The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is pursuing at least three separate probes relating to alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential elections, according to five current and former government officials with direct knowledge of the situation. While the fact that the FBI is investigating had been reported previously by the New York Times and other media, these officials shed new light on both the precise number of inquires and their focus. The FBI’s Pittsburgh field office, which runs many cyber security investigations, is trying to identify the people behind breaches of the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems, the officials said. Those breaches, in 2015 and the first half of 2016, exposed the internal communications of party officials as the Democratic nominating convention got underway and helped undermine support for Hillary Clinton. The Pittsburgh case has progressed furthest, but Justice Department officials in Washington believe there is not enough clear evidence yet for an indictment, two of the sources said.
National: Democratic Member Quits Federal Election Commission, Setting Up Political Fight | The New York Times
A Democrat on the Federal Election Commission is quitting her term early because of the gridlock that has gripped the panel, offering President Trump an unexpected chance to shape political spending rules. The commissioner, Ann M. Ravel, said during an interview that she would send Mr. Trump her letter of resignation this week. She pointed to a series of deadlocked votes between the panel’s three Democrats and three Republicans that she said left her little hope the group would ever be able to rein in campaign finance abuses. “The ability of the commission to perform its role has deteriorated significantly,” said Ms. Ravel, who has sparred bitterly with the Republican election commissioners during her three years on the panel. She added, “I think I can be more effective on the outside.” Her departure will probably set off an intense political fight over how a new commissioner should be picked. By tradition, Senate Democrats would be allowed to select the replacement, but, by law, the choice belongs to the president, and Mr. Trump has shown little interest in Washington customs.
For all the fervor of the current debate over voter ID laws, there’s a startling lack of good data on their effects. As of the 2016 election, 33 states have a voter identification law, with 12 of those considered “strict” requirements. After the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case weakened federal oversight over state and county election laws, the debate over whether these and other more restrictive laws have discriminatory effects has mostly been waged in the realms of ideology and intent, with most existing studies relying on data limited by time, place, or bias. The catch-22 of course is that the laws have to be passed and solidly in place first to have robust longitudinal data on their effects, which in this case would mean potentially discriminatory effects would have already impacted elections. A new study from researchers Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi, and Lindsay Nielson at the University of California San Diego is one of the first to analyze certified votes across all states after the implementation of voter laws in multiple elections, and it found just that kind of racially discriminatory impact. Specifically, they found “that strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks, and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections.”
Arizona may have made headlines in 2016 when voters had to wait hours in the sun just to vote in the presidential preference election, but advocates in the state said problems with voting are nothing new to them. “Since we’ve been addressing it since 2012, there has been little to no action in actually fixing anything,” said Viri Hernandez, director at the Arizona Center for Neighborhood Leadership. Hernandez pointed to a mix-up on Spanish ballots in 2012 on ballot due dates, and then-Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell’s comment last year that voters turning out were partly to blame for polling lines being so long as just two examples of what she sees as systemic problems. Hernandez was in Washington this week with voting rights advocates from around the nation to take part in the America Votes State Summit, where voting advocates and mostly liberal groups planned strategy to reverse the “shocking” 2016 election results. The sessions were largely closed to the press, but Arizona advocates had plenty to say afterwards.
A Republican legislator who wants to reinstate Arkansas’ voter ID law has proposed adding a way for people who don’t show identification to cast a provisional ballot if they sign a statement. Opponents of the law say the change doesn’t erase their concerns that the requirement will disenfranchise thousands of Arkansas voters. The amendment filed late Thursday afternoon to the House-backed voter ID bill would allow someone who doesn’t show identification to sign a sworn statement under penalty of perjury at the polling site. The ballot would be counted unless the county board of election commissioners finds it invalid based on other grounds. “What we’re trying to put in is something that improves confidence in the integrity of the ballot without unduly disenfranchising voters who for whatever reason don’t have ID,” Rep. Mark Lowery said. “I think it serves as a needful deterrent for anyone who would want to commit election fraud.”
Republican members of the DuPage County Board defended the proposed merging of the county election commission with the office of county clerk’s office in the face of criticism leveled at last week’s board meeting. During public comments made at the Feb. 14 meeting, several people expressed concern over such issues as new election commissioner salaries and the merger provision that allows board Chairman Dan Cronin, a Republican, to nominate the Democrat serving on an expanded five-member election board.
Kansas: Douglas County sheriff and his mother under investigation for voter fraud; case reveals quirk in Kansas voting law | Lawrence Journal World
Sheriff Ken McGovern in the last two elections helped his elderly mother obtain a ballot to vote in Douglas County, despite evidence that his mother lives in a Johnson County nursing home. A spokesman with the Kansas Secretary of State’s office confirmed that the matter had been forwarded to state prosecutors for review and possible charges. When questioned by the Journal-World, McGovern confirmed that during the 2016 primary election in August he picked up an advance ballot at the county courthouse for his mother, Lois McGovern. Sheriff McGovern signed a document listing that his mother was registered to vote at 2803 Schwarz Road in Lawrence. County records, however, show that Lois McGovern sold that home more than a year before the primary election. Sheriff McGovern confirmed to the Journal-World that his mother was not living at the house during the primary election. In the November general election, McGovern again went to pick up an advance ballot for his mother. But this time he faced pushback from a county employee who had knowledge that McGovern’s mother did not live at the Schwarz Road address, a source with knowledge of the incident told the Journal-World. But Sheriff McGovern eventually was allowed to take a ballot to his mother, after her address was changed to that of Sheriff McGovern’s west Lawrence home. McGovern, though, confirmed to the Journal-World that his mother does not live with him. Sheriff McGovern declined to say where his mother lived, and he refused to confirm that she lives in Douglas County. “Where she is living doesn’t make a difference,” McGovern said.
The Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders is asking state officials to let them run the special election to fill the U.S. representative seat by mail ballot, saying it could save counties as much as $750,000. Cascade County estimates it would cost $145,000 or more to do the election by polling place and counties, which did not budget for the cost, would be responsible for the tab , officials said. They’ve turned to the state Legislature for help. Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, is carrying Senate Bill 305, which is slated to be heard 2 p.m. Monday by the Senate’s State Administration Committee in Room 335. “This bill makes sense as the mail-ballot process is practiced in all odd-year elections and is about 50 percent of the cost of running the election by poll,” Rina Fontana Moore, the Cascade County clerk and recorder, said via email. It’s a one-time exception to do a federal election by mail ballot, supporters said.
Texas election officials have acknowledged that hundreds of people were allowed to bypass the state’s toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law and improperly cast ballots in the November presidential election by signing a sworn statement instead of showing a photo ID. The chief election officers in two of the state’s largest counties are now considering whether to refer cases to local prosecutors for potential perjury charges or violations of election law. Officials in many other areas say they will simply let the mistakes go, citing widespread confusion among poll workers and voters. The Texas law requires voters to show one of seven approved forms of identification to cast ballots. It was softened in August to allow people without a driver’s license or other photo ID to sign an affidavit declaring that they have an impediment to obtaining required identification. Even after the affidavits were introduced, voters who possess an acceptable photo ID were still required to show it at the polls.
Partisan efficiency experts might love the time-saving charms of straight-ticket voting, but a number of the state’s top elected officials are ready to outlaw the practice. Straight-ticket, or one-punch, voting allows people to cast a ballot for all of one party’s candidates with one pull of the lever, stroke of the pencil or click of the voting button. Its requires partisan faith on the part of a voter, an expression of trust in a party’s primary voters, a conviction that the chosen candidates — no matter who they are, what they’ve done and whether they are qualified — are better than candidates offered by the opposition party. And it makes the coattails of the people at the top of the ballot very, very influential. Just ask a judge. “I will say only a word about judicial selection, but it is a word of warning,” Texas Supreme Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said this week in his State of the Judiciary speech. “In November, many good judges lost solely because voters in their districts preferred a presidential candidate in the other party.”
Virginia: House Republicans stop Sen. Norment’s felon voting rights proposal | Richmond Times-Dispatch
A House of Delegates committee on Friday stopped a proposal from Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, that would have given legislators authority over deciding which felons receive the right to vote again, while reducing the governor’s power. The proposed constitutional amendment — Senate Joint Resolution 223 — passed the Republican-controlled Senate 21-19 earlier this month after bitter, partisan debate. In the House Privileges and Elections Committee on Friday, a motion to advance the proposal did not receive a second, and it is expected to die in the committee as this year’s General Assembly session heads into its final week.
Virginia: Voter registration records have loopholes but no evidence of widespread fraud | Virginian-Pilot
Can someone who isn’t an American citizen illegally register and vote in Virginia’s elections? Yes. Can a felon whose rights haven’t been restored vote undetected in Virginia? Yes. Can someone be registered to vote in Virginia and another state and illegally cast ballots in both places? Yes. State and local election officials acknowledge all those crimes can happen in the Old Dominion because the state’s voter rolls aren’t airtight. Even with those gaps, the same officials and a prominent election expert argue there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud. They reject President Donald Trump’s often-repeated but unverified claim that millions of noncitizens illegally voted against him in November. “If you want to find thousands or even millions of people who committed voter fraud, good luck with that, because there’s no way that’s true,” said David Becker, lead author of a 2012 Pew Center on The States study of the nation’s voter registration systems. Court records back him up where Virginia’s concerned.
A bipartisan delegation of US senators on Sunday pressed Donald Trump to punish Russia over its alleged interference in the US election race and warned that Moscow’s next targets will be elections in France and Germany. Speaking at the Munich security conference, Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who is a member of the Senate armed services committee, expressed confidence that Congress will pass sanctions against Russia. “2017 is going to be the year of kicking Russian ass in Congress,” he said. The US intelligence agencies claim the Kremlin ordered hackers to infiltrate the Democratic National Committee in the run-up to November’s presidential elections. Trump’s response has been ambiguous, initially rejecting the intelligence assessment and later admitting that Russia might have been behind it. Graham predicted that sanctions against Russia will be backed by more than 75 senators in the 100-member chamber. Such a move would pose a dilemma for Trump, who is seeking rapprochement with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
A runoff vote appears likely in Ecuador’s presidential election with Lenín Moreno appearing to fall just short of the 40% required for outright victory over his rightwing rival Guillermo Lasso. With more than three-quarters of the official votes counted on Sunday night, the national electoral council gave 38.83% to Moreno, who was a former vice-president under the outgoing Rafael Correa, and 28.58% Lasso, a 61-year-old former banker. For an outright win a candidate needs 40% and a 10-point lead over his nearest rival. The widely different results of two exit polls saw Moreno’s camp celebrating victory in the first round, while Lasso declared there would be a second round in which he would face the government’s candidate. Nonetheless Moreno’s supporters draped in lime-green colours of the Alianza Pais coalition celebrated late into the night to as live cumbia music blasted from a stage erected on a main avenue the headquarters in Quito. At the close of voting, Moreno, flanked by Correa and the vice-president, Jorge Glas, told his rival to “lose with dignity” while he would “win with humility”.
Suspected Russian cyberattacks on the French presidential campaign are “unacceptable”, France’s foreign minister said Sunday, adding it was clear that pro-Europe candidate Emmanuel Macron was being targeted. A spokesman for Macron, who is currently riding high in the polls, has accused Moscow of being behind a flurry of cyberattacks on his campaign website and email servers over the past month. “It’s enough to see which candidates, Marine Le Pen or Francois Fillon, Russia expresses preference for in the French electoral campaign,” Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in an interview with Journal du Dimanche. “Whereas Emmanuel Macron, who is pro-Europe, is being targeted by cyberattacks,” he added. “This form of interference in French democratic life is unacceptable and I denounce it.”
With the United States engulfed in questions about Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, France is determined to head off any such meddling in its coming presidential election. On Monday Richard Ferrand, the director of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign, claimed that the Russians had unleashed “hundreds and even thousands” of hacking attempts against Mr. Macron, and that RT and Sputnik, government-controlled news outlets, are spreading fake news, as they were said to have done during the American election cycle. The stories about Mr. Macron range from allegations that he is engaged in a secret extramarital gay affair to accusations that he used state funds to pay for foreign travel.