Editorials: Trump, Russia, and the News Story That Wasn’t | Liz Spayd/The New York Times

Late September was a frantic period for New York Times reporters covering the country’s secretive national security apparatus. Working sources at the F.B.I., the C.I.A., Capitol Hill and various intelligence agencies, the team chased several bizarre but provocative leads that, if true, could upend the presidential race. The most serious question raised by the material was this: Did a covert connection exist between Donald Trump and Russian officials trying to influence an American election? One vein of reporting centered on a possible channel of communication between a Trump organization computer server and a Russian bank with ties to Vladimir Putin. Another source was offering The Times salacious material describing an odd cross-continental dance between Trump and Moscow. The most damning claim was that Trump was aware of Russia’s efforts to hack Democratic computers, an allegation with implications of treason. Reporters Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers led the effort, aided by others. Conversations over what to publish were prolonged and lively, involving Washington and New York, and often including the executive editor, Dean Baquet. If the allegations were true, it was a huge story. If false, they could damage The Times’s reputation. With doubts about the material and with the F.B.I. discouraging publication, editors decided to hold their fire. But was that the right decision? Was there a way to write about some of these allegations using sound journalistic principles but still surfacing the investigation and important leads? Eventually, The Times did just that, but only after other news outlets had gone first.

Editorials: Are third-party candidates spoilers? What voting data reveal | Daniel P. Franklin/The Conversation

Green Party candidate Jill Stein does not see herself as a spoiler in the 2016 presidential race. Her voters, Stein claims, would not have come to the polls had she not been in the race. But what if Stein were wrong and she didn’t bring new voters to the polls? The number of votes Stein got in Michigan and Wisconsin exceeded the gap between Clinton and Trump in those states. If you assume that Stein voters were more liberal than conservative and therefore more likely to support Clinton than Trump, Stein could have been a spoiler in those two states. Of course, winning Michigan and Wisconsin would not have given Clinton the presidency. But the question of whether third-party candidates expand the electorate has important implications in last year’s election – and in presidential elections in general. We are scholars of politics and the presidency, but you don’t need to be an expert to know that a shift or addition of just a few thousand votes in one or two key states can determine the outcome of a presidential election. In other words, a handful of voters in the right place at the right time can truly change the course of American history. And so, we decided to test the notion that third-party candidates increase turnout in presidential elections.

Alabama: Legislative districts ruled unconstitutional | Montgomery Adevertiser

A federal court ruled that 12 of Alabama’s legislative districts were unconstitutional, citing an improper use of race in their composition. The three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined the use of the districts in future elections but stopped short of intervening in the drawing of new districts. “It is this court’s expectation that the state legislature will adopt a remedy in a timely and effective manner, correcting the constitutional deficiencies in its plans in sufficient time for conducting the 2018 primary and general elections, without the need for court intervention,” the judges wrote in a separate order. The decision ends a chapter in a nearly five-year battle over the district lines – which has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court – and adds another item to a lengthy punch list awaiting state lawmakers next month.

Arizona: Legislator takes aim at University students in first week of session | The State Press

The Arizona State Legislature drew statewide backlash last week when Republican State Representative Bob Thorpe filed two bills aimed at changing the voting rights and cutting social justice classes for college students in Arizona. House Bill 2260 would in effect disallow any student living in a “dormitory address or other temporary college or university address,” to use that address to register to vote. Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who oversees voter registration in Maricopa County, said that the bill is both unconstitutional and unenforceable. “It violates the First Amendment, it violates the due process clause and it violates the equal protections clause,” Fontes said. “I would think a constitutional conservative like Thorpe would have looked at these things.” Fontes, who made student polling locations and voting rights priorities in his campaign, said that he would stay committed to those goals and staunchly opposed the bill. “This is disenfranchisement on its face,” he said. “It treats one particular class of eligible voter different then another eligible class of voters.”

Iowa: Pate focuses on tech upgrades in voter integrity bill | The Courier

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate stepped right into the middle of a heated debate over voting rights at a time when it is burning brightest. Former President Barack Obama called voter fraud a “fake news” story in his final press conference, while the term “hacking” gets thrown around with abandon after the 2016 election. The debate is happening as some states have ramped up efforts to limit the franchise after parts of the Voting Rights Act were struck down in 2013, and yet others have worked to expand participation. But Pate, a Republican, is hoping — probably in vain, if the early indications are correct — some of the “political nonsense” will die down once people get a good look at his Voter Integrity Act proposal.

Kansas: Voting rights advocates seek to rein in Kansas election laws | Lawrence Journal World

hen Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach set out to make Kansas a national model for fighting voter fraud, he found conservative allies in the Legislature willing to enact some of the most restrictive election laws in the country. The state passed laws requiring voters to show identification to vote and requiring people to provide documentary proof of U.S. citizenship to register. Lawmakers made Kobach the only secretary of state in the country with power to prosecute voter fraud. And they made violations of state election laws a felony. But in the 2017 Kansas Legislature, with about two dozen new lawmakers elected in a moderate wave last fall, a backlash against the restrictive election laws may be brewing. Democrats are expected to push to repeal the proof-of-citizen registration requirement, which Kobach is defending on several fronts in court. One bill seeks to allow same-day registration so people can register when they go to the polls to vote. Another bill seeks to remove Kobach’s prosecutorial power and make penalties for election law violations misdemeanors rather than felonies.

New York: Cuomo Embraces Voting Reform Agenda, But Implementation Poses Challenges | Gotham Gazette

During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem. Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic voter registration, were outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, but the initiatives failed to move through the Legislature last year due to opposition from Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. It is a power structure that continues into the 2017 session, meaning the road to passage is uphill, and steeply so. New York is one of only about a dozen states without some semblance of early voting. While the state already has a form of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cuomo’s proposal is to streamline and expand the practice. If passed, it would amount to more widespread automatic registration, but not universal.

North Carolina: After voter fraud claims, legislature could change election laws | The Charlotte Observer

Legislators are expected to revisit election laws this year in the wake of voter-fraud allegations made by former Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign after the November election. McCrory’s campaign and Republican allies filed protests about voters who they suspected were either dead, serving felony sentences or voted more than once. They also challenged community groups funded by the N.C. Democratic Party that assisted voters with casting absentee ballots.

North Dakota: Election officials warn of equipment failures, seek state funding | Jamestown Sun

North Dakota county officials are warning the state’s aging election system could be “unworkable” by the next presidential contest and are seeking state funding for new equipment. But legislators who are trying to fund state agencies and programs with significantly less tax revenue than they had just a few years ago are hesitant to meet the request. House Bill 1123, introduced at the request of the Secretary of State, would appropriate $9 million from the general fund to replace equipment such as ballot scanners across the state. House Bill 1122 would appropriate $3 million to place electronic poll books, which are currently used by only eight counties to check in voters, in every polling location in North Dakota.

Texas: SB 14 gets second chance: With Trump in office, feds may alter course in Texas Voter ID case | Salon

Hours after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the Department of Justice filed to postpone a hearing on the Texas Voter ID law. The request was granted. The DOJ had previously argued that the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters, but told the court it needed additional time for the new administration to “brief the new leadership of the Department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the Court.” Chad Dunn, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, expects Trump’s Department of Justice to reverse course. “I figure the government will spend the next 30 days figuring out how to change its mind,” he said, adding that now he expects the DOJ to argue on behalf of the state of Texas, which has held that there was no intent to discriminate against minorities. “The facts did not change — just the personnel.” The new hearing date has been set for Feb. 28.

Wyoming: House committee advances voting rights bill, more | Wyoming Tribune Eagle

The House Judiciary Committee advanced bills Thursday that would expand automatic restoration of voting rights to nonviolent felons, create a more defined system for returning a victim’s property held as evidence and allow the state Department of Enterprise Technology Services to conduct background checks on employees. A bill introduced by Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, would automatically restore voting rights to more nonviolent felons. House Bill 75 eliminates the application process for nonviolent felons who have completed their sentence to have their voting rights restored. Instead, it directs the Wyoming Department of Corrections to automatically issue certificates of voting rights restoration to affected people if their conviction was in Wyoming. Felons convicted outside of Wyoming or by a federal law would have to submit a request to the Department of Corrections.

France: In Primaries, Dire Predictions for the Left | VoA News

Five years after a triumphant electoral sweep that returned it to power for the first time in a decade, France’s ruling Socialist Party is weak, deeply unpopular and ideologically divided ahead of the first round Sunday of presidential primaries. Some even warn it risks implosion. Voters are seeking other faces and parties after a leftist tenure that saw three major terrorist attacks, record unemployment and the fallout of Europe’s migrant crisis, which left its mark on the streets of Paris and in Calais’ now-dismantled Jungle camp. The far-right National Front party is widely expected to dominate the first round of presidential elections in April, reflecting a wider populist backlash in Europe and the U.S., where President Donald Trump took office Friday. “There’s a distrust, a dearth of support for the left for a number of reasons,” said analyst Jean Petaux of Sciences Po Bordeaux University. “Some believe it betrayed its leftist ideals, others that it didn’t go far enough in enacting reforms.”

The Gambia: New era of democracy under Adama Barrow | The Guardian

West African troops entered the Gambia’s capital, Banjul, on Sunday, to cheers from the city’s residents, a Reuters witness said, as part of efforts to allow the new president, Adama Barrow, to take office after the country’s former ruler fled overnight. Yahya Jammeh, who led the Gambia for 22 years but refused to accept defeat in a December election, flew out of Banjul late on Saturday en route to Equatorial Guinea as the regional force was poised to remove him. A convoy of around 15 vehicles, including armoured personnel carriers mounted with heavy machine guns and pick-up trucks full of soldiers, rolled down one Banjul street in the late afternoon, according to a Reuters journalist who saw them. City residents lined the road, applauding and shouting “thank you” as the soldiers smiled and waved back. Troops were later seen entering the presidential compound, State House.

Nepal: Government to announce election date in consultation with Election Commission | My Republica

The State Affairs Sub-Committee (SASC) under the Legislature-Parliament on Monday suggested that the government announce the election date in consultation with the Election Commission (EC) A meeting of the Sub-Committee held in Singha Durbar today has tweaked the election-related bills making it mandatory for the political parties and election candidates to submit the expenditure details spent in the course of election. According to the changes made by the Sub-Committee in the Bill, Clause (2) of the revised Bill Designed to Amend and Integrate Laws Related to the Works, Duties and Responsibilities of the Election Commission-2016, the political parties and election candidates cannot spend more than Rs 500,000 as election expenditure during the elections.

Turkey: Erdogan buoyed by vote for powerful presidency | Associated Press

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday began campaigning for constitutional reforms that would greatly expand the powers of his office, only hours after a vote in parliament cleared the way for a national referendum on the issue. Speaking in Istanbul, he hailed the assembly’s early-morning decision saying a more powerful presidency will catapult Turkey to a position of strength. “God willing the people will give the true decision, the final decision,” Erdogan said. After an all-night session capping almost two weeks of acrimonious debate, Turkish lawmakers passed the controversial set of 18 articles. The measures still need to be approved in a national plebiscite slated for April. The bill would abolish the role of the prime minister and introduce a presidential system that critics fear lacks effective checks and balances. A change to the presidential system would be a crowning achievement for Erdogan, who has outmaneuvered and crushed all his major foes. The reforms would potentially allow him to remain in power until 2029.

Uganda: New Electoral Commission Membership, Same Age-Old Problems | allAfrica

In his inaugural speech, after being sworn in as the new Electoral Commission chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama made a passionate plea to Ugandans especially critics to give him time to deliver on his mandate. In making the plea, Justice Byabakama was well aware of the documented lack of confidence in the electoral body and did not shy away from taking note of this, before stating his credentials of being “independent”. “I am coming from a background were being independent is a prerequisite of exercise of the judicial power. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not about to throw off that gown and leave it in court,” he said. Unfortunately for him, Justice Byabakama has in the past been found to have thrown off that “gown” particularly during his time at the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP).