President Barack Obama broke out the term “fake news” in reference to concerns about voter fraud on Wednesday, making the case that voting should be easier, not more difficult. Obama was asked in his final news conference as President about race relations in the US, saying that “inequality” was what concerns him most. “I worry about inequality because I think if we are not investing in making sure everybody plays a role in this economy, the economy will not grow as fast, and I think it will also lead to further and further separation between us as Americans,” Obama said. “Not just along racial lines — here are a whole lot of folks who voted for (President-elect Donald) Trump because they feel left behind. … You don’t want to have an America in which a very small sliver of people is doing very well and everybody else is fighting for scraps, because that’s oftentimes when racial divisions get magnified.”
National: Swarm of US agencies probe suspected Kremlin-Donald Trump election funding | Sydney Morning Herald
Just days before Donald Trump’s swearing in as American president, a news report has revealed the remarkable breadth of a joint investigation by no less than six US intelligence agencies of claims that Russia helped the Trump campaign – and of the credibility the agencies attach to information that Trump dismisses as “crap”. Attempting to establish a money trail, rather than pursuing lurid, sensational and unsubstantiated claims that Moscow has a sex tape that could be used to blackmail Trump, the agencies are probing allegations that a system for delivering government pensions to Russians living in the US may have been used as a conduit to pay hackers who breached Democratic Party computers to harvest a trove of emails that were leaked through WikiLeaks to embarrass Hillary Clinton. The agencies, according to the McClatchy news service, are the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Justice Department, Treasury and National Intelligence Agency. The Senate Intelligence Committee also has launched its own investigation, which will have subpoena power, to investigate Russian interference in the election.
The leader of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wants a fuller accounting from the Department of Homeland Security about complaints of the agency “rattling of doorknobs” on the state of Georgia’s network firewall. Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent letters on Jan. 11 to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and DHS Inspector General John Roth asking about “unauthorized scans” and “unsuccessful attempts to penetrate” the Georgia Secretary of State’s firewall from last February into November’s election season. The letters to Roth and Johnson were released publicly on Jan. 17. The correspondence was spurred by Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s repeated letters to DHS asking the agency to provide more information on what he said were attempts to penetrate his agency’s firewall from “a DHS-registered IP address.” He said the attempts dated back to last February.
National: With morale in tatters, Federal Election Commission eyes changes | Center for Public Integrity
Federal Election Commission leaders — dogged by abysmal staff morale and a top manager improperly obtaining employees’ confidential critiques — are considering changes to how the agency operates in a bid to restore staff trust. Chief among them: the creation of a new “ombudsman” office dedicated to investigating and resolving staff complaints and internal conflicts, according to an internal proposal written by the agency’s chairman and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. As written, the proposal further calls for formal, anonymous reviews of agency managers by subordinates, as well as better manager training.
The whirlwind of Russian spy news over the past few weeks has forced Americans to confront questions that previously would only have seemed possible in fiction: Did a foreign power influence the American elections? Do the Russians really have dirt on the incoming president, or a hidden relationship with him? Did the Kremlin want Donald Trump to win? Why? We aren’t even certain that these are the right questions, and the data points in this tangled story—the meetings, the scandalous dossier, the tweets—don’t make much sense on their own. Together, though, they reveal a methodical campaign that closely resembles what we’ve seen Russia try elsewhere before. For the past eight years, since just after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008, I have worked in nations around the Russian periphery, and watched the Kremlin systematically chip away at former captive nations that are viewed as threats to the Kremlin’s internal narrative of control and its corrosive worldview. What Russia has attempted in the United States is not an isolated action but one case study in the evolving, expansive hybrid war being waged by the Kremlin against the West. What’s happening isn’t about hacking, or cybersecurity, or fake news. It isn’t about BuzzFeed, or everyone’s new favorite buzzword, kompromat. In the most important sense, it isn’t really even about Donald Trump. The leaders in the Kremlin don’t care about any individual American winning or losing. They care about America as a nation losing.
Maryland: Aide to Maryland lawmaker fabricated article on fraudulent votes for Clinton | The Washington Post
Republican legislative aide in Maryland who was behind a fake news site that accused Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of election-rigging was fired Wednesday. Del. David E. Vogt III (R-Frederick) said he terminated Cameron Harris “on the spot” after learning that he was the mastermind behind ChristianTimesNewspaper.com and its fabricated Sept. 30 article, which reported that there were tens of thousands of “fraudulent Clinton votes found” in an Ohio warehouse. Harris, who graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina in May, had worked for the Republican delegate since June. He did not return a call for comment, but he apologized in a Twitter post to “those disappointed by my actions” and called for a “larger dialogue about how Americans approach the media” and other issues.
Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha on Wednesday introduced legislation designed to increase voter participation by authorizing all counties to conduct all elections by mail. Wayne, a freshman lawmaker, said he intends to amend his bill (LB619) to couple mail elections with establishment of a few voting centers to retain the option of voting in-person for Nebraskans who wish to participate in the traditional manner of casting their ballots at polling sites. Mail balloting would increase access to voter participation by “people without transportation, disabled people, those who are working three jobs, workers who need easier access to the right to vote,” Wayne said.
As many as 40 bills to change New Hampshire election law will soon be working their way through the Legislature, but only a few are likely to find their way to the desk of a newly elected governor who has made election reform a top priority. Many election-related bills have been proposed by State Rep. David Bates, R-Windham. “Most of my changes focus on facilitating better enforcement of our existing voter requirements and do not add any new requirement in order for people to vote,” he said. Bates will be among those attending a private meeting at the State House scheduled for today with House Speaker Shawn Jasper, other legislative leaders and key committee chairs to craft a coordinated strategy for the election law agenda.
New Mexico: Democrats propose amendment calling for automatic voter registration | The Santa Fe New Mexican
All eligible voters in New Mexico should be registered, and the government should do it for them automatically, three Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday in announcing a proposal to enshrine new election law in the state constitution. The legislators said their proposal for automatic voter registration would reduce costs and create a more accurate system. Another likely benefit would be more people voting and holding government accountable for policy decisions, said Rep. Liz Thomson, one of the measure’s sponsors. “The more voices we hear, the better we can represent them,” Thomson said. She is teaming on the proposed constitutional amendment with Rep. Javier Martinez and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto. All three sponsors are from Albuquerque.
Hours after candidates began filing paperwork to run for city office, a federal judge Wednesday denied a request by Pasadena officials to delay her order that the city election be run under an 2011 election scheme to protect the rights of Latino voters. Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in Houston said Pasadena should conduct its upcoming May elections based on eight single-member districts, throwing out the six single-member and two at-large districts that the judge ruled had diluted the clout of Hispanics.
A legislative subcommittee killed an attempt Tuesday to repeal Virginia’s requirement that voters show a photo ID at the polls. A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee voted to shelve HB 1904, which would have eliminated the mandate that registered Virginia voters present a driver’s license, passport or other government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Republicans say the photo ID requirement prevents voter fraud. But the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Del. Steve Heretick of Portsmouth, said it prevents people from voting. “We can’t point to any incidence of voter fraud that any registrar, that anyone on the Board of Elections, that anyone can point to,” Heretick said.
The Gambia: President’s Term Running Out, Gambia Shudders as He Refuses to Quit | The New York Times
President Yahya Jammeh once predicted that his rule could last a billion years. Now, the fate of his nation is hanging on one more anxiety-filled day. After acknowledging defeat in an election last month, Mr. Jammeh abruptly changed his mind, refusing to step aside for the inauguration of the new president scheduled for Thursday and threatening to drag the nation into a bloody standoff. Mr. Jammeh, who has long been criticized for human rights abuses and grandiose claims like being able to cure AIDS with little more than prayer and a banana, has insisted on a do-over election. He declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, warning the nation not to engage in any “acts of disobedience.” West African nations are preparing to enter the country and force Mr. Jammeh’s ouster if he does not leave. In response, Mr. Jammeh has threatened that his own military is prepared to defend Gambia’s sovereignty.
The Jakarta General Elections Commission (KPU Jakarta) said on Thursday the ballot papers for the Feb. 15 gubernatorial election had finished being printed. The total number of ballot papers printed reached 7,292,619, which included 7,108,589 ballots for the fixed-voters list (DPT), an additional 2.5 percent of ballots for each polling station and an extra 2,000 for reserve. KPU Jakarta head Sumarno said that the ballots, which were printed by PT Adi Perkasa, in Makassar, South Sulawesi, a company which earlier won the printing tender, were still on their way via sea freight to KPU Jakarta.
The Senate committee on electoral reforms is set to conduct an inquiry into the hacking of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) database, an incident considered the worst recorded breach on a government-held personal database in the world. In her Senate Resolution 260, electoral reforms committee chair Sen. Leila de Lima said there is a need to find the extent of damage the hacking caused to the voters’ database and the integrity of ordinary people’s personal information. “There is no denying that the Comelec data breach is unacceptable. Those responsible should be fully prosecuted and punished, whether they are foreign or domestic actors,” De Lima said, stressing that the breach is everyone’s problem. “Online lawlessness should be nipped at its bud,” she added.
Changes to an electoral law proposed by Poland’s conservative ruling party are aimed at helping it win local elections next year, opposition leaders said Tuesday. The head of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is Poland’s most powerful politician, says he wants new regulations to limit to two the number of terms served by city and town mayors as well as local community heads. He argues it would give opportunities to new candidates and says some local leaders have been in office for decades. “That helps neither democracy nor the good social relations in the given country or town,” Kaczynski has said. “In brief — there is need for change.” But the leaders of two liberal opposition parties said the proposal aims to help Law and Justice take control of local governments, on top of controlling the parliament, the national government and the presidency.
Turkey’s parliament approved the first seven articles in a second round of voting overnight on a constitutional bill that will extend President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, keeping the reform on course for a spring referendum. The two largest opposition parties in parliament say the 18-article bill, which could enable Erdogan to rule until 2029, will fuel authoritarianism in the NATO member and European Union candidate country. The ruling AK Party, backed by the nationalist MHP, says it will bring the strong executive leadership needed to prevent a return to the fragile coalition governments of the past.