The U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated the nation’s election technology and systems as critical infrastructure, giving state election officials access to technical and policy aid from the agency. The move, announced Jan. 6, makes the election infrastructure in the United States part of the government-facilities critical infrastructure sector, one of the 16 sectors deemed crucial by the U.S. government. Other sectors include health care, energy and the defense industrial base. While some states have reportedly opposed the designation, the DHS assured election officials that states would still have full oversight and responsibility for running elections. … Election-security groups have long called for the infrastructure to be designated critical. Verified Voting, a group of voting experts, pushed for election systems to be deemed critical since 2013, Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, told eWEEK in an e-mail.“Voting systems should receive at least as much attention and care as other critical infrastructure systems do,” Smith said.
National: Jeff Sessions views on voting rights debated by panel during confirmation hearing | AL.com
The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to remove a vital piece of the 1965 Voting Rights Act returned to the fore Wednesday during an initial panel discussion at Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing as the next attorney general. But the morning hearing, during which issues of Sessions’ political and prosecutorial record were debated by his opponents and supporters, was overshadowed by the star power of the afternoon panel and the abrupt ending of their appearance. The afternoon hearing was adjourned after each panel member made introductory remarks. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ended the hearings and instructed everyone that written statements can be submitted into the record until Tuesday of next week. Beth Levin, a spokeswoman with Grassley, said a committee vote has not been set. She said that the committee cannot act until the nomination has been officially sent to Congress, “which can’t happen until after” President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office on Jan. 20.
Editorials: Running for president showed me how our elections are broken. We can fix them | Jill Stein/The Guardian
After a divisive election, with record levels of public distrust for a political system dominated by Super Pacs and lobbyists, ordinary Americans joined together to begin healing our wounded democracy – by verifying the vote in three key states. For three weeks, a historic recount campaign pushed forward in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, defying political blockades, bureaucratic hurdles, legal maneuvering and financial intimidation. This unprecedented effort by more than 10,000 volunteers and 161,000 donors coalesced in a matter of days. It affirmed the determination of the American people to raise the bar for our democracy. At its core, the recount essentially asked one question: do we have a voting system we can trust, that is accurate secure and just, and free from modern-day Jim Crow in our elections? The answer, we found, is a resounding “no”.
California: Clock ticking on open source voting effort as San Francisco extends voting machine contract | San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco is expected today to extend a voting machine contract for two years, even as The City plans to switch over to an open source voting system. An update on those open source voting plans are expected to be provided during the upcoming budget process before the Board of Supervisors later this year as the board is expected to approve the extension today. In the meantime, John Arntz, director of the Elections Department, said The City needs to extend the contract with Dominion, formerly known as Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., for the two scheduled upcoming elections in 2018 – the Statewide Primary Election on June 5, 2018, and the General Election on Nov. 6, 2018. The two-year contract extension from Dec. 11, 2016 through Dec. 31, 2018, totals $2.3 million, for a total of $21 million since The City first entered into an agreement with the voting machine company in 2007 through a competitively bid process. There is also a chance there may be a special November election through a local signature gathering effort.
The Justice Department is suing the city of Eastpointe, alleging that it violates the Voting Rights Act by denying black residents an equal opportunity to elect city council members of their choice. The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Detroit, says no black candidate has ever served on the Eastpointe City Council and that white voters have consistently opposed and defeated black voters’ preferred black candidates. It seeks a court order that would force Eastpointe to change how its city council is elected. It currently consists of the mayor and four council members who serve staggered four-year terms. Of the 32,000 people living in Eastpointe in 2010, nearly 10,000 were black, according to the U.S. Census. Current estimates place the city’s black population at closer to 40%.
North Carolina: US Supreme Court puts 2017 legislative election, redistricting on hold pending appeal | News & Observer
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday put a court-ordered legislative redistricting and 2017 special election on hold while it reviews Republican legislators’ appeal in an ongoing lawsuit. A lower federal court ruled months ago that the current legislative districts are an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, and it ordered the General Assembly to draw new districts by March 15 and hold a rare off-year election in altered districts this November. Tuesday’s Supreme Court order puts that order on hold until a Jan. 19 conference among the justices at which they will consider an appeal seeking to keep the current districts in place. From that conference behind closed doors, it could become clearer whether there will be elections held in 2017. The justices could immediately dismiss the appeal and keep the order for new maps and new elections this year. Or they could ask attorneys involved in the case to give them more briefs in the case and set arguments for later in the year, leaving the question of an election this year ambiguous. Since the court is currently missing a ninth justice following Antonin Scalia’s death, a 4-4 decision would keep the lower court’s ruling in place.
New York: Justice Department Seeks to Join Suit Over 117,000 Purged Brooklyn Voters | The New York Times
The Justice Department announced on Thursday that it had filed a motion to join a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections, alleging that the board’s Brooklyn office violated federal voter registration law by erasing more than 117,000 Brooklyn voters from the rolls before the primary election simply because they had not voted in previous elections. The filing accused the board of failing to take several steps that are normally required before a voter’s name is removed, and also raised concerns about how the board oversaw the Brooklyn office’s handling of the voter rolls. The petition by the Justice Department to intervene in a lawsuit filed in November by Common Cause New York, a good-government organization, lends significant muscle to an effort to hold the agency responsible for a chaotic Primary Day in April, when many voters in Brooklyn were surprised and infuriated to learn that their voter registrations had been canceled.
Wisconsin: Recount raised ‘human error’ concerns among Wisconsin’s county clerks | Green Bay Press Gazette
Now that they’ve finished recounting roughly 3 million presidential election ballots, several clerks throughout eastern and central Wisconsin continue to worry about one aspect of the voting process. Human error. Some voters struggled to mark ballots correctly. Some made the correct marks, but used pens that scanning machines couldn’t read. Some forgot to have a witness sign an absentee ballot. Some election workers allowed unsigned absentee ballots to be counted. “One thing that surprised me (was) the amount of human errors that I’m still seeing with this election,” Fond du Lac County Clerk Lisa Freiberg said. Whether they might be able to improve the process, however, remains to be seen. Clerks agreed that machines used to tally votes worked as they were supposed to. But they also said the recount helped them discover human errors that, while they did not affect the overall outcome of the state’s presidential vote, might have been problematic in a local election in which fewer votes were cast.
The political party of Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, who lost an election last month but has refused to accept his defeat, filed a request for an injunction with the Supreme Court on Thursday aimed at blocking the swearing in of his rival. The question of whether Gambia can install opposition figure Adama Barrow as president is seen as a test case for African democracy in a region accustomed to coups and autocratic rule. Barrow, who won the poll and has received the support of the international community, has said he will go ahead with his inauguration on Dec. 19 despite Jammeh’s rejection of the result. Supreme Court Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, confirmed receipt of the petition, which was filed by Edward Gomez, a lawyer for Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta approved a law on Monday requiring back up plans for an August election if electronic voting systems fail, despite fierce opposition from rivals who say any manual arrangements will open the ballot to rigging. Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga disputed the result of the 2013 race, which he lost to Kenyatta after electronic voter identification and other election systems collapsed. He has led opposition to the new law. The build-up to the 2017 vote has already been marred by protests and clashes with police that led to at least four deaths. Last year’s demonstrations were sparked by a row over who sat on a committee overseeing the conduct of the election. The government agreed to replace the commissioners in a deal with the opposition.
The U.S. Department of Justice sued the city of Eastpointe, Michigan, this week for discriminatory election methods that deny black residents the chance to elect black city council members. The city of about 35,000 is almost 40 percent black but no black candidate has ever won a contested election for city council, the local school board or even any legislative district that includes the city. That’s because the lack of electoral districts “dilutes the voting strength of black citizens,” violating the Voting Rights Act, the DOJ said in the complaint it filed Tuesday. But come January 20, the Trump DOJ will likely approach election cases completely differently, experts tell Newsweek. The same day the suit was filed against Eastpointe, senators questioned Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, about his views of the Voting Rights Act, which became law in 1965 and bars racial discrimination in voting. While answering a little-noted question about Texas voter ID laws, Sessions revealed one major way he differs from the attorneys general appointed by President Obama.
On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the 2017 Colorado State legislative session began in Denver and with it came a proposed draft bill from Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont). The bill would give jurisdictions the option to use approval voting methods in nonpartisan elections. This will be Singer’s third attempt to get such legislation passed. The concept is simple: “Vote for as many candidates as you like, the candidate with the most votes win,” Singer says. “It’s a very positive way of voting.” House Bill 17-0608 would allow voters to check as many candidates as they like in races where political affiliations aren’t on the ballot, such as city councils and school boards. But the law would not require any jurisdictions to use such methods. “I believe that the current system is not creating a system that gives people faith in our government,” Singer says, citing the frustration many voters felt during the 2016 presidential election. “Maybe if people felt like they had more choices, they’d have more faith in our electoral process.”
A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate would fast-track court rulings in challenges to electoral district boundaries, while requiring current boundaries to be used if the ruling isn’t rendered in a timely fashion. Senate Bill 352, filed by Elkton Republican Travis Hutson, seeks to resolve uncertainty among candidates and voters alike – a utilitarian measure in the light of high-profile recent challenges to Florida Senate boundaries as well as to those of the United States House of Representatives. Challenges to boundaries in legislative races must be given an expedited hearing, according to the bill.
Hawaii: Lawmakers to again consider vote-by-mail system, automatic voter registration | Hawaii News Now
Last legislative session, two bills aimed at addressing Hawaii’s low voter turnout failed to clear a final hurdle. Not even lawmakers can explain why. “We may not have felt we had the money to do that at this point,” state Sen. Karl Rhoads said. “Then there are people who just don’t think it’s the right move.” The proposed measures would have set up automatic voter registration and transition the state to mostly mail-in ballots. They’ll be introduced again this year. And Common Cause Hawaii is already gathering support for both bills. “People are even more concerned about making sure that their voices are heard and their votes are counted,” executive director Corie Tanida said. Both bills are aimed at addressing Hawaii’s chronically low voter turnout. Hawaii’s turnout in November was 58 percent, down from 62 percent four years earlier.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate on Thursday defended his new voter identification proposal as an effort to improve administrative efficiency — not to prevent fraud or disqualify voters. And he said he’d oppose any efforts by state lawmakers to expand the plan to include a more controversial photo-ID requirement for voters. “There are many legislators and they have different perspectives, but I’ve tried to encourage them to leave this bill alone, to treat it as what we’ve presented it as and try to keep it as clean as possible,” he said. Pate, a Republican, described his soon-to-be-introduced “Election Integrity Act” in a meeting Thursday with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. The overall effort, he said, is to streamline election administration across the state by bringing electronic voter databases to every precinct in every county of the state.
Updating special-election rules that haven’t been touched since the 1950s, the state House on Thursday approved a bill to fix problems with the process for replacing U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo. The bill extends the time period for holding a special election, allows the Libertarian Party to nominate a candidate like the Republicans and Democrats, and eases the signature burden for independent candidates. The measure passed 122-1. It will go to the Senate next week. It is unusual for the House to pass substantive legislation in the first week of a session. House Bill 2017 is fast-tracked because President-elect Donald Trump has selected Pompeo to serve as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency.
A coalition of organizations called again on Wednesday for an independent redistricting process aimed at removing politics from the drawing of legislative and congressional maps in North Carolina. While the effort has failed several times in the past, advocates say the uncertainty surrounding the latest legal complication might lead to more bipartisan support. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted a lower court’s order that the state redraw what it called racially gerrymandered maps and hold new elections in them. For now, that leaves unresolved the question of whether new maps and new elections will be required. A special election would mean some legislators would serve one-year instead of two-year terms.
Ohio: Should Election Systems be a Top Priority in U.S. Cybersecurity Right Now? | Columbus Dispatch
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted disapproves of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s decision to designate voting machines and other aspects of the election process as in need of urgent cybersecurity assistance. “This was an altogether unnecessary move,” Husted said in an emailed statement. The Republican said the move constitutes “an unprecedented federal overstep” in the state’s right to administer elections. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Friday that election software and hardware would be designated as “critical infrastructure,” which gives state elections officials the opportunity to request cybersecurity services including assistance in response to cyberattacks. Designated election infrastructure includes storage facilities, polling places, voter registration databases, voting machines, and any systems used to manage, report and display election processes and results. Husted, who publicly opposed the move when it was broached in September, said, “I will continue to work with the new administration and leaders in Congress to ensure this does not represent an intrusion by the federal government into state election systems — systems that have served us well for over 200 years.”
A fight over Utah election law could roil the first few weeks of the 2017 Utah Legislature. Speculation is swirling that Rep. Chris Stewart could be named Secretary of the Air Force in the Donald Trump administration. If that comes to pass, Stewart would have to resign his seat in Congress, leaving a vacancy. Here’s where that becomes a problem. Utah has no procedure for filling a vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. State law only says in the case of a vacancy in that body, “When a vacancy occurs for any reason in the office of a representative in Congress, the governor shall issue a proclamation calling an election to fill the vacancy.” That’s it. The law does not specify how soon he has to call the election, and how that election will be conducted. … Here’s how this could become a massive headache.
Virginia: Man admits trying to register fake voters for Virginia progressive group | The Washington Post
While working for the group New Virginia Majority, Vafalay Massaquoi invented voters and filed false applications with election officials. Massaquoi, a 30-year-old former Alexandria resident, pleaded guilty Thursday to forging a public record and election fraud. He was sentenced to 500 hours of community service, along with the 90 days he has spent in jail, and a suspended sentence of five years in prison, pending good behavior. Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter noted in a statement that because Massaquoi simply made up the names of voters, the chance that any fraudulent ballots would actually have been cast was extremely low.
The party of outgoing Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has submitted the draft of a new Electoral Code that provides for a switch of Bulgaria’s voting system. The text has been created by GERB lawmakers Danail Kirilov and Dimitar Lazarov. It constitutes yet another attempt of the main ruling party – the senior partner in the outgoing coalition government – to pass a change of the electoral system, from one of proportional representation to majority voting. On Wednesday, lawmakers postponed the review of a bill that would have introduced first-past-the-post voting. Under the proposals, 240 single-seat constituencies will be created (Bulgaria’s legislature has 240 seats), all of them being in Bulgaria.
A Kremlin spokesman is blasting U.S. intelligence reports claiming Russia is behind the election hacking as “ridiculous” and branding an unverified memo connecting Donald Trump with Moscow as “pulp fiction.” In a sit-down interview Thursday with NBC News, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov forcefully denied Russia had tried to influence the presidential election in an effort to help Trump win the White House. The report “is a ridiculous thing, nothing else … it does not contain any proofs, any evidence,” Peskov said.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has accepted that an Assembly election in Northern Ireland is now “very likely”, following a series of meetings in Stormont on Thursday. The Stormont Assembly effectively collapsed on Monday after Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in protest at DUP first minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to step aside temporarily while an inquiry took place into the “cash for ash” renewable heat incentive scheme. The joint terms of the office meant that DUP leader Arlene Foster also ceased to act as First Minister following Mr McGuiness’s resignation.