washington Post, the government should act quickly in the wake of the DNC hack. “If foreign governments learn they can influence our elections with impunity,” he wrote, “this opens the door to future manipulations, both document thefts and dumps like this one that we see and more subtle manipulations that we don’t see.”
National: DHS Preps Advice to Help Election Officials Protect Electronic Voting Machines from Cyberattack | Government Technology
The Department of Homeland Security is preparing advice for election officials to better protect electronic voting machines, online ballots and vote counts from hackers, following the high-profile breach of Democratic National Committee emails, the head of the department said Wednesday. “We are actively thinking about election cyber security right now,” Jeh Johnson said at a breakfast with reporters in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. Any effort to guard election computers from being breached is complicated by the fact that there are more than 9,000 different voting jurisdictions in the U.S., and each has its own leadership and way of operating, he said. “There are some short-term and long-term things I think we should do to bolster the cyber security around the election process,” Johnson said, stopping short of detailing what kinds of weaknesses hackers could find to influence election results. “There are various different points in the process we have to be concerned about,” he said.
National: Movement for Stricter Voting Rules Hit by Wave of Skeptical Court Rulings | Wall Street Journal
A movement to set stricter rules at the ballot box has run up against a wave of skeptical court rulings, dealing a setback to a Republican-backed initiative to tighten identification requirements and other voting procedures. In separate cases, five federal courts recently have blocked voter-ID and other restrictions enacted by nearly party-line votes in recent years in North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. The court rulings have determined the laws would harm minority voters, who are less likely to possess the required credentials, in violation of the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While emerging as a partisan flashpoint, the impact of the legal developments on Election Day is unclear. A 2014 report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that voter-ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced participation by African-Americans and people under the age of 24 by 1.9% to 3.2%, potentially enough to sway a tight election.
Editorials: Removing Barriers To Voting For Americans With Disabilities Through Automatic Registration | Rabia Belt/Huffington Post
On the first night of last week’s Democratic National Convention, Anastasia Somoza, a disability rights advocate, stole the show, noting the “invisibility” millions of Americans with disabilities often feel, and reinforcing the need for unity that was the Convention’s intended theme. Hillary Clinton reminded Convention-goers of Somoza’s speech again as she accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. Somoza’s powerful speech was the most prominent of several efforts Convention organizers have made to highlight Americans with disabilities. These efforts may have been in response to Donald Trump’s apparent mockery of a reporter with a disability earlier in the campaign. But they also reflect recognition of America’s changing voter demographics. Voters with disabilities are what I’ve referred to as the “ticking time bomb of the electorate.” They have specific needs that the system currently does not address adequately, yet they are a growing demographic — up to 35 percent of voters in the next 25 years will need some type of accommodation to cast a ballot.
A county official said Thursday that enough signatures were gathered to allow a grand jury to criminally investigate Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s handling of Kansas’ online voter registration system. But even Kobach’s harshest critics say they have seen no evidence he committed a crime. The petition seeks a grand jury investigation into whether the Republican’s office committed election fraud and voter registration suppression by deleting registration data or obstructing delivery of voter applications to county election officials. The petition was filed last month by Steven X. Davis, a Democrat who believes a grand jury is the only way to get credible evidence. Kobach didn’t immediately return messages for comment.
Nevada: Initiative would automatically register some DMV customers to vote | Las Vegas Review-Journal
An initiative to automatically register people to vote when they apply for or renew a Nevada license or identification card was filed this week with the secretary of state’s office. The measure, backed by a group called Nevadans for Modern and Secure Elections, would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to transmit information to the secretary of state’s office to register people to vote or update their information. People could opt out of the program. Right now, people can register to vote at the DMV, but they have to “opt in.” The measure will not appear on this year’s general election ballot. A description of the initiative says it is “designed to increase the accuracy of registration rolls by ensuring that qualified citizens who move within Nevada and update their contact information at the DMV will have their voter registration information automatically updated.”
While he doesn’t quite share Donald Trump’s sentiment that the election system is “rigged,” Subodh Chandra says the proof is indisputable that thousands of Ohioans have improperly had legitimate votes discarded. And the Cleveland lawyer whose lawsuit against the state is being heard by a federal appeals court panel today contends Ohio’s voting rules discriminate against minorities. “Counties are applying completely different standards, and those standards seem to correlate heavily by race,” he said during a Columbus press conference Wednesday. “Ohio’s secretary of state and the General Assembly have been trying to skew the voting process in favor of voters they believe are friendly to them. And that mostly white voters,” Chandra said. “That is unacceptable under any conceivable interpretation of the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.”
A U.S. appeals court issued an order on Thursday denying North Carolina’s motion to stay the court’s decision last week striking down the state’s voter ID law. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said staying its ruling now “would only undermine the integrity and efficiency of the upcoming election.” On Friday, the court ruled that the North Carolina law, which required voters to show photo identification when casting ballots, intentionally discriminated against African-American residents.
Voter-identification laws are suddenly in peril. In agreeing Wednesday to relax its voter-ID requirements for the November election, Texas showed how far the legal climate has shifted with respect to the wave of state laws enacted over the last decade. The accord came less than two weeks after a federal appeals court said Texas’s ID law was racially discriminatory. Only two years ago, a divided Supreme Court let the Texas law take effect for the 2014 election. That was before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death left the high court without a reliable majority to uphold ID laws. It was also before opponents in some lawsuits had a chance to marshal their evidence against the measures. With evidence in hand, courts also blocked voting restrictions of various types in North Carolina, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Ohio over the past two weeks.
Harris County, which includes Houston, has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because many of its polling places are inaccessible to voters with disabilities, a new lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice alleges. Many polling places in Harris County, which were surveyed by the justice department during elections in 2013 and 2016, have architectural barriers — such as steep ramps and narrow doors — that make them inaccessible to voters who use wheelchairs, according to the lawsuit. The county also failed to accommodate the needs of voters who are blind or have vision impairments, the federal government argues. Voters with disabilities are “being denied the same opportunities as nondisabled voters to vote in person,” according to the lawsuit. Harris County officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
Australia: Greens call on Labor to support ‘fairer’ method to share six-year Senate terms | The Guardian
The New South Wales Greens senator Lee Rhiannon has warned Labor to abide by fairer Senate rules in the allocation of six and three-year Senate terms following the double dissolution election. “If Labor supports the first-six-elected method rather than the fairer method of a half Senate recount then Labor will be helping the Coalition boost their Senate numbers at the next election,” Rhiannon said. “The main reason for is that under a recount method [Justice party’s] Derryn Hinch wins a long-term Senate seat at the expense of a Liberal senator.” At issue is how long senators have before they face the next election. Senators are elected on six-year terms but only half the Senate faces an election at the end of every three-year House of Representatives term. Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to call a double-dissolution election means the Senate needs to determine which senators are on a three-year term and which are on a six-year term, in order to fall back into the usual election pattern.
The European Union (EU) on Wednesday donated 25 different kinds of electronic equipment to the National Election Committee (NEC) for the upcoming voter registration for the 2017 commune elections. According to a press release issued by the NEC on Wednesday, the electronic equipment included 2,400 HP notebooks, 2,425 computer monitors and various kinds of electronic equipment that will arrive soon. “After receiving the laptops and equipment, voter registration for the new voter list in 2016 should be carried out without any problem,” read the letter. Hang Puthea, an NEC spokesman, told Khmer Times that all voters will be electronically registered from September 1 to November 29, while the election will be held on June 4 next year.
Ghana’s electoral commission will reopen the nation’s voter registration list Friday so that tens of thousands of people whose names were deleted because of a problem with their identification documents can re-register in time to take part in December’s general election. The country’s Supreme Court had ordered the electoral commission to delete from the registry anyone who applied to vote using a National Health Insurance Scheme card. The court said the health card was not a valid proof of identity for voting purposes. So the electoral commission, which compiles the voter list, said anyone previously struck from the registry would have a week to re-register, beginning Friday. A separate period later this month has been set aside for registering those who have never voted before.
Commissioners in Kenya’s polling body have finally agreed to leave office after months of anxiety regarding their fate as the country inches closer to the 2017 elections. The nine commissioners, led by Chairman Issack Hassan, on Wednesday told a joint parliamentary committee comprising members of the country’s National Assembly and the Senate that they are ready to leave office through a political settlement for the sake of peace. That means the joint committee, co-chaired by Senators Kiraitu Murungi and James Orengo, will now have to craft a bill that allows the commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to leave office before the end of their term in September 2017 as part of the larger electoral reforms.