President Donald Trump has put himself in a vexing position with his promise of a “major” voter fraud investigation, with little chance of proving his unsubstantiated claim that millions voted illegally in November and a high probability the effort will be panned as a fruitless political exercise. If Trump tries to kick-start an aggressive criminal investigation, he is sure to fuel charges he is politicizing the Justice Department. If instead he chooses a more modest, blue ribbon panel-style inquiry, Trump is likely to have trouble attracting prominent Democrats who could give the effort more legitimacy. Former Justice Department officials warned Wednesday that conducting a presidentially directed, wide-scale probe into election fraud would put top lawyers there in the uncomfortable position of having to pass judgment on a claim repeatedly leveled by Trump, but lacking in evidence: that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the election that delivered him to the White House. “If you do launch an investigation like this, prosecutors would be under enormous pressure not to find that the president was wrong. What if the report is inconclusive?” said Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman under Attorney General Eric Holder. “Voter fraud is a crime, and DOJ usually begins investigations when they find evidence a crime was committed, not because the president has endorsed a conspiracy theory for which there is no evidence. Now, we’re in a position where DOJ has to launch an investigation into a supposed crime just because the president is making up facts?”
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would seek an investigation into what he believes was voter fraud in last November’s election, despite an overwhelming consensus among state officials, election experts, and politicians that it is rare in the United States. The announcement drew rebukes from both Republicans and Democrats who said the Republican president’s unsubstantiated claims of large-scale fraud could undermine voting rights efforts as well as confidence in the new U.S. chief executive. In the Nov. 8 election, Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million ballots. Irked by that large figure, he has blamed voter fraud without citing evidence. “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time),” Trump said on Twitter. “Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!” In an interview with ABC News, Trump said none of the illegal votes would have been cast for him. “They would all be for the other side,” he said. White House press secretary Sean Spicer later told a news briefing that the probe would not focus on only the 2016 election.
National: Congressional investigations into alleged Russian hacking begin without end in sight | The Washington Post
Less than a week into Donald Trump’s presidency, both chambers of Congress have launched probes into alleged hacking by Russia that spy chiefs believe was designed to help him win. The moves could deepen the rift between the new president and the intelligence community — which has said that Russia intervened in the U.S. election with the goal of helping to elect Trump. It could also eventually drive a wedge between Trump and the Republican Congress, depending on the information that is uncovered and how aggressively lawmakers move to follow it. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is in charge of the Senate’s investigation, kicked off its probe Tuesday with a meeting to establish the scope of its inquiries. Lawmakers have pledged to look “everywhere the intelligence tells us to go” in investigating Russia’s activities in the 2016 elections, said the committee’s chairman, Richard Burr (R-N.C.) — even if that includes links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
There are varying degrees of absurdity in the fallacies President Trump peddled during his first week in the Oval Office. Perhaps the most damaging was his insistence that millions of Americans voted illegally in the election he narrowly won. Mr. Trump first made that false claim in late November, tweeting that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” On Wednesday, he announced that he intended to launch a “major investigation” into voting fraud and suggested the outcome may justify tightening voting rules. What once seemed like another harebrained claim by a president with little regard for the truth must now be recognized as a real threat to American democracy. Mr. Trump is telegraphing his administration’s intent to provide cover for longstanding efforts by Republicans to suppress minority voters by purging voting rolls, imposing onerous identification requirements and curtailing early voting. “This is another attempt to undermine our democracy,” said Representative Barbara Lee of California, one of the states where Mr. Trump falsely claimed results were tainted by large-scale fraud. “It’s about not honoring and recognizing demographic change.”
An Arkansas House panel has backed a proposal to reinstate the state’s voter ID law that was struck down more than two years ago, moving forward with the restriction months after Republicans expanded their majorities in the Legislature. The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, after hearing public comment from Arkansans, endorsed the proposal Wednesday requiring most voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. The measure now heads to the House. State Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, told the panel Wednesday that the measure, House Bill 1047, is not focused on specific instances of voting fraud.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is moving forward with plans to replace aging voting machines around the state with “next generation” systems by August 2018. The State Administrative Board on Tuesday unanimously approved up to $82.1 million in spending over the next 10 years under contracts with three vendors who will supply new tabulator machines, election-management software and maintenance agreements. The state is expected to cover about $40 million of the spending, including most up-front costs, leaving local communities to foot the rest of the bill. Cost-sharing requirements will vary by community depending on which vendor local clerks select. “The new equipment offers voters all the speed and convenience of the latest ballot-scanning and election-night reporting technology while at the same time featuring a good, old-fashioned paper ballot that we can always go back and look at if we need to,” Johnson said in a statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by Texas seeking to revive the state’s strict Republican-backed voter-identification requirements that a lower court found had a discriminatory effect on black and Hispanic people. The justices let stand a July 2016 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found that the 2011 Texas statute ran afoul of a federal law that bars racial discrimination in elections and directed a lower court to find a way to fix the law’s discriminatory effects against minorities. There were no noted dissents from the high court’s decision not to hear the case from any of the eight justices, but Chief Justice John Roberts took the unusual step of issuing a statement explaining why the case was not taken up, noting that litigation on the matter is continuing in lower courts. Roberts said that although there was “no barrier to our review,” all the legal issues can be raised on appeal at a later time.
Bulgaria’s new president yesterday called an early national election for 26 March and appointed a former parliamentary speaker as caretaker prime minister until then. Ognyan Gerdzhikov, 70, currently a professor of law and head of an arbitration court, served as speaker of parliament in a centrist government from 2001 to 2005 and is now the Eastern European country’s interim prime minister. Kiril Ananiev, 61, currently a deputy finance minister in charge of budgets, will take over as finance minister, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Ananiev is seen as a safe pair of hands, having served as deputy finance minister in five different governments. The appointments show that President Rumen Radev, who took office this month after winning an election with the backing of the opposition Socialists, is seeking continuity and balance, analysts said.
About two-thirds of Canadians are generally satisfied with the country’s democracy, but just as many think parties should make decisions collaboratively, says a report on the Liberal government’s online survey about electoral reform. It also says Canadians may be open to changes – if the new system is easy to understand. The findings from the much-maligned MyDemocracy.ca survey, released Tuesday by Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, show 50 per cent of respondents are “somewhat satisfied” with the way democracy works in Canada, and another 17 per cent are very satisfied. Still, the survey said 70 per cent of respondents also want a government where several parties agree before a decision is made. And 62 per cent, almost two-thirds, agreed at least in part that it’s better for several parties to govern together, even if it takes longer for the government to get things done.
Ecuador’s ruling leftist party candidate leads voting intentions in the small Andean country ahead of presidential elections next month, but does not have enough support to win in the first round, two recent polls showed. After recent major losses for Latin America’s leftist bloc, Ecuador’s election is being scrutinized for a potential further setback as the end of a regional commodities boom and corruption scandals fuel voters’ desire for change. Lenin Moreno, 63, a disabled career politician who uses a wheelchair, has garnered support with vows to continue popular president Rafael Correa’s social programs, but the ballot seems increasingly likely to spill over to a second round in April. Some 34.3 percent of voters plan to vote for Moreno, a former vice president and United Nations special envoy on disability, pollster Cedatos said on Monday night.
The White House said that President Donald Trump would sign an executive action to begin an investigation into voter fraud on Friday or Saturday, postponing a move that had been expected on Thursday. According to a pool report, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters late Thursday afternoon that Trump returned “a little late” from the Republican leadership retreat in Philadelphia and “got jammed up on some meetings that needed to occur,” prompting the delay. Earlier in the day, Spicer had said that Trump planned to sign the action around 4:30 p.m. The question of voter fraud has been in the news for most of the week. Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to call for a “major” probe into voter fraud and irregularities in the voter rolls, two days after he repeated his false claim that he lost the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton in November.
National: It turns out Jared Kushner and Sean Spicer are also registered to vote in two states | The Washington Post
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest White House advisers, is registered to vote in both New Jersey and New York, while White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is on the rolls both in Virginia and his home state of Rhode Island, according to elections officials and voting registration records. Their dual registrations offer two more high-profile examples of how common it is for voters to be on the rolls in multiple states — something Trump has claimed is evidence of voter fraud. With Kushner and Spicer, The Washington Post has now identified five Trump family members or top administration appointees who were registered in two states during the fall election. The others are chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon; Tiffany Trump, the president’s youngest daughter; and Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin, as first reported by CNN. White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Although voting systems have been designated “critical infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 6, the federal commission that helps state governments develop voting systems and administer elections is unsure of the implications of the new designation. U.S. Election Assistance Commission plans to sit down with officials from DHS on Feb. 2 to get a clearer understanding of that protection. The systems were designated as a subsector the of the existing Government Facilities critical infrastructure sector, one of DHS 15 sectors that also cover the energy, communications and chemical sectors. “We still don’t know what it means,” Thomas Hicks, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission told FCW after his presentation at a biometric technology security conference in Arlington, Va., on Jan 24. “We’re hoping to have a forum to ask DHS and the Trump administration what the designation means and does it go forward” under the new administration, Hicks said.
There isn’t any evidence to support President Trump’s assertion that three to five million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election. But there is one study that has been interpreted to suggest it is at least possible. It found that between 32,000 and 2.8 million noncitizen voters might have fraudulently cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election. The study, based on a survey of 38,000 people after that election, has been under fire since it was published in 2014. Now even its authors concede that it probably overstated the amount of noncitizen voting. “The high-end estimates are likely incorrect,” Jesse Richman, one of the co-authors of the study and a political science professor at Old Dominion University, said in an email exchange on Wednesday. In a post online, he also said that the findings do not support Mr. Trump’s contention that millions cast ballots illegally. Mr. Richman still maintains that some small percentage of noncitizens vote in American elections. But the debate over this study has moved on. It’s no longer about whether millions of illegal votes were cast, but whether there’s any evidence for noncitizen voting at all. The study’s bold claims fell apart because of something called response error: the possibility that people taking a survey don’t answer a question correctly — in this case, a question about being American citizens.
Vice-President Mike Pence said that the Trump administration will “initiate a full evaluation of voting rolls in the country and the overall integrity of our voting system in the wake of this past election”, according to audio obtained by the Guardian. Trump has pledged an investigation of voter fraud in the wake of his unfounded claims that between 3 million and 5 million fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election. In response to a question from Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama, who described Trump as being “spot on” on the issue, Pence described the investigation that the administration is planning on undertaking. The vice-president, who focused on a Pew Research Center report often cited by Trump that referenced issues with faulty voter registrations, pledged to members of Congress: “We’ll be looking at ways to work with you and follow the facts and see where the facts go.” The White House is expected to release an executive order on voter fraud in the coming days. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, described the effort to reporters on Wednesday as an attempt “to understand where the problem exists, how deep it goes”. Spicer indicated that potential fraud only happened in “the bigger states”.
If President Trump follows through on his call for an inquiry into unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud, the request would likely land on the desk of a man whose own history of pursuing such allegations continues to shadow his public record. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is awaiting likely confirmation as Trump’s attorney general, was forced to defend himself earlier this month during Senate hearings on his nomination for the failed, racially charged prosecution of three black activists more than 30 years ago. In that case, Sessions, then the chief federal prosecutor in Mobile, Ala., charged Albert Turner Sr., his wife, Evelyn Turner, and Spencer Hogue with tampering with absentee ballots in a September 1984 primary election. All three were quickly acquitted in a case that raised the specter of voter intimidation and later helped sink Sessions’ previous bid for a federal judgeship.
The House of Representatives Intelligence Committee called on the Trump administration on Wednesday to provide them with what they expect will be thousands of documents related to the investigation of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The request may be an effort to avoid a repeat of an unusual document access arrangement made between the Senate Intelligence Committee and CIA to review information related to enhanced interrogation techniques at secret overseas “black site” prisons during the George W. Bush administration.
National: EAC commissioner underscores importance of congressional support for election assistance | The Hill
While many inside the beltway are focused on the transition to a new administration and Congress, election officials across the country are already busy working to improve the accessibility and accuracy of the 2018 election. Their most trusted partner in that work is the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an agency that is committed to working with States to provide Americans with voting systems that are secure, accurate and accessible.
President Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes, the largest negative margin for anyone elected president in the modern era. But on Monday, during his first official meeting with congressional leaders, Mr. Trump insisted that he actually won the popular vote — once you subtract the three million to five million illegally cast ballots, all of which he says, were cast “for the other side.” Now he is calling for a major federal investigation into election fraud that, according to the White House press secretary, will focus on “urban areas” in “big states” that Mr. Trump lost, like California and New York. Here are the (non-alternative) facts: There were more than 135 million ballots cast in November. A careful review by The Washington Post documented a grand total of just four cases of voter fraud nationwide — including an Iowa woman who voted twice for Mr. Trump. And during the recount litigation in Michigan, the president’s own legal team told a court that “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.” But don’t take it from them. Just ask yourself if this story seems plausible: Sophisticated cheats committed widespread election fraud to the tune of five million votes and vanished without a trace. But they forgot to steal 80,000 votes in three states (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) that would have been decisive for Hillary Clinton. It’s as if the thieves from “Ocean’s Eleven” broke into Fort Knox, left behind the gold bars and took a stamp collection.
Editorials: Voting Fraud Inquiry? The Investigators Got Burned Last Time | Michael Waldman/The New York Times
For days President Trump has promoted the absurd notion that three million to five million people voted illegally in the presidential election. … When a president demands an investigation of voter fraud, what could go wrong? Based on recent history, a lot. Little more than a decade ago, the Justice Department made investigating and prosecuting voter fraud a major priority. When top prosecutors failed to find the misconduct and refused to make partisan prosecutions, they were fired. In the fallout, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was forced to resign in the biggest Justice Department scandal since Watergate. It seems like an odd bit of history to try to repeat — unless the goal is to clear the path for voter suppression. Let’s begin with the underlying fact: There is no epidemic of voter fraud. After Mr. Trump claimed the election was rigged, election officials from both parties, scholars, journalists and experts noted that there was simply no widespread fraud. Mr. Trump’s lawyers even confirmed this in their own court filings in recount efforts in Michigan. There was no extensive voting fraud in 2002, either, when President George W. Bush’s attorney general, John Ashcroft, made finding it a top priority for the Department of Justice. And the federal prosecutors kept coming up empty. After years of trying, they had charged more people with violating migratory bird laws than voting statutes.
A bill to legalize ballot selfies passed a Colorado House Committee Wednesday evening. House Bill 1014 would allow people to take selfies with their completed ballot and share it on social media, which proponents say would encourage voting and allow the exercise of First Amendment rights. “Believe it or not showing someone your completed ballot and taking a photo of it and posting it on social media is currently a crime in Colorado,” said Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Denver and Republican Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs. The crime is a misdemeanor with a fine up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail, though no one can recall anyone who has ever been charged with the offense in Colorado. “I know this made sense 100 years when corruption was rampant but it does not make sense today,” Rosenthal said.
President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that millions of people voted illegally in November brought a torrent of criticism Wednesday from Florida elections experts and legislators, who demanded a federal investigation they say will prove Trump wrong. On his sixth day in office, Trump took to Twitter to say he will seek a “major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time).” At least three in Trump’s inner circle fit his description of voter fraud. His chief campaign strategist, Stephen Bannon, was registered in New York and Florida until Wednesday. His nominee to run the Treasury department, Steven Mnuchin, is registered to vote in New York and California, CNN reported. And his own daughter, Tiffany Trump, has been registered to vote in two states, New York and Pennsylvania. Florida Democrats pounced. In a letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official, Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon urged a state investigation of voter fraud “in the interests of reassuring the citizens of this state and Mr. Trump that his election to the presidency was beyond reproach.”
Michigan limped through the last election on machines that were more than a decade old, but clerks across the state will soon purchase new ones under contracts approved by the State Administrative Board on Tuesday. “Every election currently, we’re always dealing with different types of mechanical breakdowns … just because the equipment is old and it’s time to upgrade to new technology,” said City of Walker Clerk Sarah Bydalek, who is president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said the old machines her precincts use come with humidity issues, and jam if ballots absorb too much moisture. But clerks are expecting those issues to decrease with a statewide rollout of new voting machines by Aug. 2018. The State Administrative Board approved 10-year contracts with three different vendors: Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems and Software and Hart InterCivic. Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said each county clerk would choose a system to go with, and local clerks in that county would purchase that system.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said Thursday voting irregularities in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan that spurred a state audit of the city’s ballots are prompting consideration of expanding post-election audits. Voting machines in more than one-third of all Detroit precincts registered more votes than they should have during the presidential election, according to Wayne County records prepared at the request of The Detroit News. The voting irregularities prompted an audit of the city’s ballots following the election. “We’ve done 1,400 of them, and we’re going to be looking at how we can broaden those audits even further,” Johnson said after a celebration of Michigan’s 180th anniversary as a state, without providing further details. “We’re looking at that right now because we’re doing some auditing of some of the communities that had some issues, and then we’ll know more exactly what we need to do because there’s nothing more important to democracy than making sure that we have great elections.” Detailed reports from the office of Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett show optical scanners at 248 of Detroit’s 662 precincts, or 37 percent, tabulated more ballots than the number of voters tallied by workers in the poll books.
The former Mississippi official whose tweet may have inspired President Trump to order a “major investigation” into voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election says he has been receiving death threats. “There are people who want to kill me,” ex-welfare head Gregg Phillips told The Clarion-Ledger. “It’s insane.” PolitiFact and others have traced the original claim regarding fraud on Election Day to Phillips, who in the past has been accused of profiting from connections he made while serving in government — something he has denied. After Trump’s victory, Phillips tweeted out, “We have verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens. We are joining @truethevote to initiate legal action.” Then he tweeted: “Completed analysis of database of 180 million voter registrations. Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million. Consulting legal team.” InfoWars published a story with the headline, “Report: Three Million Votes in Presidential Election Cast by Illegal Aliens. Trump may have won popular vote.” The Drudge Report picked up the story, too.
Wyoming: House Passes Bill Which Would Automatically Restore Voting Rights of Some Nonviolent Felons | KTWO
A person convicted in Wyoming of a nonviolent felony who completes their entire sentence on or after Jan. 1, 2010, would have their voting rights automatically restored under a bill passed Thursday by the Wyoming House of Representatives. House Bill 75 passed on third reading by a vote of 41-17 with two lawmakers excused. The measure would require people convicted of a nonviolent felony who completed their sentence — including probation and parole — before 2010 to fill out a request form and be found eligible before their voting rights could be restored.
The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an appeal of what B.C. civil liberty groups have argued is an election gag law. The B.C. Election Act forces people to register before sponsoring political advertising during a provincial election — even if little or no money is spent. Though the appeal was rejected and the law was upheld, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) says the ruling is a partial win because it clarifies a law that has caused confusion and even self-censoring in the past. “The court has kind of reinterpreted what election advertising actually is in a way that I think will be helpful to individuals who want to speak out about the issues that matter to them during an election campaign,” said Laura Track, a lawyer with the BCCLA.
Leaders in Spain and Germany voiced concern that the Europe Union faces collapse as a result of anti-establishment forces campaigning to tear down the bloc, singling out their common neighbor France as the potential trigger. Europe’s unprecedented electoral calendar, with ballots this year in France, the Netherlands and Germany — plus possibly in Italy — presents the continent’s “enemies” with the chance to wreck the EU, according to German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat. He cited Brexit’s cheerleaders among the bloc’s foes.
Italy’s constitutional court on Wednesday threw out aspects of an electoral law approved by former prime minister Matteo Renzi but presented a reworked version that can be used immediately, raising the chance of early elections this year. Italy’s largest parties – Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement – are both calling for a vote by the summer, about a year ahead of schedule. The system laid out by the court, which only applies to the lower house Chamber of Deputies, is based on proportional representation and hands a clear parliamentary majority to any party winning 40 percent of the vote.
Nepali Congress leaders have mounted pressure on Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to announce local polls so that it will have a chance to lead the government after the local polls as per the gentlemen’s agreement. Senior NC leader Gopal Man Shrestha said that his party had been asking the government to announce election schedules immediately as per the recent understandingbetween the three big parties — the NC, the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre. “We want elections to be held immediately to implement and save the constitution,” he added. NC leaders claim that there was a gentlemen’s agreement between the NC and the CPN-Maoist Centre that the CPN-MC would lead the government till the local elections and the NC would take the mantle of the government after the local polls.