National: House committee votes to close Election Assistance Commission | USA Today

While President Trump is promising to launch an investigation into his belief that millions of illegal ballots were cast in 2016, the Republican-led House Administration Committee voted Tuesday to shut down the federal agency set up to help states improve their election systems. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., chairman of the House Administration Committee, said the Election Assistance Commission has “outlived” his usefulness. … “This is the time when we should be focusing on strengthening” the EAC, said Pennsylvania Rep. Robert Brady, the top Democrat on the committee. Brady argued the EAC helps states run fair, accurate and efficient elections. He said the agency provided key support to states in the last election.

National: New administration will uphold election system’s designation as critical infrastructure | Reuters

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Tuesday said he backed a decision in the Obama administration’s final days to designate elections systems as critical infrastructure in order to boost their cyber defenses, after the government concluded Russian hackers tried to influence the 2016 presidential race. Some conservative states, such as Georgia, had expressed concerns that the Obama administration move amounted to a federal takeover of elections traditionally run by state and local governments. The designation means voting machines, voter registration systems, polling places and other assets important to holding elections are eligible for priority cyber-security assistance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “I believe we should help all of the states … to make sure that their systems are protected in future elections,” Kelly told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security in response to a question from Democratic U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond. “I would argue that, yes, we should keep that in place.”

Editorials: Why We Need the Election Assistance Commission | Matthew Weil/Bipartisan Policy Center

On Tuesday, the House Administration Committee considered a bill to eliminate the only federal agency tasked with improving the voting process for all Americans. If this seems like a strange response to an election marked by allegations of voter fraud, voter suppression, and election rigging—from both sides of the political aisle—you’re not wrong. While there are legitimate concerns about the role of the federal government in elections, eliminating the United States Election Assistance Commission will lead to less secure and more costly elections in the future. And all Americans will lose. Regularly over the last decade, lawmakers have argued that the EAC intrudes on state and local election administrators who bear the responsibility for actually running American elections, and that it costs too much for the services it provides. But there are real and vital reasons for the EAC to exist.

Georgia: State settles lawsuit alleging it blocked minority voters | Atlanta Journal Constitution

Georgia has settled a federal lawsuit that accused Secretary of State Brian Kemp of disenfranchising minority voters because of a requirement on registration forms that critics said blocked thousands of them from voter rolls. The state will no longer reject applications that don’t exactly match identification information in state and federal databases as part of the agreement, which was finalized late Thursday. “Based on the advice of the Attorney General’s office and in order to avoid the expense of further litigation, we agreed to settle this lawsuit,” said Candice Broce, Kemp’s spokeswoman. “The verification system Georgia had in place is important to accurately maintain our voter rolls and prevent illegal votes from being cast in our state’s elections.” The state had previously agreed to suspend the requirement.

Iowa: Contentious voter ID bill introduced in Iowa House | Des Moines Register

A contentious voter identification plan that is supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats was introduced Wednesday in the Iowa House. House Study Bill 93, labeled the “Election Integrity Act,” has been proposed by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican. Pate said his plan will modernize Iowa’s elections technology by establishing electronic poll books in every Iowa precinct. In addition, the bill calls for establishing a voter ID system with signature verification, absentee ballot verification and post-election audits. … The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has vowed to fight Pate’s bill, calling it a solution in search of a problem.

Kansas: Kobach spars with ACLU over bill to close ‘loophole’ for voting without proof of citizenship | The Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Tuesday faced impassioned opposition from civic groups and lawyers as he urged a panel of lawmakers to authorize a two-ballot system for state and federal voting. Kobach describes Senate Bill 37 as a patch to close a “loophole” created by a federal court injunction that allowed Kansans to vote if they registered through the Division of Motor Vehicles. The ACLU of Kansas, however, said Kobach is asking lawmakers to adopt a “manifestly unfair” system that has already been blocked by federal injunction. Dozens of people packed the room to testify or listen to the Senate election committee’s hearing on the bill. Many expressed opposition to Kobach’s proposal by applauding those who testified against it.

North Carolina: Legal challenges leave future North Carolina elections in limbo | Carolina Public Press

The prospect for new state legislative districts this spring and elections this fall are dimming despite a court order, legal experts say. The situation is just one of several ongoing legal battles surrounding North Carolina elections. An elections schedule ordered by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in November requires new General Assembly districts to be drawn and approved by March 15 followed by a candidate filing period, primaries and a November election. The ruling came after a three-judge panel from the court ruled in August that nine North Carolina state Senate districts and 19 House districts were unconstitutional because they were drawn using race as the predominate factor.

Texas: Illegal Voting Gets Texas Woman 8 Years in Prison, and Certain Deportation | The New York Times

Despite repeated statements by Republican political leaders that American elections are rife with illegal voting, credible reports of fraud have been hard to find and convictions rarer still. That may help explain the unusually heavy penalty imposed on Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, a permanent resident and a mother of four who lives outside Dallas. On Thursday, a Fort Worth judge sentenced her to eight years in prison — and almost certainly deportation later — after she voted illegally in elections in 2012 and 2014. The sentence for Ms. Ortega, who was brought to this country by her mother as an infant, “shows how serious Texas is about keeping its elections secure,” Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said in a statement. Her lawyer called it an egregious overreaction, made to score political points, against someone who wrongly believed she was eligible to vote. “She has a sixth-grade education. She didn’t know she wasn’t legal,” said Ms. Ortega’s lawyer, Clark Birdsall, who once oversaw voter fraud prosecutions in neighboring Dallas County. “She can own property; she can serve in the military; she can get a job; she can pay taxes. But she can’t vote, and she didn’t know that.”

Somalia: Somalis greet ‘new dawn’ as US dual national wins presidency | The Guardian

Celebrations have erupted on the streets of Somalia after parliamentarians elected a new president, with crowds chanting songs and firing automatic weapons into the night sky. The election of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a 55-year-old former prime minister and dual US-Somali national with a reputation for independence and competence, has raised the hopes of millions of people in the poor and violent east African state. “I am really happy. I prayed hard. Now we have a good president. I hope he will take care of our country,” said Khadra Mohamud Ahmed, 42, from Mogadishu. Critics said the election – the most extensive and expensive democratic exercise in Somalia for decades – has entrenched divides between the country’s many traditional clans and encouraged graft. But others described it as a “way station” to political stability and full democracy. Michael Keating, the UN special representative for Somalia, described the poll as a “political process with electoral features”, and “pretty brave to do”.

National: Federal Agency Tasked with Protecting Election Integrity is on the Cutting Block | Campaign Legal Center

The 2016 elections were dogged by questions about the integrity of our electoral system – from false claims that millions of people voted illegally – to legitimate concerns about the first election in fifty years without the protections of the Voting Rights Act. Also, there have been new worries about foreign actors interfering in our political process. During the primary season and in the general election, voters raised concerns about purged voter registration lists and long lines. In addition to the hacking of emails by Russian actors, there is also evidence that hackers attempted to penetrate state voter registration systems across the country. With plenty of challenges in election administration to address, why did a House Committee vote yesterday to eliminate the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) – an agency tasked with evaluating and improving the efficiency and security of federal elections?

National: Russian election hacks exploited legal grey zone: lawyers | AFP

Russia’s alleged computer hacking to interfere in US elections was no act of war, but exploited a legal grey zone that makes justifying retaliation hard, international lawyers specializing in cyber issues said Wednesday. Moscow’s interference in the presidential campaign last year by hacking Democratic Party computers and leaking embarrassing communications was an act of espionage — legal under international law — and at worst a slight violation of US sovereignty, the lawyers said. But it was definitely no act of war, as some American politicians have suggested, US lawyer Michael Schmitt said, adding that calling it such “is very destabilizing.” Speaking at the launch of a new manual on cyber attacks and international law, he said the reaction to the Russia-US hacking case heightens the need for accepted international standards for countries to assess and counter cyber attacks proportionately.

National: Flynn Is Said to Have Talked to Russians About Election Hacking Sanctions Before Trump Took Office | The New York Times

Weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, discussed American sanctions against Russia, as well as areas of possible cooperation, with that country’s ambassador to the United States, according to current and former American officials. Throughout the discussions, the message Mr. Flynn conveyed to the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak — that the Obama administration was Moscow’s adversary and that relations with Russia would change under Mr. Trump — was unambiguous and highly inappropriate, the officials said. The accounts of the conversations raise the prospect that Mr. Flynn violated a law against private citizens’ engaging in diplomacy, and directly contradict statements made by Trump advisers. They have said that Mr. Flynn spoke to Mr. Kislyak a few days after Christmas merely to arrange a phone call between President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Mr. Trump after the inauguration. But current and former American officials said that conversation — which took place the day before the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia over accusations that it used cyberattacks to help sway the election in Mr. Trump’s favor — ranged far beyond the logistics of a post-inauguration phone call. And they said it was only one in a series of contacts between the two men that began before the election and also included talk of cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State, along with other issues.

Editorials: Time for Act II of the MOVE Act | Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat/U.S. Vote Foundation

Rarely does the first iteration of a law translate legislative intent into implementation flawlessly and durably. The legislative process allows us to correct, improve or update laws as needed in our changing times. It’s an ongoing process, and one we should embrace! A new round of legislative reform is needed to ensure that the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and its progeny continue to play a vital role. In 2009, the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) was passed as a much-needed, bipartisan reform to UOCAVA; and it has served as a mechanism to modernize key aspects of UOCAVA. The MOVE Act’s creation was informed by years of research, including work by U.S. Vote Foundation’s (US Vote) Overseas Vote initiative (formerly Overseas Vote Foundation), and it has been demonstrably successful in accelerating the transition to online methods for most overseas and military voting processes across all states.

Alabama: What Alabama law says (and doesn’t say) about special elections for Senate |

With the Alabama Code, what was intended, what gets written and how it’s interpreted are often different things, and so it is when setting special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the United States Senate. On Thursday, Gov. Robert Bentley set a special election to be held in 2018, at the same time as state and mid-term national elections. But was that legal? State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, says it wasn’t. “For anyone that has read the law, this is ILLEGAL,” England wrote on Facebook Thursday, above the relevant snippets of the Alabama Code. “Again, read it for yourself. If the vacancy occurs more than four months prior to the next upcoming general election, which it CLEARLY does, state law demands that the Governor call a special election ‘forthwith.'” I have read that section many times since last November, and I’ve gone over it with several lawyers I trust, and the verdict? It’s unclear.

Georgia: Bill would allow ‘scarlet letter’ marking of non-citizen driver’s licenses | The Guardian

Georgia lawmakers are advancing a bill that would allow the state to add “non-citizen” to the driver’s licenses of legal residents and green card holders living in the state. While some states have similar demarcation on the licenses of undocumented immigrants, activists say the breadth of Georgia’s proposal is unprecedented. “[This] is the first time that I’ve heard of any state considering … passing this kind of divisive action,” said Naomi Tsu, referencing the bill’s focus on immigrants living here entirely lawfully. Tsu is the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Immigrant Justice Project. “We’re pretty concerned about this idea of branding some residents with a ‘scarlet letter’.” Representative Alan Powell, who sponsored the provision, cited preventing non-citizens from registering to vote as one of the bill’s merits. “I don’t care if you’re a regional vice-president for Mercedes,” Powell said before the motor vehicles committee passed the bill, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Powell noted that for non-citizens in the US that are able to get a driver’s license, “it at least ought to have on there ‘non-citizen’”.

Michigan: State audit: No evidence of fraud in Detroit vote | The Detroit Free Press

The state has found no evidence of voter fraud after auditing 136 Detroit precincts that couldn’t be recounted after the November election. Chris Thomas, the Secretary of State’s director of elections, said there were problems with the performance of staff at the precincts where the ballots couldn’t be recounted either because the numbers in poll books didn’t match the number of ballots in the box or because some ballot boxes were improperly sealed. “There was no pervasive fraud found in our audit of Detroit. We did not find widespread voting machine problems,” Thomas said at a news conference Thursday. “We did find widespread performance issues that tracked back to the training by the Detroit city clerk.”

Michigan: Elections chief urges recount reform | The Detroit News

Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas called Thursday for a change in state law to make recounts easier after Detroit’s election night counting problems. The Michigan Bureau of Elections audited 136 of the city’s most irregular precincts — “the worst of the worst,” it said — after a Wayne County canvass revealed “significant discrepancies” in the number of voters and ballots in 392 Detroit precincts. After an extensive review, it was able to narrow nearly 600 uncounted-for votes to 216. “I think the time has come for at least a consideration of that,” Thomas said at a press conference following the release of an audit that concluded that discrepancies between the recorded number of votes and actual ballots cast in Detroit were the result of human error. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein requested a statewide recount that was stopped after nearly 40 percent of Michigan’s precincts were retallied because state and federal courts ruled she had no chance of winning, and thus wasn’t an “aggrieved” candidate under state law.

Montana: Opponents Of Voter ID Bill Say It Would Limit Access | MTPR

A Republican representative from Kalispell says voters should be required to show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Representative Derek Skees introduced his proposal to change Montana’s law during a House Committee meeting today, while opponents argued the bill would make it harder for some people to vote. Rep. Skees says his bill, HB-357, is an attempt to protect the state’s elections system from voter fraud. “To make sure the folks who are voting in Montana, are actually the folks eligible to vote in Montana,” Skees says. Last October, Montana’s then Secretary of State issued a statement saying there were no verified incidents of voter fraud in Montana. During today’s committee meeting on his bill, Representative Skees told lawmakers that he could not point to any prosecuted cases of voter fraud. But he said it could happen and does happen, so safeguards like requiring voters to show photo ID are needed.

New Hampshire: Same-Day Voter Registration Likely Here To Stay, For Now | New Hampshire Public Radio

While Representative Norman Silber, a first-term Republican from Gilford, initially hoped to get rid of same-day voter registration, he now says it seems like more trouble than it’s worth at this time. “I think there’s too many problems associated with that at this time,” Silber told the House Election Law Committee Wednesday, explaining his plans to revise and resubmit the bill that would’ve included the repeal. Speaking after the committee hearing, Silber said he decided to change plans after hearing concerns that getting rid of same-day voter registration could require the state to comply with other federal voting mandates.

New York: Attorney General Unveils Sweeping Voting Reform Package | Gotham Gazette

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman unveiled an extensive voting reform package Wednesday that aims to streamline New York’s voter registration system, boost voter participation and increase voter turnout. Standing with elected officials, good government groups, union members, and voting reform advocates outside Federal Hall in Manhattan, Schneiderman released the legislation, called the New York Votes Act. The bill contains provisions to update the state’s voting systems by adding early voting, automatic and same-day voter registration, consolidated primaries, shortened party registration deadlines, increased language access at the polls, online absentee ballots, and more. “Any law that makes it easier to vote is a good law; any law that makes it harder to vote is a bad law,” said Schneiderman, in a statement Wednesday. “New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy.” New York State has seen abysmal voter turnout for years. In 2014, the state ranked 49th of 50 in the country, with just 29 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the general election. While other states have tweaked their voting laws to encourage participation, voter turnout in New York has only grown worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries.

North Carolina: Judges Suspend Limit on Governor’s Powers | The New York Times

A three-judge state court panel in North Carolina on Tuesday held up part of a new Republican-backed law that strips important power from the newly elected Democratic governor. The ruling, temporarily halting the requirement that the governor seek legislative approval for his cabinet selections, escalated the partisan tensions that have shaken up the state, and came shortly before a scheduled State Senate hearing on one of Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet picks. Mr. Cooper has called the law, which was signed in December in the waning days of his Republican predecessor’s tenure, a politically motivated power grab. “The court is absolutely correct in their decision and should not be intimidated by threats from legislative leaders,” Mr. Cooper said in a statement, in which he urged the state “to put these partisan confirmation games behind us.” Passed in the bitter aftermath of November’s election, the limits on Mr. Cooper’s power prompted protests outside the North Carolina Capitol, where Republicans hold majorities in both chambers.

Ohio: Bill would automatically register Ohioans to vote | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Ohioans would be automatically registered to vote when renewing their driver’s license, signing up for public assistance or turning 18, under a bill introduced in the Ohio House. Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Kent Democrat, said voter registration should be easy and that automatically enrolling people would encourage higher voter participation. “There are endless ways to use voter registration rules to deter and confuse voters, and we need to take away this weapon of voter oppression,” Clyde said during a Thursday press conference. Under House Bill 14, people would be automatically registered to vote if they’ve received veterans’ or disability services or public assistance through the Department of Job and Family Services and when they get a driver’s license or state ID card. Public and private school students would be registered when they turn 18.

Ohio: Cuyahoga County Board of Elections chooses Tenex as electronic poll book vendor | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Cuyahoga County voters will check in on electronic poll books beginning in November, using equipment from Tenex Software Solutions. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections unanimously approved the purchase on Tuesday, following a recommendation by director Pat McDonald and his staff at its meeting last month. The board authorized officials to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the company, state and county, McDonald said in an email. The board will buy 1,450 electronic poll books at a cost of $1.7 million. The state is paying 85 percent of the cost. Electronic poll books will replace the large, paper rosters of registered voters at each voting location. The county plans to phase in the software during primary and special elections before launching them countywide in November.

Utah: Election headaches lead lawmakers to consider measures for relief | The Salt Lake Tribune

Memories of long lines, spoiled ballots and disgruntled voters were on the minds of lawmakers Wednesday when a House panel advanced two bills aimed at improving Utah’s elections. The House Government Operations Committee signed off on a proposal to create a statewide presidential primary and a bill requiring county clerks to pay the postage cost of mail-in ballots and to notify voters if their ballots are invalid. A third bill, making voter registration automatically linked to driver-license applications unless a person opts out, was held in committee, with lawmakers indicating that changes were needed before advancing to the House floor. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, sponsored the presidential primary bill, arguing it would make it easier for Utahns to vote for a presidential candidate while avoiding the confusion and disorganization that occurred at the party caucuses last year. “Political parties should be in the business of trying to win elections,” Arent said, “not run them.” A presidential primary would cost $3 million, she said, with the bill requesting $750,000 each year. “We can do it in pieces or we can do it in one chunk,” Arent said. “But I hope that we can get there.”

Virginia: After complaints about Virginia voter registration, cuts for election software upgrades | Daily Press

Over the course of a five-and-a-half hour hearing in the run-up to last year’s presidential election, Republican legislators lamented problems with the state’s electronic voter registration system. Days later, right at the deadline to register to vote, that system crashed. Funding to upgrade the system was cut Thursday in the Senate by some of the same legislators who keyed in on the issue last fall. State Sen. Jill Vogel co-chaired that October meeting, and she also heads the budget subcommittee that removed nearly $4 million in new funding Gov. Terry McAuliffe had proposed for the Virginia Department of Elections. She said on the Senate floor Thursday that some of that money will likely come back into the budget as the House and Senate negotiate a final spending bill.

France: Defense Council fearful over Russian hacking in presidential election | The Times of Israel

The French presidency’s Defense Council’s next meeting will deal with the threat of Russian hacking in France’s upcoming presidential elections this Spring, Politico quoted the French weekly Le Canard Enchainé as reporting Wednesday. The meeting, which will include French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, as well as the ministers for defense, interior, foreign affairs, finance and the budget, will focus on Russian attempts to sway the election using disinformation campaigns and trolling on social media, as well as hacking attacks. French intelligence officials believe that Russia is working behind the scenes to support presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front party, according to the Le Canard Enchainé report cited by Politico.

Turkmenistan: Turkmenistan prepares for predictable presidential poll | World Bulletin

Some nine candidates will be on the ballot for a presidential poll in reclusive Turkmenistan on Sunday, but only one — incumbent autocrat Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — stands a chance of winning. Among the 59-year-old strongman’s competitors are subordinate regional officials, the director of a government-owned oil refinery and a representative of the Central Asian country’s state agribusiness complex. These other candidates will probably share “the three to six percent of the vote” not amassed by Berdymukhamedov, predicts Annette Bohr, an associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Chatham House think tank. Recent footage from state television saw Berdymukhamedov in relaxed form during a low key pre-election campaign that officially ends on Saturday.