A dispute erupted on Monday between top US lawmakers on the intelligence committees in Congress, as Democrats suggested Republicans were incapable of conducting an independent investigation into alleged contacts between Donald Trump and Russian intelligence sources. Tensions between the two parties escalated when Devin Nunes, the Republican who chairs the House intelligence panel, claimed he had not seen any evidence that associates of Trump had communicated with Russian officials and said calls for a special committee to probe the issue would amount to a “witch hunt”. “As of right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls,” Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I don’t have that. And what I’ve been told by many folks is that there’s nothing there.” He added: “At this time, I want to be very careful that we can’t just go on a witch-hunt against Americans because they appear in news stories.”
A federal judge has asked the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to say whether its executive director had the authority to unilaterally require people to prove their citizenship in order to register to vote using a federal form in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon put the question to the commission on Saturday and gave it until June 1 to respond.
Editorials: Want Secure Elections? Then Maybe Don’t Cut Security Funding | Dan S. Wallach and Justin Talbot-Zorn/WIRED
Last Week, the House Administration Committee voted on party lines to defund the Election Administration Commission, the leading federal agency responsible for helping states run smooth elections and preventing hacking. Republicans justified the move as a way to save money and shrink the size and scope of government: “We don’t need fluff,” said Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), the committee chairman, explaining his vote. But the move wasn’t just Capitol Hill budget politics as usual. It’s evidence of a radical disconnect between a handful of influential House Republicans and nearly everyone else—including the scientific community, leading cybersecurity experts, and even the White House—who contend that voting vulnerabilities are a serious problem. On the morning of the election, Donald Trump called Fox News to give his views on the state of voting in the United States: “There’s something really nice about the old paper ballot system—you don’t worry about hacking.” Trump wasn’t going rogue. While his “voter fraud” comments have gotten serious attention of late, he has also, like many conservatives, expressed concern about the vulnerability of voting systems.
The next remap of California’s political lines is more than four years away, but some legal fights already have begun. Monday, Los Angeles County asked a judge to block a 2016 California law putting a new commission in charge of redrawing county supervisors’ districts after the 2020 census, contending in a lawsuit that the constitution does not allow a “state-imposed experiment in redistricting by partisan, unaccountable and randomly selected commissioners.”
Rodney Cruz was born an American citizen. He did a tour in Iraq during 10 years in the Army, and was wounded on the battlefield three times, eventually suffering a traumatic brain injury. His enlistment followed in the footsteps of many of his relatives, an unbroken line of military service. Five successive generations of his family have put their lives on the line for the country, but like four million other Americans in the U.S. territories, Cruz, as a resident of Guam, is constitutionally barred from voting in federal elections. But with some help from a brand-new legal platform, Cruz intends to change that. As the founder of the Iraq-Afghanistan Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific, Cruz is one of the lead plaintiffs in the Segovia v. Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners’ case, a lawsuit seeking to challenge the prohibition on residents of U.S. territories voting in federal elections. The suit is one of several recent legal challenges around the issue of voting rights, sovereignty, and citizenship in the U.S. territories. After the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled against the plaintiffs and denied a motion for summary judgment last year, the plaintiffs and a nonprofit voting-rights organization called We the People Project turned to crowdfunding to finance an appeal to the U.S. Seventh Circuit court.
Early voting in Iowa would be reduced under new proposed changes to a voter identification bill approved Monday by a Republican-controlled House subcommittee. The changes, introduced in an amendment by Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Marion, go beyond the scope of the voter ID bill originally filed and promoted by Secretary of State Paul Pate. The amendment was approved about an hour after it was made public during a subcommittee of the House State Government Committee, which Rizer chairs. It advanced with only Republican support. Among the changes is a plan to reduce early voting in a primary or general election in Iowa from 40 days to 29 days. Iowa has one of the longest early voting periods in the country. Rizer said it’s wrong to assume fewer people will vote early under the proposed new system.
A bill requiring Iowans to show identification at the polls was approved by a panel of legislators Monday amid concerns the requirements could restrict access to voting. House Study Bill 93 would make a number of election-related changes that Secretary of State Paul Pate says are needed to ensure the integrity of Iowa’s election processes and prevent fraud. Among them is provision that would require every voter to present valid government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or military ID. “We don’t have a voter fraud issue in the state of Iowa,” said Connie Ryan, a lobbyist with the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund. “And it makes no sense to put in provisions that would actually limit people’s ability to vote.” According to an Associated Press report, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office was notified of 10 potentially improper votes cast out of 1.6 million counted statewide in the most recent elections. But the proposal remains popular. According to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll conducted earlier this month, 69 percent of respondents said they support requiring an ID to vote. And although the plan is most popular among Republicans, with 88 percent saying they support mandatory voter ID, 48 percent of Democrats also said they think voters should have identification.
A lawsuit challenging the state’s 20-day voter registration cutoff deadline is working its way through the courts with a goal of finding a final resolution ahead of next year’s elections. Defenders of the 20-day cutoff say it’s an important tool for the orderly management of the election process in Massachusetts. Critics say ending the voter registration period 20 days before Election Day is arbitrary. They point to the state’s adoption of early voting last year that allowed voters to begin casting ballots on Oct. 24, just five days after the Oct. 19 registration cutoff. “So as a practical matter you had to be able to let people vote five days after the registration cutoff,” said Kirsten Mayer, a lawyer with the firm Ropes & Gray arguing against the existing registration deadline. “So under those circumstances how can you say you need 20 days?”
The New Hampshire State House is currently considering several bills that would impact voting and election laws in the state. Students, along with many others, would be highly affected by these new bills if they were to be passed. A Republican-led state house has put forward more than 40 new election bills that will be voted upon in the upcoming months. David Bates, a Republican state representative from Windham, has been the guiding force behind most of these bills that oppose such voting. Election officials in New Hampshire have repeatedly said that there is no widespread voter fraud in the state, according to NHPR. The definition of domicile would be changed under these laws, meaning that those who do not plan to stay in the state on a relatively permanent-basis would no longer be allowed to vote. With these laws in place, out-of-state students would no longer be allowed to vote.
A proposal to open New Mexico’s primary elections to independent voters survived – just barely – its first challenge in the state Senate.
The bill made it out of the Senate Rules Committee on Monday without a recommendation and now heads to the Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before reaching the Senate floor. But that was only after a motion to recommend passage of the bill failed on a tie vote. A similar proposal, meanwhile, is also advancing through the House, though it has not yet reached the floor. Monday’s action centered on Senate Bill 205, sponsored by Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales.
North Carolina: Republican lawmakers want Supreme Court review of voting law continued | News & Observer
North Carolina Republican legislative leaders want the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the new Democratic state attorney general’s bid to dismiss their appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a voting law based on racial bias. Lawyers the General Assembly hired to defend the 2013 law approved by the GOP objected Monday to Attorney General Josh Stein’s petition last week and want the justices to continue considering their previously filed appeal. They say Stein lacks authority to step in because previous Attorney General Roy Cooper stopped defending the law last summer after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit found the law targeted minority voters. The legislature’s private lawyers continued the appeal.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office has found 82 additional non-U.S. citizens who registered and voted in at least one election in Ohio. Husted announced today that his office discovered a total of 385 non-citizens improperly registered in 2015, including those who voted. Coupled with similar findings in 2013 and 2015, Husted reported a total of 821 non-citizens have been identified, with 126 of them having voted in the period. While the numbers may look significant, a tiny percentage of those discovered in two previous inquiries were pursued and prosecuted for voter fraud. Of 44 people referred for prosecution in two previous elections, Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said eight were prosecuted and five were convicted. one was reported to a diversion program, and the records were sealed in two cases so the disposition is not known.
The Justice Department on Monday dropped a crucial objection to Texas’ strict voter-identification law, signaling a significant change from the Obama administration on voting-rights issues. The Republican-led Texas Legislature passed one of the toughest voter ID laws in the country in 2011, requiring voters to show a driver’s license, passport or other government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. The Obama administration’s Justice Department sued Texas to block the law in 2013 and scored a major victory last year after a federal appeals court ruled that the law needed to be softened because it discriminated against minority voters who lacked the required IDs. Opponents of the law said Republican lawmakers selected IDs that were most advantageous for Republican-leaning white voters and discarded IDs that were beneficial to Democratic-leaning minority voters. For example, legislators included licenses to carry concealed handguns, which are predominantly carried by whites, and excluded government employee IDs and public university IDs, which are more likely to be used by blacks, Hispanics and Democratic-leaning younger voters. But the Justice Department under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a judge on Monday that it was withdrawing its claim that Texas enacted the law with a discriminatory intent.
The Trump administration is abandoning the government’s six-year-old claim that Texas’ voter ID law was intended to discriminate against Hispanics and other minorities, signaling a new course in one of the signature voting rights cases brought by former President Barack Obama. The about-face came on the eve of Tuesday’s scheduled hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi. It also came a week after the U.S. Justice Department and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had asked for a delay in the case because the state legislature is considering changes to the law, which the federal courts already have found to have a discriminatory impact. In court filings Monday, the Justice Department again cited new efforts in the Texas Legislature to “rectify any alleged infirmities” with the 2011 voter identification law, including a “reasonable impediment or indigency exception.” A U.S. Justice Department spokesman said the government would remain a party to a broader discrimination lawsuit brought by a number of legal and civil rights groups.
Wisconsin’s Republican attorney general filed an appeal Friday with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a ruling striking down GOP-drawn legislative boundaries as unconstitutional. Brad Schimel had said he would appeal since a panel of judges last month struck down the maps and ordered the Republican-controlled Legislature to draw new boundaries. The judges ordered that new maps be drawn by November so they would be in place for the 2018 election. Democrats who challenged the maps are calling on the Legislature to move quickly to draw new ones. But Schimel and Republicans don’t want to do that unless the Supreme Court requires it.
Bulgaria: Could the lack of voting machines sink Bulgaria’s March parliamentary elections? | The Sofia Globe
The fact that there will not be voting machines at all polling stations in Bulgaria’s March 26 2017 early parliamentary elections could open the way for a challenge in the Constitutional Court challenge – but there is no certainty that such a challenge would succeed. This emerges from the view taken by some members of the Central Election Commission (CEC) and specialists in Bulgarian constitutional law. The CEC decided on February 25 not to accept the sole bid to supply the machines, saying that the bidder did not meet the technical and timeframe criteria to supply the 12 500 machines needed to comply with a Supreme Administrative Court ruling handed down on February 1. The court ruled that to comply with an amendment to electoral law approved in 2015, there should be voting machines at all polling stations, in Bulgaria and abroad, as an alternative to using a ballot paper.
Hurrying home from work, Noellie Benison paused to take in the grinning poster of the former U.S. president, flanking a busy meridian in northern Paris. “Obama 2017,” she read out. Below: the French translation of his famous tagline, “Oui, on peut” — “Yes we can.” “If Obama runs, I’ll vote for him, that’s for sure,” said 55-year-old Benison, who is planning to cast a blank ballot in this spring’s presidential vote. “We’ve lost our confidence,” she added, dismissing the current crop of candidates. “They’re all the same.” What started as a joke over beers by a quartet of Parisians in their 30s has made international news in less than a week. Today, Obama2017.fr – an online petition to put Barack Obama on the French ballot, has received 50,000 signatures, its organizers say.
It’s almost 10 p.m. on a Monday night but the 100 or so people assembled in a hotel conference room in North Holland are in no hurry to go home. They’re asking a dapper, young politician pointed and thoughtful questions that reveal a hunger for political debate. It would be an idyllic picture of one of the world’s most accomplished democracies if the content of the discussion weren’t evidence of a democratic process gone badly wrong. The March 15 election in the Netherlands is expected to deliver a further strong signal to global political elites that many Western voters no longer accept the way in which they are governed. And that signal won’t be limited to the expected strong showing for Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party (PVV).
Acrimonious campaigning ahead of Thursday snap elections in Northern Ireland has increased antagonism between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists and exacerbated fears devolved power may revert to London for the first time in a decade. The power-sharing government collapsed in January after Sinn Fein nationalists withdrew support for Democratic Unionist Party First Minister Arlene Foster after she refused to step aside during an inquiry into a scandal around heating subsidies. Many see the rift as a symptom of a deeper split in the British province between nationalists, balking at the prospect of border posts going up with Ireland after Britain’s exit from the European Union, and Unionists who fear a new push for a united Ireland.
National: Top Republican says special prosecutor should investigate Russian meddling in Trump’s election | The Washington Post
A senior Republican lawmaker on Friday agreed that a special prosecutor should investigate Russia’s alleged interference with the 2016 presidential election. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) became one of the few Republican representatives to state publicly the need for an independent investigation into Russia’s reported election meddling. This comes as Democrats have increasingly pushed for an investigation into President Trump’s associates’ ties to Russia. In an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Issa, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, first told the progressive show host that House and Senate intelligence committees would look into Russia’s activities “within the special areas they oversee.” That was not sufficient for Maher, who pressed Issa — formerly the head of the House Oversight Committee — on whether he would have “let that slide” had similar suspicions arose involving the Democrats. Maher has been a vocal critic of Trump. … Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), echoing other Democrats, has said that “the appearance of bias is unavoidable” if Sessions does not recuse himself in an independent investigation. Sessions indicated during the confirmation process that he would not recuse himself during any investigations involving Trump.
FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe may have violated multiple existing Justice Department rules controlling contacts between the bureau and White House officials when they spoke earlier this month with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus about their ongoing investigation into Russia’s influence operation against the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to several former senior Justice Department officials. The first questionable contact came when McCabe spoke with Priebus for five minutes after a 7:30 a.m. meeting at the White House on Feb. 15 on an unrelated intelligence issue. The day before, the New York Times had reported that Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had multiple contacts with known agents of Russian intelligence in the year before the election. At the White House meeting, McCabe told Priebus, ‘I want you to know story in NYT is BS,” according to senior Administration officials who briefed reporters on Feb. 24. Priebus asked McCabe what could be done to push back, saying the White House was “getting crushed” on the story. McCabe demurred, and then later called back to say, “We’d love to help but we can’t get into the position of making statements on every story.”
Congressional Democrats are questioning whether recent comments from leading Republicans, made at the request of the White House, have compromised Senate and House investigations into possible Russian influence on the recent election. The comments were from the chairs of the Senate and House intelligence committees, which are expected to play pivotal roles in investigation of Russian interference in the election and Russian influence in the administration of President Donald Trump. The comments came last week after the White House admitted contacting Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and asking them to speak to reporters to debunk media reports of “repeated” or “constant” contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
National: Senators ask feds for ‘full account’ of work to secure election from cyber threats | The Hill
Democratic senators are asking a federal agency that helps certify and secure voting systems for a “full account” of its work to secure the 2016 election from Russian hackers. The senators, led by Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), also want the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to detail cybersecurity challenges facing state and local officials as they look to safeguard future elections. The intelligence community concluded in an unclassified report released in January that Russia engaged in a cyber and disinformation campaign during the election to undermine U.S. democracy and damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Intelligence officials determined that “Russian intelligence accessed elements of multiple state or local electoral boards,” though they found no systems involved in voting tallying were breached.
I first met Cinderria, an 18-year-old woman of color, in a library in Downtown Madison. She approached the table marked “Voter ID Assistance” and explained that with the 2016 presidential primary only a few months away, and despite several trips to the DMV, she still didn’t have a valid ID as mandated by Wisconsin’s strict new laws. It turned out she needed a Social Security card but wasn’t sure how to obtain one. Proponents of voter ID laws don’t want to acknowledge that Cinderria’s case is far from unusual. Experts project that in Wisconsin alone, 300,000 eligible voters lack the ID necessary to cast a ballot. Across the country, 32 states have some form of voter ID law, creating a crisis of disenfranchisement not seen since the civil rights era. These ID laws don’t touch all groups equally: Voters of color, like Cinderria, are hit hardest. The elderly, students and low-income voters also are disproportionately affected. (A new study published in the Journal of Politics, for instance, found that strict ID laws lower African-American, Latino, Asian-American and multiracial American turnout.)
St. Paul mayoral candidate Elizabeth Dickinson discusses ranked-choice voting at a town hall meeting Wednesday. The debate over how St. Paul residents elect city leaders is heating up again. The city started using ranked-choice voting in 2011, forgoing primaries and putting all the candidates on the ballot to be ranked. Supporters say it has been a more inclusive way to elect city leaders and resulted in people with the broadest support winning. Opponents, who are beginning the push to return to the primary system, say it is confusing and has failed to produce the promised growth in voter turnout. The two sides squared off this week at a sparsely attended town hall forum. But behind the scenes, the debate had already begun. On Monday, Charter Commission Member Chuck Repke plans to propose a change to the city’s charter to eliminate the ranked-choice system. The proposal has already met resistance from City Council members.
Montana’s Republican party leadership is opposing a Republican-sponsored measure to reform the state’s elections, warning that it would “give Democrats an inherent advantage” due to their ability to increase voter turnout door-to-door. In an email titled Emergency Chairman’s Report, the Republican party chairman, Jeff Essmann, set off a furious war of words, with Democrats accusing Republicans of attempting to suppress the vote because it might mean a loss for the party. The dispute focuses on a bipartisan bill before the Montana legislature that would make an upcoming election to replace Representative Ryan Zinke, a Republican nominated by Donald Trump to be interior secretary, an all-mail ballot vote. Essmann warned that if the bill passed, the Democrats would have an advantage “in close elections due to their ability to organize large numbers of unpaid college students and members of public employee unions to gather ballots by going door to door”. “This a Republican saying, no, let’s not let everybody vote,” said Nancy Keenan, the state’s Democratic party leader. “This is wrong, and it is wrong that he would attempt to suppress votes.”
State legislators are considering a raft of voting-related bills this session, including several aimed at tightening eligibility at the polls. The Senate is considering proposals targeting the definition of a domicile, the standard used to determine if someone can legally vote in New Hampshire. House members have submitted bills to change the definition of residency and require the Secretary of State’s Office to investigate voting irregularities, among others. Another high-profile House bill that would have eliminated same-day voter registration was amended, then later effectively killed. All told, both chambers will review nearly 50 bills related to voting, a notable increase over previous sessions, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Two Democrats joined with Republicans to kill a bill that would have automatically registered all eligible adults as voters when they obtain a New Mexico driver’s license. Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, questioned whether the bill was necessary when the Motor Vehicle Division can already offer eligible adults the chance to register to vote. Republicans on Thursday evening moved to table the bill in the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee. Rodella and a newly elected Democrat, Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales, sided with Republicans to stop the proposal on a 5-2 vote.
A long-running lawsuit over Texas’ contentious voter ID law will move forward in federal court, even as the Republican-controlled Legislature considers how best to modify it. A federal judge on Friday denied a request from the U.S. Justice Department and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to delay the case. The Trump administration joined with Texas to ask that next week’s hearing be postponed until June when the Texas Legislature’s session finishes.
Texas: One-man votes form districts that give developers millions in taxing power | Dallas Morning News
One man, said to be living in a trailer on 600 acres of Collin County farm land, cast the single vote this month to give a developer taxing power. The developer, who needed $63 million to build a subdivision, put the trailer there. The voter, who has a home miles away in McKinney, began renting the trailer shortly before the election. Meanwhile in Dallas, another one-man election this month decided whether a developer would get taxing power to finance a $700 million office-retail project. The person casting the ballot was the 24-year-old son of a vice president at the developer’s company. The company owned the home where he was, at least on paper, living. You can probably guess how that turned out. The two elections, if you can really call them that, remind me of a 2001 News investigation that I wrote with Brooks Egerton called “Government by Developer.” We found that developers across North Texas were quietly winning hundreds of millions of dollars in taxing power from voters and elected officials to whom they provided homes, jobs or other benefits. The power came through governmental taxing districts created in elections required by Texas law. Developers bought raw land for their projects, drew proposed district boundaries to exclude existing residents and then moved the only voters into rent-free mobile homes. The elections had as few as one voter and no more than 10. The voters were sometimes employees of the developer.