National: Attorney General Jeff Sessions will recuse himself from any probe related to 2016 presidential campaign | The Washington Post

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he will recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, which would include any Russian interference in the electoral process. Speaking at a hastily called news conference at the Justice Department, Sessions said he was following the recommendation of department ethics officials after an evaluation of the rules and cases in which he might have a conflict. “They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation,” Sessions said. He added that he concurred with their assessment and would thus recuse himself from any existing or future investigation involving President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

National: Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking | The New York Times

In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators. American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.

Iowa: Contentious voter ID bill advances in Iowa Senate | Des Moines Register

A contentious voter identification bill cleared an Iowa Senate subcommittee Wednesday, although critics said there is no evidence it’s needed and a Democratic lawmaker scolded a state elections official for suggesting there is a lack of confidence in Iowa’s election system. Senate Study Bill 1163, which is proposed by Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, was approved on a 2-1 vote, advancing the bill to the Senate State Government Committee. Republican Sens. Roby Smith of Davenport and Jake Chapman of Adel supported the bill, while Democratic Sen. Tony Bisignano opposed it. The Iowa House is considering its own version of Pate’s bill, which is House Study Bill 93. Deputy Secretary of State Carol Olson told the panel the legislation 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.

Michigan: State finalizes $82M contract for new voting machines | The Detroit News

The Secretary of State’s office finalized its contract to replace the state’s ailing voting machines with new equipment in time for the August 2018 primaries. The Board of State Canvassers on Tuesday approved a plan the State Administrative Board previously authorized. It could grant vendors up to $82.1 million over the next 10 years to replace the state’s voting machines with new optical scanners expected to be up and running by August 2018. The new machines still use paper ballots, so not much changes for voters in the polling booth, said state Elections Director Chris Thomas. But the new technology will make things easier for election workers by setting up a statewide repository showing results all in one place. “The voters themselves are not gonna notice a whole lot,” Thomas said. “Just to have a statewide repository for all elections – it just doesn’t exist right now. It’s a big step forward. No question.”

Nebraska: Voter photo ID heads toward showdown | Lincoln Journal Star

The latest effort to require voters to present a photo ID in order to participate in Nebraska elections attracted strong opposition Thursday at a legislative hearing on its first step toward a filibuster showdown. The new proposal (LR1CA) offered by Sen. John Murante of Gretna was crafted in the form of a constitutional amendment that would be submitted to Nebraska voters in 2018. If voters approved the amendment, the Legislature would determine the voter ID requirements. … Opponents argued that requirements for voter photo IDs tend to suppress the votes of students and other mobile young people, the elderly and disabled, African-Americans, Latino-Americans and the poor, most of which are traditional Democratic constituencies. And that, some testifiers said, is what photo ID requirements are designed to do.

North Carolina: Court rulings mean North Carolina is without an elections board and ethics commission | News & Observer

A N.C. Court of Appeals order means that the state doesn’t have a board that oversees elections and ethics laws, Senate leader Phil Berger said Thursday afternoon. Berger made a rare visit to the room in the Legislative Building reserved for reporters to announce the latest news in an ongoing lawsuit over a December law combining the ethics and elections boards into a new State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. “You still have all of the laws that folks are required to comply with, but we don’t have an Ethics Commission and we don’t have a Board of Elections based on this order,” Berger said.

Texas: Was Texas Voter ID Law Biased? Justice Deparment Stays Out of Argument | The New York Times

For several days in 2014 at the federal courthouse here, lawyers argued over whether the Texas Legislature had passed its voter identification law motivated, at least in part, by a desire to deter minorities from voting. Lawyers for the Justice Department said it had, as did lawyers for minority voters and civil rights groups. Lawyers for Texas denied the allegation. More than two years later, in the very same courtroom, the same judge listened to what were largely the same arguments made by many of the same lawyers on Tuesday. But there was one significant exception: The Justice Department stayed out of the fight. On Monday, the Trump administration’s Justice Department withdrew its claim that Texas had enacted the law with a discriminatory intent, reversing a position that had been part of the agency’s yearslong legal battle.

Virginia: U.S. Supreme Court orders reexamination of Virginia General Assembly racial gerrymandering case | Richmond Times-Dispatch

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday instructed a lower court to re-examine whether the Virginia General Assembly unconstitutionally stuffed African-American voters into certain districts, opening the door to a new political map that could reshape the Republican-controlled state legislature. Anti-gerrymandering advocates hailed the court’s opinion as a victory in the pursuit of more competitive elections, though the final outcome of the case remains unclear. With two justices partially dissenting, the Supreme Court told the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to reconsider the matter using a different legal standard that could make it easier to prove lawmakers improperly prioritized race above other redistricting criteria when redrawing House of Delegates districts in 2011.

India: Software glitch responsible for missing names in voters’ list? | Daily News & Analysis

While the Election Commission of India (ECI), State Election Commission (SEC) and Maharashtra’s civic bodies continue to make excuses with regard to the large scale chaos and lakhs of names missing from voters’ list, it appears that a software malfunction may have caused the fiasco. The SEC used the software (developed by Mahaonline) for the first time to divide the list of 92 lakh voters according to wards and booths. The original voters’ list is prepared by the ECI and is based on Assembly constituencies. For the civic elections held this year, about 227 wards and over 7,000 polling booths were set up in Mumbai. While the move aimed to curb errors in the process, it proved to complicate the process. Sources claim that the software glitch led to a faulty separation of voters’ names according to wards and booths. The software was used by 10 civic corporations under the guidance of the SEC.

Netherlands: Fragmented field keeps voters guessing as Dutch election approaches | The Conversation

The parliamentary election in the Netherlands on March 15 is approaching rapidly. And with an incredibly fragmented field, it looks as though attempts to form a coalition government after the vote will prove a challenging task, to say the least. Despite all the hype, it’s far from certain that the populist radical right Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders will top the polls – and even more questionable whether it will end up in government. The PVV and the Liberal Party (VVD) of Prime Minister Mark Rutte have led the opinion polls for months. Behind them follow no fewer than five parties which, according to the latest figures, are predicted to win around 10% of the vote each. Given the extreme proportionality of the Dutch electoral system, such a result would generate a highly fragmented parliament. If the final results resemble the opinion polls, a minimum of four parties would need to agree to cooperate to form a majority coalition.

United Kingdom: Northern Ireland election: DUP finish just one seat ahead of Sinn Féin | The Irish Times

Sinn Féin has emerged as the biggest winner in the North’s Assembly election after the party came to within one seat of matching the Democratic Unionist return of 28 seats. In a dramatic shake-up, unionists lost their long-enduring and highly symbolic overall majority in Stormont as the republican party came very close to securing more first preference votes than the DUP. Former first minister Arlene Foster is now likely to come under intense scrutiny after her party fell below the threshold of 30 MLAs required to trigger a contentious Stormont veto mechanism called the “petition of concern”. The mechanism effectively handed the DUP a veto on issues including moves to lift the ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

National: Sticking With Trump, Republicans Resist Call for Broader Russian Inquiry | The New York Times

Congressional Republicans, straining to defend the Trump administration amid investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, resisted growing calls on Thursday for a special prosecutor or select congressional committee to review the matter, even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any inquiry. That decision followed a day in which Republicans mostly closed ranks around Mr. Sessions, a well-liked former Senate colleague, amid revelations that he spoke with the Russian ambassador last year, seemingly contradicting testimony from his confirmation hearing in January. Initially, the fallout seemed to spawn fissures among Republicans: Several, including Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine, were quick to call for Mr. Sessions’s recusal, defying party leaders — including President Trump — who had said earlier on Thursday that they saw no reason for it. But by day’s end, consensus appeared to have been restored: Mr. Sessions would step aside in any investigation. And that, Republicans suggested, would be enough, at least for now.

National: Lawmakers unveil bill to help state, local governments with cybersecurity | The Hill

A bipartisan pair of senators has introduced a bill that would require the federal government to do more to help state and local officials combat cyber threats. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Thursday announced that they have reintroduced the State and Local Cyber Protection Act, which would bolster cybersecurity cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and state and local governments. Cybersecurity has attracted increased attention in the wake of Russia’s cyberattacks aimed at influencing the presidential election and other high-profile breaches in the public and private sectors. Officials have particularly expressed concerns about the vulnerability of state systems and infrastructure to attacks.

Voting Blogs: Election Assistance Commission Offers Election Technology Training Course | EAC Blog

Whether they think they are, want to be, or were trained to be, the Election Official of 2017 is also an Information Technology (IT) Manager. IT management requires a unique set of attitudes, knowledge and skills, all of which are necessary to plan, direct and control contemporary elections. The Election Assistance Commission recognizes this challenge and now has resources available for local election administrators wishing to hone their IT management skills. After the adoption of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, election officials were forced, in a matter of just a few years, to move from managing voluminous paper poll books, paper voter registration application forms and (often) paper ballots to managing electronic statewide voter registration databases, e-poll books and either DRE or optical scan voting systems with their accompanying computer-based election management and ballot building systems. The ramifications of the shift from managing paper to managing computer based systems cannot be underestimated. In less than a decade, election administration posed new demands on its practitioners, who were asked to understand and successfully implement increasingly complex technologies. A few election officials with sufficient resources were able to hire skilled computer technicians and engineers to augment their staff. The vast majority, however, were forced to become more dependent upon systems vendors to integrate new technology into their local election environment while trying as best they could to effectively manage this new paradigm.

Arkansas: Committee OKs 2 Voter ID proposals | Northwest Arkansas Democrat & Gazette

An Arkansas Senate committee on Thursday recommended that the upper chamber approve both a proposed constitutional amendment and a bill on the same topic — requiring voters to show a photo identification in order to cast ballots. House Bill 1047 is by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle. The proposed constitutional amendment is House Joint Resolution 1016 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs. If the Senate approves HJR1016, it would appear on the ballot in the November 2018 general election. If the House concurs with a Senate amendment to HB1047, the bill will go to the governor. Proponents of both measures contend that they will increase voter confidence and guard against voter fraud. Opponents counter there is little fraud of this kind, and the identification burden on voters would unduly restrict the right to vote.

Colorado: Appeals court remands case on secretary of state fees | Associated Press

The Colorado Court of Appeals has sent back to district court a lawsuit challenging fees collected by the secretary of state’s office to fund elections. The National Federation of Independent Business claims that the business-filing fees are taxes because they pay for non-business-related functions and must be voter-approved under the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. A Denver district court dismissed a federation lawsuit in 2015. It ruled, in part, that the fees are constitutional because they were in effect before TABOR was adopted. TABOR requires voter approval of tax hikes.

Iowa: Republicans reverse course on reduced early voting | Associated Press

Iowa’s top election official threw his support Wednesday behind GOP changes to his voter identification bill, after Republicans reversed course on plans to reduce early voting and polling hours in the state. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate initially declined to comment on whether he backed an amendment in the House that was briefly attached to his voter ID bill. It proposed reducing the number of early voting days in primary and general elections from 40 days to 29 days. It also would have cut polling hours for those elections from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m. Iowa currently has one of the longest early voting periods in the country, and Pate had not planned to change that distinction with his original version of the bill.

Iowa: Controversial voter ID bill would hurt out-of-state students | KCCI

A controversial bill that would require Iowans to show voter identification at the polls cleared an Iowa Senate subcommittee Wednesday, though the measure is being widely criticized for potentially preventing particular groups from voting. Ambassadors with the Andrew Goodman Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that works to promote young voices in democracy, wrote a letter this week voicing opposition to the legislation, Senate Bill 1163, saying it would “erect significant barriers to out-of-state college students’ eligibility to vote in Iowa.”

Minnesota: Senators debate provisional ballots | Minnesota Lawyer

A controversial proposal to use provisional ballots to stanch voter fraud is winding its way through the state Senate. The bill would introduce — for the first time in state history — provisional ballots to Minnesota elections. Provisional votes would be cast, then set aside until a challenged voter’s eligibility is reviewed by election authorities and either affirmed or denied. Officials would have seven days to make that decision. The provision was initially introduced as part of a stand-alone bill, Senate File 1225, authored by Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. It has since been rolled into Kiffmeyer’s much larger election omnibus bill, Senate File 514. Yet it consistently takes center stage in committee deliberations.

Minnesota: Court Rules Against ‘Please ID Me’ Buttons At Polling Places | WCCO

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a Minnesota law banning political apparel at polling places does not infringe on First Amendment rights and includes shirts and buttons distributed by Minnesota Tea Party groups that read “Please ID Me.” The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the groups Minnesota Majority, Minnesota Northstar Tea Party Patriots and Election Integrity watch failed to prove that the state statute was selectively applied or limited voters’ right to free speech. The shirts were meant to support laws that require state-issued photo ID at polling places aimed at cracking down on voter fraud. There is currently no such law in Minnesota.

Nebraska: Committee advances bill to allow immediate voting rights to felons | Lincoln Journal Star

Twelve years ago, Katrina Thomas served six months in prison, thinking she would never be able to vote again because of a felony conviction. She found out when she was released that the Legislature had passed a bill in 2005, the year she entered prison, that allowed her to vote two years after her sentence was complete. Now she is fighting for others to remove the two-year wait and allow them the right to vote as soon as their sentences are complete. Thomas testified Wednesday in front of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on a bill (LB75), introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, that would repeal the waiting period. Before 2005, the state had a lifetime voting ban for those convicted of felonies.

New Hampshire: New sweeping Senate GOP voter registration bill detailed: Requires ‘verifiable’ proof of domicile | WMUR

Comprehensive Republican legislation aimed at tightening the state’s voter registration process requires that new voters back up their claims of a Granite State domicile with “a verifiable act or acts” showing that they are not in New Hampshire temporarily. The legislation also makes it clear that voting in more than one state in the same election a is Class B felony with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a fine of no more than $4,000. State Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, first described her comprehensive amendment to Senate Bill 3 in an exclusive interview with a week ago. The 11-page amendment has now been drafted, and it was officially released on Thursday by the state Senate. View the amendment here.

North Dakota: Jaeger hopes to restore funding for voting machines, electronic poll books | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Secretary of State Al Jaeger is hoping the state Senate will restore funding for new voting machines and new electronic poll books. Jaeger proposed a $6 million expenditure to replace the voting machines, as well as another $4 million to have electronic poll books in all the counties. But the House nixed both items. Jaeger said the current voting machines were purchased in 2004 as part of the federal Help America Vote Act. He said the counties have had to cannibalize existing machines for parts to keep some of the machines running.

Editorials: How Much Racial Gerrymandering Is Too Much? Court Doesn’t Know, But Wants Virginia To Think About It | Elie Mystal/Above the Law

I hate racial gerrymandering cases because they don’t fit neatly into a defensible, logically consistent, electoral philosophy. Racial gerrymandering is an unprincipled, highly practical, necessary grotesquerie of representative democracy. Absent mountains or rivers or some other kinds of geological formations, drawing district lines is fundamentally arbitrary. I get that some people like geometric shapes, but just because your district looks like a square and mine looks like a half-eaten snow crab doesn’t make your district more “fair.” Once you draw the line, you are making a decision to exclude some people and include others, and we shouldn’t pretend to be able to do that at the political level without some knowledge of the racial breakdown of the voters. Yet our rules say that race cannot be the “predominant” factor in drawing districts: which is kind of like saying “Don’t stare at the miniature disco ball in my eye socket!” Simply saying that race can’t be a predominant factor makes race a predominant factor in showing that race wasn’t a predominant factor.

Washington: Voting Rights bill moves forward on narrow vote in Washington Senate | The Spokesman-Review

Many Washington cities and counties could elect their council and commission members by district under a bill some senators described Thursday as a voting rights act and others denounced as a Band-Aid. The proposal, one of five “Voting Rights” bills introduced in the Legislature, passed on a 25-24 party-line vote. It would allow smaller cities and counties the ability to drop at-large elections in favor of districts with equal population. Many of Washington’s largest cities and home-rule counties already can do that, and Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said it was only fair to let small cities do what Spokane and Seattle have already done. But critics of the bill said it doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t ensure that minority groups will get an equal shot at fair representation when districts are drawn. They said a more comprehensive Democratic bill had more protections, but it didn’t get out of committee.

Lithuania: Government seeks to introduce online voting this year | The Baltic Times

Lithuania’s government will seek to legalize this year the creation of an online voting system, which should be developed by mid-2019, shows the implementation plan of the governmental program published on Thursday. All of the amendments necessary for online voting should be adopted by the end of 2019. The Justice Ministry was put in charge of drafting the laws and developing the system.

South Korea: Teens Call for Voting Rights | NHK

The political scandal that led to the suspension of President Park Gyun-hye is boosting political engagement among younger South Koreans, who are calling for voting rights. Many high school students throughout the country are politically energized these days, and they want more of a say. “We want to elect the country’s leader ourselves in order to create a better society for us all,” says a student at one protest. The corruption scandal involving the president and her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil has kept Boo Seok-woo busy with a youth group that’s engaged in social issues.

United Kingdom: Northern Ireland election risks return to direct rule from London | Financial Times

Northern Ireland could be subject to direct rule from Westminster if Thursday’s election for the region’s devolved assembly fails to produce a new governing executive. Colum Eastwood, leader of the nationalist, centrist Social Democratic and Labour party, has said the “very idea of power sharing in the north is at risk” in Thursday’s election. Arlene Foster, Democratic Unionist party leader and outgoing first minister, has described the contest as “the most important assembly election in a generation”, saying: “It concerns the very nature of devolution and the future direction of Northern Ireland.” The DUP and Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party, are neck and neck in the race to be the largest party in Stormont, according to the latest opinion polls. But many political leaders in Northern Ireland say it is highly unlikely that they will be able to put together a devolved executive following Thursday’s contest, given the depth of the divisions between them. If the leading parties cannot agree, James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland secretary, could call another election. But such an outcome is considered unlikely, since it would not necessarily produce a different result.

United Kingdom: Turnout rises in Northern Ireland assembly election | The Guardian

Northern Ireland’s Electoral Office has said that the turnout in Thursday’s assembly election was higher than in last May’s contest when 55% of voters took part. The Stormont assembly collapsed in acrimony earlier this year over a botched green energy scheme that cost taxpayers half a billion pounds. The turnout increase at the second election in 10 months may be in response to voter anger at the way the largest political party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionists (DUP), mismanaged and then stubbornly defended the renewable health incentive scheme.