National: Declassified report says Putin ‘ordered’ effort to undermine faith in U.S. election and help Trump | The Washington Post

Russia carried out a comprehensive cyber campaign to sabotage the U.S. presidential election, an operation that was ordered by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and ultimately sought to help elect Donald Trump, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a remarkably blunt assessment released Friday. The report depicts Russian interference as unprecedented in scale, saying that Moscow’s role represented “a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort” beyond previous election-related espionage. The campaign initially sought to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, “denigrate” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and damage her expected presidency. But in time, Russia “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” and repeatedly sought to artificially boost his election chances.

National: US designates election infrastructure as ‘critical’ | Associated Press

Citing increasingly sophisticated cyber bad actors and an election infrastructure that’s “vital to our national interests,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Friday that he’s designating U.S. election systems critical infrastructure, a move that provides more federal help for state and local governments to keep their election systems safe from tampering. “Given the vital role elections play in this country, it is clear that certain systems and assets of election infrastructure meet the definition of critical infrastructure, in fact and in law,” Johnson said in a statement. He added: “Particularly in these times, this designation is simply the right and obvious thing to do.” The determination came after months of review and despite opposition from many states worried that the designation would lead to increased federal regulation or oversight on the many decentralized and locally run voting systems across the country. It was announced on the same day a declassified U.S. intelligence report said Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered” an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. The declassified report said that Russian intelligence services had “obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.” None of the systems targeted or compromised was involved in vote tallying, the report said.

Editorials: The Rules of the Game: A New Electoral System | Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen/The New York Review of Books

Americans have been using essentially the same rules to elect presidents since the beginning of the Republic. In the general election, each voter chooses one candidate; each state (with two current exceptions) awards all its Electoral College votes to the candidate chosen by the largest number of voters (not necessarily a majority) in that state; and the president-elect is the candidate with a majority of Electoral College votes. Primary elections for president have also remained largely unchanged since they replaced dealings in a “smoke-filled room” as the principal method for selecting Democratic and Republican nominees. In each state, every voter votes for one candidate. In some states, the delegates to the national convention are all pledged to support the candidate getting a plurality of votes (again, possibly less than a majority). In others, delegates are assigned in proportion to the total votes of the candidates. These rules are deeply flawed. For example, candidates A and B may each be more popular than C (in the sense that either would beat C in a head-to-head contest), but nevertheless each may lose to C if they both run. The system therefore fails to reflect voters’ preferences adequately. It also aggravates political polarization, gives citizens too few political options, and makes candidates spend most of their campaign time seeking voters in swing states rather than addressing the country at large.There a re several remedies. Perhaps in order of increasing chance of adoption, they are: (1) to elect the president by the national popular vote instead of the Electoral College; (2) to choose the winner in the general election according to the preferences of a majority of voters rather than a mere plurality, either nationally or by state; and, easiest of all, (3) to substitute majority for plurality rule in state primaries.

Florida: Ion Sancho, the voters’ advocate, steps down | Tallahassee Democrat

While Dave Jacobsen’s introduction hung in the air, more than 60 people rose to their feet for a standing ovation for Ion Sancho. Jacobsen had said the Leon County Elections Supervisor will be long remembered for his efforts to make voting easier and the ability to run a problem-free election. Sancho’s term as supervisor ends Tuesday. While Sancho was not available for comment for this story because his wife passed away on Wednesday, his decades-long career speaks for itself. Back in May 2016, Sancho beamed as he walked to the lectern at the Leon County Public Library. He wore an American flag bow tie. He’s an internationally-recognized elections experts and was featured in an HBO documentary 10 years ago. “The most basic civil right, no other right stands if you don’t get to vote for who represents you in government,” he said earlier when asked what he was going to talk about. Sancho has been strumming the same chord for 30 years — leafing through notebooks and recordings of radio, television or newspaper interviews the song remains the same. On this particular afternoon in May the chorus he wrote for the mix of retirees, downtown office workers, and university students was a ditty about career politicians and their bureaucratic henchmen attacking democracy’s foundation — fair, transparent elections.

Iowa: State’s top election official announces voter ID bill | Associated Press

Iowa will require voters to show identification at the polls under a bill announced Thursday by the state’s top election official, and Republicans in the new GOP-controlled Legislature have indicated a willingness to pass it. The legislation mirrors voter ID bills introduced in Republican-controlled statehouses around the United States in recent years and comes just weeks after President-elect Donald Trump questioned — with no evidence — the integrity of voting in the presidential election. “We just want to ensure that voters are who they say they are,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said in releasing details. Pate’s office said a draft of the bill was not available yet, but included a plan to require Iowa residents to show an Iowa driver’s license, passport or other approved form of ID to vote. The office would distribute free state-issued IDs to existing registered voters, according to Pate, though his office is seeking $1 million to help make that happen.

North Carolina: Judges block elections board overhaul as Roy Cooper’s lawsuit pends | News & Observer

A three-judge panel Thursday upheld Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to block a revamp of the state elections board while his lawsuit makes its way through the courts. In the first hearing before the panel of judges assigned to the case this week, Greensboro attorney Jim Phillips argued for Cooper that a law adopted by the General Assembly in one of its special sessions last month violates the constitutional separation of powers. It was a similar argument to one made last week by Phillips on the eve of the date the law would have disbanded the five-member state Board of Elections and passed its duties to the state Ethics Commission. The merger was set to happen on Jan. 1, but Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens temporarily blocked the law from taking effect. His restraining order was set to expire Monday. The three-judge panel – assigned to the case because of the constitutional questions the new law raises – heard from the lawyers for nearly three hours before retreating behind closed doors. The panel contacted attorneys in the case several hours later, letting them know that they had granted Cooper’s request. They instructed Phillips to write an order, circulate it among the legislators’ lawyers and return it to them by Friday.

Texas: Federal judge: Pasadena deliberately worked to reduce voting clout of Latinos | Houston Chronicle

A federal judge in Houston dealt a major blow Friday to the City of Pasadena in a closely watched voting rights case, ruling that officials deliberately diluted the clout of Hispanic voters by revising the system for electing City Council members. Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered Pasadena to revert to its previous use of single-member districts for the upcoming May elections and ruled the city would need pre-clearance from the Department of Justice for any future changes. “In Pasadena, Texas, Latino voters … do not have the same right to vote as their Anglo neighbors,” Rosenthal concluded in the 113-page decision released late Friday. Patricia Gonzales, one of the plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit, said fairness can be restored to the city election system. “All right,” she said, when informed of the ruling. “Now each section will be able to vote on who they want and their voices will be heard. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

Wisconsin: Presidential Recount Expected To Come In Vastly Under Budget | Wisconsin Public Radio

The final cost of Wisconsin’s presidential recount will likely be about half of what was estimated. Seventy-one of the state’s 72 counties have reported their final recount costs to the state Elections Commission. The total is about $1.8 million. Last month, estimates from counties projected the cost of the recount to be about $3.8 million. Reid Magney, spokesman for the Elections Commission, said the overestimates were likely due to counties being “cautious” about the expense. “I think they probably, not knowing exactly what it would cost, wanted to make sure that their costs would be covered,” Magney said.

The Gambia: Army chief reverses pledge and stands by embattled president Jammeh | The Guardian

The Gambia’s army chief pledged his loyalty on Wednesday to President Yahya Jammeh, who has refused to accept defeat in last month’s election and faces the possibility of regional military intervention to enforce the result of the vote. Jammeh initially accepted his loss in the Dec. 1 election but a week later reversed his position, vowing to hang onto power despite a wave of regional and international condemnation. West African regional bloc ECOWAS has placed standby forces on alert in case Jammeh attempts to stay in power after his mandate ends on Jan. 19. Jammeh has called the bloc’s stance “a declaration of war“. “May I please seize this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of the Gambia Armed Forces,” General Ousman Badjie wrote in a letter to Jammeh published in a pro-government newspaper.

United Kingdom: Former MI6 chief warns over hacking risk to electronic voting in UK elections | Telegraph

A former head of MI6 has warned against switching elections to electronic voting because of the risk of hacking and cyber attacks. Sir John Sawers said the traditional method of pencil and paper voting in polling booths was more secure than electronic alternatives. The retired spy chief spoke after his successor recently warned that cyber attacks and attempts to subvert democracy by states like Russia pose a fundamental threat to British sovereignty. Fears of high tech meddling in polls have been heightened by American accusations that Kremlin-backed cyber gangs hacked US political organisations and leaked sensitive emails to deliberately undermine the presidential elections. All parliamentary and council elections in the UK are currently carried out with ballot papers, but a commission set up by the speaker, John Bercow, in 2015 called for secure online voting to be available by 2020.

National: Countering Trump, Bipartisan Voices Strongly Affirm Findings on Russian Hacking | The New York Times

A united front of top intelligence officials and senators from both parties on Thursday forcefully reaffirmed the conclusion that the Russian government used hacking and leaks to try to influence the presidential election, directly rebuffing President-elect Donald J. Trump’s repeated questioning of Russia’s role. They suggested that the doubts Mr. Trump has expressed on Twitter about the agencies’ competence and impartiality were undermining their morale. “There’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement,” James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Russian hacks. He added that “our assessment now is even more resolute” that the Russians carried out the attack on the election. The Senate hearing was the prelude to an extraordinary meeting scheduled for Friday, when Mr. Clapper and other intelligence chiefs will repeat for Mr. Trump the same detailed, highly classified briefing on the Russian attack that President Obama received on Thursday. In effect, they will be telling the president-elect that the spy agencies believe he won with an assist from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

National: Intel chiefs “even more resolute” on Russian election meddling findings | Ars Technica

In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee—a regularly scheduled unclassified briefing on “foreign cyber threats”—Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did very little to preview a report on Russian “cyber” activities around the US elections scheduled to be delivered to President Barack Obama this week. Clapper did say that an unclassified version of the report would be released to the public early next week. However, that version is unlikely to contain any new specific evidence to support the intelligence community’s assertions that the Russian government directed hacking and propaganda operations against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party in an attempt to deliberately affect the outcome of the US election. “We plan to brief the Congress and release an unclassified version of this report early next week, with due deference to the protection of highly fragile sources and methods,” Clapper said in his opening statement. “We have invested billions, and we put people’s lives at risk to get such information. If we were to expose how we got this, we could just kiss that off. We’re going to be as forthcoming as possible.”

National: Congressman introduces plan to eliminate Electoral College | Palm Beach Post

Congressman Steve Cohen has introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would eliminate the Electoral College. “For the second time in recent memory, and for the fifth time in our history, the national popular vote winner — including Tennesseans Al Gore and Andrew Jackson — will not become President of the United States because of the Electoral College,” Cohen said Thursday. “The Electoral College is an antiquated system that was established to prevent citizens from directly electing our nation’s president, yet that notion is antithetical to our understanding of democracy. In our country, ‘We the People’ are supposed to determine who represents us in elective office.”

National: Democratic bill would require Trump, future candidates, to release tax returns | The Hill

Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, on Wednesday introduced a bill that would require President-elect Donald Trump to release his tax returns. The measure comes as Democrats are pushing to increase the financial transparency of Trump and his wealthy Cabinet picks. But it is unlikely to be enacted with Trump taking office later this month and Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress. Wyden’s bill would require sitting presidents to provide their three most recent years of tax returns to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). It would also mandate that major-party presidential nominees release their returns to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) within 15 days of accepting the nomination at party conventions. Under the bill, if presidents and nominees don’t release their tax returns, the Treasury secretary would provide them directly to OGE and FEC. The agencies would then make the returns public.

Arizona: Secretary of State floats election law overhaul; Pima County incredulous | ACIR

Secretary of State Michele Reagan has begun circulating a memo detailing a proposed overhaul of the laws governing virtually every aspect of how elections are conducted in Arizona, from data protocols and recount procedures, to “sore loser” candidates and voter fraud investigations. Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Reagan’s office, said the proposal only begins the conversation about ways election practices can be improved. He said there are two main motivations to Reagan’s proposition: digitizing records and processes, and fixing issues that have come up in recent years. Parts of the proposal, such as requiring counties to report election data in uniform formats, would lead to faster and more detailed results for the public on election night, Roberts said.

Alabama: No special election to replace Sessions; Bentley says move could save $16 million |

Gov. Robert Bentley said Thursday that his appointee to replace Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate won’t have to face a special election for the seat later this year. Instead, the new senator would be up for election during the regularly scheduled contests in 2018, if he or she chooses to run. Bentley said that he could publicly name the new senator as soon as next week, and that he hopes to decide on the replacement by tomorrow. The decision to forgo a special election in 2017, according to governor, could save the state up to $16 million. “It’s a statewide election and you need a primary, runoff and general election,” Bentley said to the media following an appearance during the 11th annual Alabama First Class Pre-K Conference in Mobile. “Each one of those would cost $4 million to $5 million. It will save the state a lot of money.”

California: Lawmaker who wants to move the presidential primary to Super Tuesday | Los Angeles Times

California’s presidential primary could find itself squarely in the middle of the Super Tuesday political sweepstakes in 2020 under a proposal being introduced this week at the state Capitol. And while earlier efforts have failed to either influence the outcome of the Democratic or Republican contests or draw high voter turnout, the plan’s author thinks times have changed. “I think there’s a yearning and a hunger for actual engagement,” said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco), the bill’s author. ” There’s not enough discussion of substantive issues that are crucial to Californians.”

Nebraska: Bill would restore voting rights immediately for felons who served their time | Lincoln Journal Star

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne introduced a voting rights bill Thursday to give felons who have served their time the ability to vote upon release. The bill (LB75) would take away a two-year waiting time for released prisoners with felony convictions. Shakur Abdullah of Omaha has been waiting for his chance to vote since he was released from a Nebraska prison a year ago. He was convicted for two felonies at age 16 — murder and shooting with the intent to kill during a robbery, for which he was given a life sentence. He was resentenced in 2015 as part of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave judges the option of sentencing juveniles to something other than an automatic life term. He was released in January 2016. Since then, he has been working on getting legislation passed that would allow him and other convicted felons who have served their time the right to vote without the wait.

Virginia: Voting changes in Virginia proposed in Assembly | WTOP

Virginia voters may no longer get to wait until primary day to decide which party to vote in; absentee balloting or voter identification laws could change, and lawmakers could face term limits under a series of competing proposals in the General Assembly. The annual session runs only into late February, so action on the bills and proposed constitutional amendments must happen within weeks of lawmakers gaveling in on Jan. 11. The restoration of voting rights for felons is expected to be a significant issue in the session. Gov. Terry McAuliffe moved to restore the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons in June, but that was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court of Virginia. McAuliffe has since continued to restore rights at a smaller scale. Members of the General Assembly have introduced a series of proposed constitutional amendments that would automatically restore the right to vote for some or all felons after they have completed their sentences, or allow for a pathway to get those rights back. A proposal from a number of Democrats, including Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, would eliminate the state constitution’s restrictions on felons voting.

Wyoming: Bill would expand automatic restoration of voting rights to some felons | Wyoming Tribune Eagle

More nonviolent felons who have completed their entire sentence – including probation and parole – would have their voting rights automatically restored under a bill introduced in the Wyoming Legislature. Under the current system, nonviolent felons who completed their sentence before Jan. 1, 2016, were convicted under federal law or who were sentenced out of state can have their rights restored, but must first complete an application process. Felons who were sentenced in Wyoming and completed their sentence after Jan. 1, 2016, would be exempt from the application requirement. House Bill 75 eliminates the application process and instead directs the Wyoming Department of Corrections to automatically issue certificates of voting rights restoration to affected people if their conviction was in Wyoming.

Japan: Early elections in Japan look unlikely till fall, if at all | Nikkei Asian Review

Though some in Japan’s ruling coalition hope for a snap lower house election this month while support remains high and opposition parties weak, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems more inclined to spend his ample political capital on economic policymaking. “In these four days [since New Year’s], I have not thought at all” about dissolving the lower house for early elections, Abe told reporters Wednesday after his annual visit to the Ise Grand Shrine. Many in the government and the ruling coalition think the public would not support going to the polls now, given that Abenomics’ full promise remains unfulfilled. Lower house members’ terms are set to expire in December 2018. “We must escape deflation and put the Japanese economy firmly on a new path for growth,” Abe said at the news conference.

Kenya: ICT experts brush off manual IEBC back-up system | The Standard

Computer experts say it is possible to conduct the 2017 General Election without a manual back-up system. A cross-section of experts disputed claims by ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru that a manual system is necessary in case the electronic voting system fail. In a memorandum sent to the Senate under the lobby Kenya ICT Action Network (KITCAnet), the experts drawn from both the private sector and academia have asked Parliament to revise the amendment to sections 39 and 44 of the Elections Law (Amendment) Bill, 2016. “The employment of technology in elections management is meant to address questions of integrity of the election and efficiency in transmission of the results,” explains KITCAnet in part. KICTAnet further states that once the IEBC system has been procured, it is possible for the technical committee to agree on the best way of mitigating potential system vulnerabilities.

Nepal: Printing ballot papers for local elections may take two months: Election Commission | My Republica

The Election Commission (EC) on Thursday said that it might take at least two months to print the ballot papers for the local elections if additional printing machines are not arranged for Janak Sikshya Samagri Kendra (JSSK). After holding consultations with the officials of JSSK and Education Secretary Shanta Kumar Shrestha, is also the chairperson of JSSK, the Election Commission has reached to the conclusion that printing of ballot papers will not get accomplished in less than two months. It has also stressed the need of seeking alternatives for printing the ballot papers in time. “Printing ballot papers will not be easy unless we purchase new machines or seek alternatives to expedite the ballot printing process,” said Election Commissioner Ila Sharma.

Philippines: Poll chief liable for ‘Comeleak’ | Inquirer

What a difference one month makes. In December, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista basked in the glow of an agency that was hailed globally as the Electoral Commission of the Year for the successful May 9, 2016, polls. A month later, he was facing potential criminal prosecution over the March 2016 hacking of the Comelec website that has since been described as one of the worst breaches of a government-controlled database. The National Privacy Commission said on Thursday that Bautista had committed “gross negligence” under the Data Privacy Act of 2012, or Republic Act No. 10173. This came to light following an investigation of a “data breach” from March 20 to 27 last year. The breach exposed almost 77 million voter registration records. Sensitive information, such as voters’ full names, addresses, passport details and birthdays were posted on online platforms and a website that has since been taken down. So notorious was the event that it even has its own name: Comeleak.

Editorials: Showing ID at polling stations will not end election fraud | Matthew Cole/The Conversation UK

The UK’s former communities secretary, Eric Pickles, ended 2016 by claiming the mantle of defender of British democracy. To combat electoral fraud in local government he called for new controls to guarantee the probity of voting in municipal elections. Most notably, this would mean the requirement of voters to produce photographic ID before they are allowed into a polling booth. The proposals were dismissed by some as using “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. But that metaphor may actually be too generous. The intended target of the reforms may be missed altogether, while the collateral damage to British elections could be significant. Pickles’s sledgehammer is more like a blunderbuss.