National: Locking down voting tech | GCN

State election officials are making plans to tighten security all along the voting chain – from voter registration to machine integrity, audit trails and help from the Department of Homeland Security under the new critical infrastructure designation. At a Feb. 13-14 meeting of the Election Assistance Commission, New Jersey State Department’s division of elections Bob Giles said that although his state’s voting machines are not connected to the internet, the attention garnered by Russia’s reported electoral influence has led to a rethinking of his agency’s cybersecurity protocols. Giles said cyber hygiene practices such as improving password strength and multifactor authentication will be included in the state’s plan to modernize its voter registration system. “The other thing we heard a lot about this election is who is making our voting machines,” he said, adding that moving forward, New Jersey will partner with the DHS to ensure voting machine security.

National: White House under siege over probe into Russian contacts with Trump campaign | USA Today

A months-long inquiry into contacts between Russian government officials and associates of President Trump’s campaign and business interests will continue despite the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misleading White House officials about his communication with Russia, a U.S. official told USA TODAY on Wednesday. The federal inquiry — which has amassed intercepts of telephone calls, business records and subject interviews — is looking at how Russian officials sought to meddle in the November election, said the official who is not authorized to comment publicly. The official added that there was no current evidence of collusion to tilt the election. The extent and purpose of those alleged contacts, believed to involve a limited number of Trump campaign and business associates, continue to be weighed, including whether the associates were aware they were communicating with Russian intelligence officials or those working on behalf of the Russian government, the official said. TheNew York Times reported Wednesday that phone records and intercepted calls show Trump campaign officials had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.

National: Schumer warns of possible cover-up by Trump administration | The Hill

Following an emergency Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) warned that Trump officials might try to cover up improper contacts with Russian intelligence. Schumer said there is legitimate concern that President Trump’s circle of advisers may try to destroy evidence that could shed light on the substance of reported conversations with Russian agents. “There is real concern that administration, transition and campaign officials may try to cover up ties to Russia by deleting emails, texts and other records that could shine a light on those connections,” Schumer said at a press conference outside the Senate chamber following the meeting. He said such electronic records are “likely to be the subject” of congressional investigations and “must be preserved.”

National: Senate Democrats unify around congressional probe of Trump ties to Russia | Washington Post

Senate Democratic leaders agreed Wednesday to a bipartisan probe inside Congress of allegations that people linked to President Donald Trump – including ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn – had frequent contacts with Russia during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Democrats agreed to push forward with an ongoing Intelligence Committee investigation into Russia’s purported activities into the election, expanding the probe to include contacts made by Flynn and perhaps other Trump campaign officials with the Kremlin. They united around this course of action despite pressure from some Democrats to demand an independent commission to pursue the matter from outside Congress.

Editorials: Making Voting White Again: The Trump administration’s continued repetition of bogus claims of voter fraud has a very specific purpose. | Jamelle Bouie/Slate

Birtherism, the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born abroad and thus ineligible for the presidency, served a very specific purpose. It was a tool of delegitimization, a means to drive xenophobic suspicion and racial hostility. It’s why Donald Trump, its chief advocate, never truly dropped the crusade—not after wide condemnation from critics and fact-checkers; not after wide ridicule from much of the public; and not after Obama released his long-form birth certificate, debunking the charge outright. “A lot of people question it,” said Trump in a 2015 question-and-answer session with Fox News’ Sean Hannity a few months before he announced his bid for the White House. Trump’s birtherism didn’t just feed anti-Obama distrust and paranoia among conservative voters. It helped feed a sense of grievance—a feeling that their country had been hijacked by nefarious forces, and they needed to take it back. And whether Trump realized it or not at the time, it also helped till ground for his eventual presidential campaign and its message of nativist anger and racist hostility. It is now important to remember all of this, as Trump and his backers stoke another conspiracy theory, aimed at delegitimizing a different set of opponents.

Florida: Lawmakers consider allowing guns at polling places | Tampa Bay Times

Concealed guns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, local bars and even voting booths could be commonplace under a sweeping measure introduced this week in the Florida Legislature. With the recent, tragic history of the Pulse nightclub massacre last June in Orlando and the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting last month, two conservative Republican lawmakers want to do away with all of Florida’s “gun-free zones” — 15 locations in state law where concealed weapons are currently prohibited. Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt of the Villages have proposed eliminating all state-imposed restrictions on where Florida’s concealed weapons permit holders can carry their guns — with the goal of allowing businesses, institutions and people to have greater control over their own protection, Hahnfeldt said.

Nevada: Report: ‘Motor voter’ law could cost Nevada $5M or $90,000 | Associated Press

Adopting a proposed “motor voter” law in Nevada to register eligible people to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or other state identification card could cost as much as $5 million, state analysts said in a long overdue report released Tuesday. But state officials called the report outdated and anticipate a much lower price tag for the program, which is projected to enroll at least 120,000 voters in the first year. Under a 2016 voter-initiated petition, Nevadans would be registered to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles unless they opt out. The petition also calls for the voter rolls to be updated when people renew driver’s licenses or otherwise update their information with the DMV. In the report filed six months late, fiscal analysts at the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau said implementing the program, should it become law, would cost $5 million if the state decided to implement a new registration database to facilitate data transfers between state and local agencies.

North Carolina: Black voters in Jones County haven’t been heard, they say. Can a new lawsuit change that? | CSMonitor

Black residents of Jones County, N.C., have struggled for years to ensure local representation, some say, but they hope that a new lawsuit will finally bring results. On Monday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., joined with two law firms to bring a suit on behalf of black residents of Jones County, N.C. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that the county’s at-large voting system has systematically prevented black residents, who comprise almost one-third of the county, from electing the candidates of their choice to the county’s five-member Board of Commissioners. Since the five candidates receiving the most votes from across the county are elected to the board, the white majority can vote as a bloc to prevent black candidates from winning seats, the plaintiffs say. They argue that this election system has effectively sidelined the black community’s issues, since it is relatively easy to be elected without their votes. Instead, the plaintiffs propose creating single-member local districts, giving predominantly black neighborhoods a higher likelihood of electing their chosen candidate.

Texas: Pasadena won’t fight voting rights order; elections will proceed as planned | Houston Chronicle

The city of Pasadena will not fight an appellate court ruling over its election system, a decision that will allow the upcoming May council elections to proceed with eight-single member district seats, according to the lead attorney for the city in the closely watched voting rights case. The elections will proceed under the district format and will not using six neighborhood council and two at-large seats, a system a district judge ruled was discriminatory against Latino voters. The city, through its attorneys, sought a stay of Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s order, but the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of appeals upheld the order.

Texas: Illegal voter ‘can’t believe’ she got 8 years in prison | The Star-Telegram

Rosa Maria Ortega voted for Republican Ken Paxton for Texas attorney general in 2014. Now, as she sits behind a plate glass window Monday with heavy eyes and wearing a tan Tarrant County Jail jumpsuit, she’s crushed that Paxton and others can celebrate her incarceration as sending a message about illegal voting. Ortega, 37, a permanent resident who arrived in Texas as an infant and has four children, all U.S. citizens, was charged with two counts of illegal voting for voting illegally in elections in 2012 and 2014. On Thursday, a Tarrant County jury handed down a sentence of eight years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each count. After serving her sentence, she will likely face deportation. She believes she is wrongly being used as an example of voter fraud. “I thought I was doing something right for my country. When they gave me the sentence they just broke my heart, and they didn’t just break my heart, but I already knew my family was going to be broken, my kids especially,” Ortega said Monday during an interview at the jail, where she will remain for about a month until being transported to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility. “To me, it’s like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this. I just can’t.’ ”

Wisconsin: Scott Walker signals support for recount changes | Wisconsin State Journal

Gov. Scott Walker signaled support Wednesday for a bill that would only allow candidates to request a recount in state and local races if they trail the winner by a certain margin. The bill is a direct response to last year’s presidential recount that was triggered and paid for by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who received 1 percent of the vote. The recount, which cost Stein’s campaign a little more than $2 million and county and municipal clerks thousands of hours of additional work during a traditionally busy time of year, resulted in Donald Trump extending his lead over Hillary Clinton by 131 votes. It also revealed more than 11,000 errors in how ballots were counted on election night out of 3 million total votes cast, but no major flaws in the state election system. Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Reps. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, and Ron Tusler, R-Harrison, are lead sponsors of the bill, which LeMahieu said in December he would introduce in response to the recount. Walker also signaled support for such a proposal then, but details weren’t yet available.

Wisconsin: Lawmakers Look To Change Wisconsin Recount Law | Wisconsin Public Radio

A new proposal from state lawmakers would only allow second place finishers to request election recounts in Wisconsin, a policy change that would have prevented Wisconsin’s recent presidential recount. The new proposal says only a second place finisher who comes within one percent of the winner can request a recount. That would have been about 7,5000 votes in the last presidential election. The bill’s sponsors say it’s in response to the presidential recount requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein last year. Stein only received about one percent of the vote in Wisconsin.

Bangladesh: Prime Minister says government considering using electronic voting machines in general elections | bdnews24

The government is considering introducing electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the parliamentary elections due by early 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has told Parliament. In response to an MP’s question on Wednesday, she said, “The plan to introduce E-voting in the next parliamentary election can be taken into consideration in order to further ensure the people’s voting right in accordance with all existing laws for free, fair and impartial elections.” The ruling Awami League proposed the introduction of E-voting during talks on forming the new Election Commission with President Md Abdul Hamid on Jan 11. The Awami League leaders later said they meant use of EVMs by E-voting.

Ecuador: Opposition Looks Ahead to Second Round to Build Coalition | PanAm Post

Rafael Correa has so dominated political life in Ecuador for 10 years that the election in many ways appears to be a referendum on his legacy. While the opposition criticizes Correa for dramatically expanding the size of the state at the expense of the private sector, excessive hiring of public servants, cracking down on freedom of the press, and ruling with an authoritarian style, supporters praise him for investing in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and transportation. However, every one seems to agree that Correa’s famed confrontational style worked to his detriment. The word often repeated here in reference to his administration is “prepotente”: indeed Lenin Moreno, Correa’s hand-picked successor herein faces his greatest electoral challenge: seeking to disassociate himself from the imperial nature and penchant for conflict of his mentor and predecessor.

France: Foreign Minister warns Russia against meddling in election | Reuters

France said on Wednesday it would not accept interference by Russia or any other state in its presidential election, and would retaliate if necessary. The pledge by Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault followed complaints by the party of election frontrunner Emmanuel Macron that his campaign was the target of ‘fake news’ put out by Russian media, as well as internet attacks on its databases. “We will not accept any interference whatsoever in our electoral process, no more from Russia by the way than from any other state. This is a question of our democracy, our sovereignty, our national independence,” Ayrault told parliament. He said France would set clear limits, “including retaliatory measures when that is necessary, because no foreign state can influence the choice of the French, no foreign state can choose the future president of the Republic.”

Philippines: Supreme Court allows election recount for defeated Marcos | Reuters

The Philippine Supreme Court will allow a protest into the disputed election of the country’s vice president, giving the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos a chance to prove his claim that he was robbed of the number two post. Social activist Leni Robredo was elected vice president in May 2016, winning by about 260,000 votes over Marcos’ son and namesake. Popularly known as Bongbong, he said he was the rightful winner and votes were stolen from him. Marcos had asked the court to order a recount of more than a million votes in the south and nullification of balloting in three provinces. Robredo in turn asked the court to reject his petition. On Thursday, Marcos released the court’s Jan. 24 ruling which found his petition “sufficient in form and substance”.