As President Donald Trump hurls unfounded allegations of colossal fraud in last fall’s election, lawmakers in at least 20 mostly Republican-led states are pushing to make it harder to register or to vote. Efforts are underway in places such as Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Nebraska and Indiana to adopt or tighten requirements that voters show photo ID at the polls. There is a move in Iowa and New Hampshire to eliminate Election Day registration. New Hampshire may also make it difficult for college students to vote. And Texas could shorten the early voting period by several days. Supporters say the measures are necessary to combat voter fraud and increase public confidence in elections. But research has shown that in-person fraud at the polls is extremely rare, and critics of these restrictions warn that they will hurt mostly poor people, minorities and students — all of whom tend to vote Democratic — as well as the elderly. They fear, too, that the U.S. Justice Department, under newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will do little to intervene to protect voters.
President Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security indicated Tuesday that he would keep in place the Obama administration’s designation of election infrastructure as “critical.” “I believe we should help all of the states to make sure their systems are protected, so I would argue we should keep that in place,” Secretary John Kelly said during testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee in response to questioning from Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.). The Obama administration designated the U.S. election infrastructure as “critical” in January, just two weeks before Trump’s inauguration. The move extended to storage facilities, polling places and centralized vote tabulation locations supporting the election process, as well as information and communications technology such as voter registration databases and voting machines. The decision resulted in these systems being subject to federal protections.
The new Homeland Security Secretary said Tuesday his department will not overturn the last-minute decision by previous leadership to designate the U.S. election system as “critical national infrastructure,” despite calls from some state officials to reverse the designation. “I would argue that yes, we should keep that in place,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee during his first time testifying as a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet. Last month, just days before leaving office, outgoing leadership at DHS blindsided state and local officials by designating the election systems as “critical national infrastructure.” At the stroke of a pen, the property of 8,000 election jurisdictions across the country was added to a special DHS list of 16 “sectors” of vital U.S. national industry, ranging from banking and telephones to water and sewage systems.
There has been plenty of talk in recent weeks, much of it emanating from the White House, about voter fraud. Now, a new study released by the Brennan Center For Justice, entitled “Election Integrity: A Pro-Voter Agenda,” confirms in-person voter fraud is a rarity. The paper argues that the integrity of elections can be strengthened without discouraging eligible voters. On January 25th, President Donald Trump Tweeted “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD…” Trump claimed millions voted illegally in the election: “You have people registered in two states. They’re registered in New York and New Jersey, they vote twice.” Without any evidence, the president has also claimed “3-5 million illegal votes” cost him a popular vote victory. This all comes after years of battles in the states over voting laws that some say make it harder for many citizens to participate in elections. Most people expect American elections are secure and free of misconduct, but some are doubtful. “I will say this. Of those votes cast, none of ’em come to me. None of ’em come to me,” moaned Trump.
President Trump’s arrangement for an inquiry into election voting fraud is fatally compromised by political self-interest. Before the November election, he insisted that voter fraud might cost him the victory. After he had won, he decided that it robbed him of success in the popular vote. He put the number of illegal voters at 3 to 5 million, all of it allegedly committed at his expense. And having taken this position, he is not only looking back. He is already a candidate for reelection, and this project would serve his purpose of reducing the risk of another popular vote disappointment. So he will establish a presidential commission to look into voting fraud, and he intends to appoint as its chair his Vice President, who was his presidential running mate in the last election and will very probably be on the ticket again 2020. This process has lacked credibility from the start, and if it were only a matter of appreciating the nature and limitations of this political project, then not much more attention would need to be paid to it. But in what happens next, once this Pence Commission is formed and launched, the long-term cost to bipartisanship in voting reform could prove high.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is strongly leaning toward picking the state’s attorney general to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions after his confirmation Wednesday to become United States Attorney General, according to three Republican operatives with direct knowledge of the plans. The operatives all cautioned, however, that the mercurial governor hasn’t formally picked Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to replace Sessions, and Bentley could change his mind. … One possible advantage of appointing Strange, this operative said, is that Bentley — who has been implicated in a tawdry sex scandal and was under an impeachment investigation by the state legislature — gets to appoint a new attorney general who might be less inclined to prosecute him.
Arizona: Tucson asks U.S. Supreme Court not to overturn its unique council-election system | Arizona Daily Star
Lawyers for Tucson are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to spurn a bid by Republican interests to kill the city’s unique system of electing council members. In new legal briefs, City Attorney Mike Rankin said there’s nothing inherently unconstitutional about having the six council members nominated by ward but then having a citywide general election. He said it ensures that each area of Tucson is represented and yet requires council members to pay attention to voters in the other five wards. “The city’s election system allows both ward and citywide electorates a voice, and also provides benefits to both,” he argued. In a ruling last year, the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the practice.
Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to review a set of questions being posed to it by the Maine Senate over a citizen-enacted law that would change the state to a ranked-choice voting system. The state Senate requested the court review the ballot question law last week, suggesting it presents a so-called “solemn occasion” as the legality and even the constitutionality of the new law could throw state government into post-election chaos. In a bipartisan 24-10 vote, the Senate, as provided in the state’s constitution, asked the court to review the law.
Montana: Republican leaders oppose cheaper mail-ballot election to replace Zinke | Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Top Republican leaders earlier this week asked state Rep. Geraldine Custer not to introduce a bill to make the coming special election by mail ballot only. Montana’s expecting a special election this spring to replace U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, who’s been nominated for secretary of the interior. Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians are already preparing campaigns. A major factor in all elections is voter turnout, and election processes affect it. Custer, a Republican, told the Chronicle that Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, Republican Party Chairman Jeff Essmann and the state’s highest election official Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, oppose a mail ballot-only election. “The Democrats used to oppose it, but now the parties have flipped,” Custer said. “Personally, I’d rather get beat in an election with good turnout than win an election with low turnout.”
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske told an Assembly panel on Tuesday that there’s no evidence of voter fraud in the last election, but there have been cases of voter registration fraud. Some problems came from third-party voter registration drives, and the secretary of state has requested legislation intended to address some of those shortcomings. Cegavske made her comments during a presentation Tuesday before a joint meeting of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the Assembly Committee on Corrections, Parole, and Probation. “We don’t have any evidence that anybody illegally voted,” Cegavske told the panel.
A state senator introduced a bill on Tuesday that would open Nevada’s primaries from a partisan process to a blanket-style ballot. State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, introduced Senate Bill 103 that would vastly change primary elections in Nevada. Currently, primaries are a partisan process with only Republicans voting on a Republican ballot and only Democrats voting on a Democratic ballot. The bill would alter that system, allowing anyone on the ballot – including minor party candidates – with the top two vote-getters moving on to the general election. Anyone regardless of political party would be able to vote in the primaries as well.
Proposed changes to New Hampshire election law could unfairly disenfranchise college students, seasonal residents, university professors, military personnel, and all sorts of transient workers, according to opponents of the legislation who dominated testimony on several election-related bills before the House Election Law Committee. State Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, sponsor of three measures debated Tuesday, said his bills are not aimed at any particular segment of the population. “All I’m trying to do is ensure that only residents of our state are voting in New Hampshire,” he said. “My objective is to return to what our state laws always used to be, which required a person to be a resident in order to vote here.”
A special election with just one candidate on the ballot cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and some state lawmakers are trying to prevent that from ever happening again. Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, hopes passage of a new state law will avoid what he called the future waste of taxpayer money on special elections that involve just one candidate on the ballot. The proposal, which Koehler co-sponsored, arose last year when Democratic 8th District candidate Corey Foister dropped out of the race. A special election was required to pick a replacement, but only one Democrat, Steven Fought, stepped forward to run. Clark County Board of Elections Director Jason Baker said the resulting Sept. 13 special election was mandated by law, and local boards had no choice.
The man behind an online petition calling for the Liberal government to recommit to its electoral reform pledge says early signs of a flip-flop from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prompted him to launch the initiative months before last Wednesday’s announcement. Inspiring the petition was Justin Trudeau’s interview in Le Devoir on Oct. 19. “In that interview, he signalled electoral reform might not happen because, he said, support for it had waned,” petitioner Jonathan Cassels told CBC News. Cassels, who works in banking, said he often engages in political discussions via social media. But when he expressed concern over the prime minister’s words online, Cassels said he received dozens of responses.
Julian Assange will be given a month’s notice to leave the Ecuadorian embassy if the country’s main opposition candidate wins the presidency in next week’s election. In an interview with the Guardian, Guillermo Lasso, of the rightwing Creo-Suma alliance, said it was time for the WikiLeaks founder to move on because his asylum was expensive and no longer justified. “The Ecuadorian people have been paying a cost that we should not have to bear,” he said during an interview in Quito. “We will cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate.” That possibility is still some way off. In the most recent poll, Lasso is seven points behind the ruling party candidate Lenín Moreno, but the former banker has been gaining ground ahead of the first round of voting on 19 February and is widely tipped to force a runoff. Even if there is no change in power in Quito, however, it seems increasingly likely that Assange will soon be moving from the cramped embassy in Knightsbridge that has been his refuge for more than four and a half years.
The French presidency will hold a top-level meeting soon to address concerns about possible Russian hacking, trolling and disinformation in the upcoming presidential election, the French weekly Le Canard Enchainé reported Wednesday. “The level of concern is such that a meeting of the defense council at the Élysée has been scheduled on this subject,” the newspaper wrote in its Wednesday edition. Le Canard Enchainé, which is known for its mix of investigative reporting and satirical writing, recently published allegations that François Fillon, the conservative candidate for president, hired his wife for a non-existent job. Penelope Fillon was allegedly paid more than €900,000 for work she didn’t carry out.
The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been found guilty at a retrial of embezzlement and given a five-year suspended prison sentence, putting his proposed presidential run in 2018 in doubt. Election rules say candidates cannot have felony convictions, but the anti-corruption activist vowed to appeal and said he would continue his campaign “no matter what happens in court”. “What we saw was a telegram from the Kremlin saying that they consider me, my team and those people whose views I express too dangerous to allow us into the electoral race,” Navalny said in the courtroom after the verdict. “This verdict will be overturned. I have the full right under the constitution to participate in elections, and I will do so. I will continue to represent the interests of people who want Russia to be a normal, honest, not corrupt country.”
Turkmenistan: Human Rights Watch says upcoming presidential election in Turkmenistan lacks rights protections | Times of Central Asia
Turkmenistan’s appalling human rights record undermines the possibility of a free and fair presidential election on February 12, 2017, Human Rights Watch said on February 7. The election climate in Turkmenistan denies its citizens the ability to choose their president freely or enjoy freedom of expression or access to information. “Turkmenistan has never held a free and fair election and this one is no exception,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Genuine elections are impossible where authorities maintain tight control over all aspects of public life, violating basic rights relating to freedom of the media, expression, and civil society.” The incumbent president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 59, who has served for two terms, is running for re-election as one of nine candidates. Constitutional changes in September 2016, widely seen as allowing him to remain president for life, removed restrictions on the president’s age, and extended the presidential term from five to seven years.