Amid ongoing investigations into how Russia may have used cyberhacking to influence the 2016 presidential election, the Obama administration added the nation’s elections systems to the list of “critical infrastructure.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision, which was announced last Friday, is meant to ensure that elections systems — which include voting machines, storage facilities and voter registration databases — are a high priority for federal cybersecurity assistance and protections. The need for heightened safeguards became clear last year when the FBI found that hackers infiltrated voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. In both cases, state officials later verified that voter information had not been altered. But in the case of Illinois, a hacker was able to steal personal information from nearly 90,000 voters. The decision to add elections systems to the list has caused confusion and concern among the state and local officials who handle U.S. elections.
President-elect Donald J. Trump on Wednesday conceded for the first time that Russia had carried out cyberattacks against the two major political parties during the presidential election, but he angrily rejected unsubstantiated reports that Moscow had gathered compromising personal and financial information about him that could be used for extortion. In a chaotic news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan nine days before he is to be sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, Mr. Trump compared United States intelligence officials to Nazis, sidestepped repeated questions about whether he or anyone in his presidential campaign had had contact with Russia during the campaign, and lashed out at the news media and political opponents, arguing that they were out to get him. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” Mr. Trump said, his first comments accepting the conclusions of United States intelligence officials that Moscow had interfered in the election to help him win. But the president-elect expressed little outrage about that breach and seemed to cast doubt on Russia’s role moments after acknowledging it, asserting that “it could have been others also.”
As he prepared last week to deliver his farewell address, President Obama convened three Democratic leaders in the White House for a strategy session on the future of their party. The quiet huddle included Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrats in Congress, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia. One topic of urgent concern, according to people briefed on the meeting: how to break the Republican Party’s iron grip on the congressional map. Thwarted for much of his term by a confrontational Republican Congress, and criticized by his fellow Democrats for not devoting sufficient attention to their down-ballot candidates, Mr. Obama has decided to make the byzantine process of legislative redistricting a central political priority in his first years after the presidency.
The Supreme Court has been asked formally to review a challenge to restrictions on “soft money” contributions to political parties—the last remaining major element of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law passed in 2002. The filing of a “jurisdictional statement” appealing to the high court had been expected since a lower court ruling last fall, which rejected the soft money challenge launched by the Republican Party of Louisiana. The party committee sued the Federal Election Commission, the agency that enforces restrictions on campaign money to national, state and local parties. The McCain-Feingold law—formally known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA—requires party committees to use FEC-regulated “hard money” for activities affecting federal elections. Hard money includes only limited contributions and no corporate or union money for these activities.
From 1991 to 1999, my job as Oregon’s secretary of state gave me responsibility for working with local government officials to protect and ensure the integrity of the state’s election system. It’s of paramount importance in a functioning democracy that votes—as our citizens cast them—are collected and counted fully and accurately. Recent revelations about Russian efforts to affect the 2016 presidential election have unsettled citizens and election officials alike. To date, there’s no credible evidence that actual votes were tampered with or miscounted due to a cyber attack. But there’s growing unease about the potential vulnerability of the nation’s disparate election systems—operated by 50 states and thousands of local governments—to sophisticated hacks that could threaten the integrity of our voting systems. It’s impossible to guarantee with 100% certainty that election fraud won’t be attempted, or actually happen. But the collective goal must be to make such criminal activity—and that’s exactly what it is—exceedingly rare, easily detectable, and of minimal (or no) material consequence. … Mail-based voting systems today are far less risky than many polling place elections, precisely because they distribute ballots (and electoral risk) in such a de-centralized way. To have any semblance of success, an organized fraud effort must involve hundreds—if not thousands—of separate acts. All would be individual felonies, and all must go undetected to have any chance of success.
DuPage County officials said they are fine-tuning a plan to merge their election commission with the county clerk’s office. County clerks manage election operations in Lake and Will counties, and the Cook County suburbs, as well as many other counties in Illinois, but DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said his merger proposal would preserve bipartisan oversight. “DuPage Election Commission is managed and governed by a bipartisan three-member board, and so I don’t want to simply discard that model. I want to improve that,” she said.
A bill to fix scheduling and ballot-access problems for an upcoming election to replace Rep. Mike Pompeo is set to be considered in the Kansas House on Thursday. House Bill 2017 would revise current state law to comply with federal deadlines for sending military absentee ballots overseas. The bill also would allow the Libertarian Party to field a candidate in the special election and ease the signature requirement for independent candidates to get on the ballot. Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe and chairman of the House Elections Committee, said he expects a floor vote on the bill Thursday. The bill is being fast-tracked because Pompeo has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, and he is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in a matter of days. That will create a vacancy in the Wichita-based 4th Congressional District, which must be filled by a special election.
Maine: Lawmakers may seek court opinion on constitutionality of ranked-choice voting | The Portland Press Herald
The Senate could vote next week on a whether to seek a Maine Supreme Judicial Court opinion on the constitutionality of the state’s new system of ranked-choice voting. Last November, Mainers approved an initiative that would allow voters to rank candidates for governor, Congress and the Legislature in order of preference, thereby enabling an “instant run-off” in the event that no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the initial tally. Maine would be the first state in the nation to adopt ranked-choice voting for statewide elections beginning in 2018. However, opponents have questioned the constitutionality of the system. Next week, the Maine Senate is expected to vote on a procedural order that, if it passes, would ask Maine’s highest court to weigh in on the constitutionality issue. Approval of the order – known as a “solemn occasion” request – would require a majority vote in the closely divided Senate.
No black resident has ever won office for council, school board or legislative district in this Macomb County city, even though one-third of its electorate is black, according to the federal government. The U.S. Justice Department blames Eastpointe’s electoral process, saying electing members by citywide popular vote — instead of by district — is racially discriminatory and violates the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department on Tuesday filed a federal complaint seeking to end the practice, which city officials say has been in place since 1929.
Local lawmakers say they would support efforts to allow voters to physically cast their ballot more than a week ahead of Election Day. State law allows counties to give voters the option of casting an absentee ballot in person within seven days of the election. Legislators said the process was popular in the 2016 election in Washington County and the county saved taxpayer money by not having to process as many absentee ballots the traditional way. They agreed it should be expanded, suggesting a 14-day window. It’s another way to get more people voting, said Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park. “Whatever we can do (to increase participation), I’m for,” Schoen said.
New York: Old lever voting machines could come out of mothballs for New York City runoff elections | Politico
Though the state was required to replace its lever voting machines a decade ago, it’s possible the dust could be blown off those old gray behemoths later this year. “The New York City [Board of Elections] commissioners have mentioned that they are considering using the lever voting machines for the runoff election,” state board co-chair Douglas Kellner said during a meeting on Monday. At issue is whether the city board can program electronic machines in time for a runoff election in this year’s citywide primary elections. Such a race would be held two weeks after the Sept. 12 primary if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote. The city board notes that while the idea came up during its most recent meeting, it hasn’t actually made a request to use the machines yet or even decided that would be the best way to go.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a trial court’s ruling ordering special elections in North Carolina that would have truncated the terms of many lawmakers in the state. The Supreme Court’s brief order included no reasoning, and it said the temporary stay of the lower court’s decision would last only as long as it took the justices to consider an appeal from state officials. In August, the trial court found that the state’s legislative map had been tainted by unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. But it allowed the November election to proceed, saying there was not enough time to draw new legislative maps.
Voting Blogs: Why Was South Carolina’s Voter ID Law Approved in 2012? Will It Remain? | State of Elections
Prior to Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, South Carolina was a covered jurisdiction under Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. In 2011, during Legislative Session 119, the South Carolina legislature passed, and the Governor signed, an act that made voting-related changes. Section Five of Act R54 (A27 H3003) (2011) dealt with voter identification. Because this happened prior to Shelby County v. Holder, pre-clearance was required. The State asked for pre-clearance from the Attorney General of the United States, but it was denied. South Carolina then sought a declaratory judgment in the D.C. District Court. Act R54 was pre-cleared by the court, in an opinion filed on October 10, 2012. However, due to concerns about the ability of South Carolina to effectively implement the law before the elections of November 2012, the court delayed the law’s effect until any elections in 2013.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has said he will not step down before a Supreme Court decision on disputed elections, a ruling now not expected until May. In a nationwide TV broadcast, the longstanding ruler also reiterated his concern at “foreign interference”. Regional mediators, led by Nigeria’s president, are expected in The Gambia on Friday to urge him to accept defeat following December’s election. President-elect Adama Barrow says he will be inaugurated next week. Mr Jammeh, who initially accepted defeat in the 1 December poll, lodged a case before the Supreme Court after the electoral commission changed some results. But the commission insists the outcome was not affected by an initial error and property developer Mr Barrow narrowly won.
“You can crack everything,” says Sandro Gaycken, a security consultant for government institutions and businesses. “Above all, the hardware and software used by German parties is not as well-protected as the high-security CIA computers.” As the director of the Digital Society Institute (DSI) at the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT), he is considered to be one of the leading specialists for IT high security in Germany. He says that even the federal government is not in good enough shape to withstand cyberattacks. “It is quite easy and little effort is needed. A system of 1,000 bots (automatic robots) that can flood a social network system like Twitter would not even cost me 30 euros,” explains Linus Neumann from the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Berlin. Since the 1980s, the organization has been dealing with the weaknesses of computer systems.
Kenya’s electoral body says the technology to be used in this year’s elections will not fail. The opposition is warning of unspecified consequences if elections are rigged for the ruling Jubilee party. Kenya is preparing for its sixth general election in August. Political tensions are high, and fear the country will see a repeat of the deadly violence that followed the 2007 election is growing. But the electoral commission says it is up to the task of delivering a credible election reflecting the will of the people. The commission is still haunted by its handling of the 2013 polls, in which most of the electronic equipment collapsed a few hours into election day.
The Kremlin says U.S. intelligence agency allegations it ran an influence campaign to help President-elect Donald Trump win the White House are false. But if U.S. spies are right, Moscow may wish it hadn’t bothered to meddle in the first place. The belief, widely held in the West, that the Kremlin helped discredit Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by orchestrating embarrassing media leaks, has relegated U.S.-Russia relations to a post-Cold War low and stoked fears Russia will try to subvert French and German elections this year. And true or not, the bipartisan view that Russia tried to help Trump, supported by a classified U.S. intelligence report, may make it harder, not easier, for Trump to make common cause with President Vladimir Putin, something both men say they want. In the latest wrinkle, U.S. officials said on Tuesday that Trump has been presented with claims that Russia had compromising information about him. The accusations are uncorroborated and denied by the Kremlin.