National: States scramble to replace aging machines | Associated Press

At least once a year, staffers in one of Texas’ largest election offices scour the web for a relic from a bygone technology era: Zip disks. The advanced version of the floppy disk that was cutting edge in the mid-1990s plays a vital role in tallying votes in Bexar County, where like other places around the U.S., money to replace antiquated voting equipment is scarce. “I’d be dead in the water without our technical support people looking online to buy the pieces and parts to keep us going,” said Jacque Callanen, elections administrator in the county that includes San Antonio and had 1 million-plus registered voters in the 2016 election. Purchased in 2002, Bexar County’s voting equipment is among the oldest in Texas. The Zip disks the county uses to help merge results and allow paper ballots to be tallied with final election totals are no longer manufactured, so staff members snap them up by the dozens off of eBay and Amazon.

Editorials: The Right Way to Investigate Russia’s Election Meddling | Carl Levin & John Warner/Politico

As Congress gears up to investigate Russia’s reported interference in American elections, precisely what form that inquiry will take is up for debate. But even at this early stage, one thing is clear: Whether it is done by the Intelligence Committees, a joint or select committee, or some other congressionally created framework, a vital goal of any such investigation must be bipartisanship. It’s not simply that an investigation must be conducted—from start to finish—in a bipartisan manner; it’s that history confirms that an investigation will be of value only if the American public perceives it as bipartisan. Indeed, some of the most important investigations Congress has ever conducted—the hearings on Watergate, Iran-Contra and the joint inquiry into the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—made a real difference precisely because their bipartisan nature enabled them to get at the truth and gain the trust of the American people. Unfortunately, such bipartisanship will now pose a challenge.

Arizona: Judge throws out final challenge in 2012 Arizona redistricting case | Associated Press

A judge on Thursday dismissed the final challenge to Arizona’s congressional and legislative district maps drawn by an independent commission in 2012. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Roger Brodman dismissed the challenge to the congressional map brought by a group of voters following the adoption of the maps. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld the legality of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission itself and the legislative district maps. Brodman rejected arguments that commissioners used improper procedures and illegally made decisions behind closed doors. He noted that it was important for him to rule because the appeals will likely take years and there are only two more general elections before the next mapmaking effort by a new commission.

Georgia: Advocates Call for Paper Ballots in Georgia Amid FBI Review | Associated Press

A group of technology experts said Tuesday that Georgia’s top elections officials should stop using electronic voting machines as the FBI reviews a suspected data breach. Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Kennesaw State University this month confirmed a federal investigation focused on the school’s Center for Election Systems. The center tests and certifies Georgia’s voting machines and electronic polling books used to check in voters at polling locations. Employees also format ballots for every election held in the state. The center isn’t part of Kemp’s office or connected to its networks, including Georgia’s database of registered voters maintained by the secretary of state’s office. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the investigation into the suspected cyberattack. In a letter to Kemp on Tuesday, 20 technology experts and computer science professors affiliated with the national Verified Voting organization said paper ballots will preserve voters’ confidence in the results of an upcoming special election to fill Georgia’s 6th District congressional seat. The letter said using equipment maintained by the center while it is the focus of a criminal investigation “can raise deep concerns.”

Nevada: Democrats are trying to restore the voting rights of ex-felons | Reno Gazette-Journal

In November, more than 1.1 million people voted in Nevada for a turnout percentage of around 77 percent, but one group was barred from participating from the beginning. Voter disenfranchisement has been a hot topic in recent years, especially as more reports show certain laws affect minorities and low-income people disproportionately. Washoe County faced a voter disenfranchisement lawsuit in 2016 when the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe successfully sued for access to polling places. Now the discussion at the Legislature has shifted to making it easier for ex-felons to vote after serving their sentences. Current Nevada law allows first-time nonviolent ex-felons to have their voting rights restored after they serve their sentence or been discharged from parole or probation. A multiple offender must go through the judicial process to have their rights restored.

New Jersey: Lawmakers want to require ‘paper trail’ for voting machines |

A group of state lawmakers wants to re-enforce an old requirement that voting machines in New Jersey produce a paper trail. A bill introduced in the state Assembly would require new voting machines purchased or leased after its passage to produce a paper record of each vote cast. A law passed more than a decade ago requiring hard copies of vote tallies was later suspended for lack of funding. The bill’s sponsors said in a statement that electronic machines that produce a paper record are now more widely commercially available.

North Carolina: Revamp of election board and ethics commission unconstitutional, judges rule | News & Observer

The N.C. General Assembly’s attempt to revamp the state elections board and ethics commission weeks before Democrat Roy Cooper was sworn in as the new governor violates the state Constitution, a three-judge panel ruled on Friday. The judges also found unconstitutional the legislature’s shift of managerial and policy-making employees from former Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration to positions where it’s more difficult to replace them. But the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s attempt to have a say in who joins Cooper’s Cabinet was not found to be a violation of the separation of powers clause in the state Constitution. To date, the state Senate has approved three of the appointments Cooper has made with hearings for others set for next week. The rulings from Superior Court Judges Jesse Caldwell, Todd Burke and Jeff Foster come nearly two weeks after a daylong hearing inside a Campbell University law school courtroom.

Virginia: McAuliffe vetoes bills he says could restrict voting rights | CNS

Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday vetoed a bill that he said could disenfranchise qualified voters but Republican legislators said could reduce voter fraud. HB 2343, sponsored by Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, would have required the state Department of Elections to provide local registrars with a list of voters who, according to data-matching systems, have been found to be registered in another state. … In a statement explaining his veto, McAuliffe said he believed the bill would have endangered the voting rights of some Virginians and increased the administrative burden on local governments. “This bill would invite confusion and increase the possibility of violating federal law,” McAuliffe said. “Moreover, it would expose eligible and properly registered Virginians to the risk of improper disenfranchisement.”

France: Election under high cyber threat | EUObserver

French authorities are on high alert to head off a cyber-attack that could affect the result of the upcoming presidential election.
Prime targets could be candidates’ websites and government networks. The threat was publicly recognised by president Francois Hollande, who accused Russia of trying to interfere in the campaign, ahead of the first round on 23 April and a run-off on 7 May. “Russia is using all of its means to influence public opinion,” he said in a recent interview to several European newspapers. “It is not the same ideology as in the time of the USSR, [but] it is sometimes the same methods, with more technology,” he said, adding that Russia had “a strategy of influence, of networks, with very conservative moral views”. … In early March, the government decided to ban electronic voting in June’s legislative elections for French voters abroad. Electronic voting was not planned for the presidential election itself.

India: Is banning electronic voting machines the solution? Should India follow The West? | Businessworld

Political leaders who lost the recent state elections – Mayawati and Harish Rawat among them have alleged the electronic voting machines were tampered with. Arvind Kejriwal too questioned the use of the electronic method of gathering votes. Now, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi also seem to be indulging in the theory. Is there a possibility of rigging electoral outcomes in a general election to the Lok Sabha? This question has arisen not only because of the unexpected number of seats won or lost by some parties in the recent contest. It is accentuated by the recent news from many western nations doubting the integrity of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and bringing back the ‘old-fashioned ballot system’. Let’s look at the situation from a different angle. What is our idea of democracy based on? (1) Free and fair elections (2) Equal voting rights (3) Right to represent ourselves. Well, these and others would only stand straight if the vote gathering process is transparent enough for the citizens to believe in it.

Netherlands: Populists Appear to Fall Short in Dutch Election, Amid High Turnout | The New York Times

European populism faced its first big electoral test since last year’s “Brexit” referendum and Donald J. Trump’s election. Turnout was the highest in decades. The main exit poll indicated that the largest party in Parliament will remain the center-right party of Mark Rutte, the prime minister, with 31 of 150 seats. He has moved rightward in recent months, making tougher pronouncements on immigration but steering clear of the xenophobic and borderline racist statements of other parties. The far-right populist party of Geert Wilders gained seats, but did not perform as strongly as expected. Exit polls suggested that it was tied for second place with the conservative party Christian Democratic Appeal and the center-left pro-European party Democrats 66 — each with 19 seats. Also making a relatively strong showing were the left-leaning Greens, with 16 seats. The leftist, euroskeptic Socialist Party is projected to have 14 seats.

National: Trump, Sessions, Gorsuch and the New Battle Over Voting Rights | US News & World Report

When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act four years ago, it gave the green light to state lawmakers eager to restrict access to the polls and eliminated the Justice Department’s role as traffic cop on whether those laws were necessary or appropriate. Activists then turned to the courts, with some success: Last year, federal judges struck down a North Carolina law mandating voters present a valid, government-issued photo ID at the polls, along with cutbacks on early voting, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal. While lawyers and civil rights leaders have won some big battles in fights over voter ID laws, diminished early voting and reductions in polling places, experts say the future of voting rights remains uncertain – due to changes in the political and legal landscape that swept in with President Donald Trump.

National: New report finds that voter turnout in 2016 topped 2012 | The Hill

More voters cast ballots in November’s elections than when President Obama won reelection in 2012, though the number of Americans who showed up to vote remains well below all-time highs set half a century ago. About 139 million Americans, or 60.2 percent of the voting-eligible population, cast a ballot in November’s elections, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project. That compares with 58.6 percent of eligible voters who turned out in 2012, but it’s below the 62.2 percent who turned out to help elect Obama for the first time in 2008. Last year, President Trump won just shy of 63 million votes — enough to secure a majority of the Electoral College, even though he fell almost 3 million votes shy of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The states where Trump and Clinton battled most fiercely also tended to be those where voter turnout was highest. Nine of the 13 states where voter turnout was highest were battleground states.

Arizona: Senate Panel OKs Bill Targeting Voter Initiatives | Associated Press

An Arizona Senate panel dominated by Republicans rejected concerns from voting rights activists Thursday and advanced legislation that opponents say will make it harder to get citizen initiatives on the ballot. Proponents say the changes are needed to eliminate fraud in the signature gathering process required to qualify measures for the ballot. The bill makes it easier to challenge signatures and bars petition circulators from being paid per signature collected. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 2404 on a 4-3 party-line vote. It has already passed the House, so approval by the full Senate would send it to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.

California: State’s electoral future is rooted in the old-fashioned absentee ballot | Los Angeles Times

For all of the intriguing ideas about improving California elections, there was one undeniable truth at a gathering last week of county officials and activists: The state’s 21st century voting will lean heavily on its greatest electoral innovation of 1864. That would be the absentee ballot. Call it reliable or anachronistic, but the do-it-yourself ballot is the foundation of voting reform in a state now on the cusp of 20 million registered voters. That revamping of elections begins next year in a handful of California counties, closing polling places in garages and schools while asking voters, like soldiers during the Civil War, to vote somewhere else. “Voters are looking for a choice,” said Neal Kelly, Orange County’s registrar at the event sponsored by the Future of California Elections, a nonprofit organization. “And they are looking for voting on their own terms.”

Georgia: Election officials reject advocacy groups’ call for paper ballots | Marietta Daily Journal

Georgia and Cobb election officials are rejecting calls from advocacy groups for voters to use paper ballots while the FBI investigates a data breach at Kennesaw State University. Voters will continue to use electronic voting machines during upcoming elections, said Candice Broce, spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The use of paper ballots is reserved as a backup system in case there is a problem with the voting machines, she said. Cobb voters will also use the voting machines in next week’s special elections for the 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax for education and the vacant Marietta school board Ward 6 seat, said Janine Eveler, director of Cobb elections. Earlier this month, KSU announced a federal investigation at the Center for Elections Systems located on the Kennesaw campus to determine if there was a data breach that might have affected the center’s records, according to Tammy DeMel, spokesperson for the university.

Georgia: Democrats turn to KSU for answers on voter data hack | Atlanta Journal Constitution

The Democratic Party of Georgia appealed to Kennesaw State University for details about an alleged breach of confidential data that could affect millions of Georgia voter records, after the state’s top elections official rebuffed a similar request. Party chair DuBose Porter demanded Thursday that KSU president Sam Olens reveal data about the extent of the attack, and urged him to accept help from the Department of Homeland Security to secure the elections infrastructure. The FBI launched an inquiry into the suspected cyberattack this month at the request of state officials after they received notice that records kept by the Center for Election Systems at KSU may have been compromised. State officials have released few details amid the pending investigation, and KSU didn’t immediately respond to Porter’s request.

Georgia: Senate Backs Voter-Registration Changes Opposed by Advocates | Associated Press

Information on voter-registration applications would have to exactly match state or federal databases to cast a ballot, under legislation backed by the Georgia Senate on Thursday. Advocacy groups and Democrats slammed the change, warning it will disproportionately affect minority voters and could be subject to legal challenges. Under the bill , people couldn’t be added to the voting rolls unless information on their application exactly matches records tied to their Georgia driver’s license or identification card or the last four digits of a Social Security Number. Without an exact match, people could only cast a provisional ballot and their application could be rejected after 26 months if they’re unable to resolve the conflict.

Illinois: Automatic voter registration advanced again in state Senate | News-Gazette

Illinois would implement automatic voter registration in time for the 2018 general election under a bill approved by the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday. Similar legislation passed the Senate and House last year but was vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Under the measure, Illinois residents who interact at secretary of state driver service facilities or several other state-agency offices would be automatically registered to vote, unless they opt out. A new version of the legislation, SB 1933, was approved by the Senate committee, 10-3, along party lines. “There are two significant differences following the governor’s veto last year,” said Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, the sponsor of the measure.

Montana: 46 of 56 Montana counties support mail ballot for special election | The Missoulian

Thursday was the deadline for county commissions across the state to decide if they would support a mail ballot for the upcoming special election to select Montana’s sole congressman. By late afternoon, Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg, president of the Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders, had learned that 46 of the state’s 56 counties had passed a resolution to support a mail ballot. Only two – Richland and Bighorn – opted to hold that election at the poll. The resolution was required under a bill working its way through the Legislature that would allow for a mail ballot for the May 25th election that will decide who will be the state’s new congressman. The seat opened after Ryan Zinke was named Secretary of the Interior.

Nebraska: Murante, Morfeld spar over voter ID | Lincoln Journal Star

Sens. John Murante of Gretna and Adam Morfeld of Lincoln sparred good-naturedly Thursday over the need for voter identification requirements in Nebraska. At issue was Morfeld’s proposed constitutional amendment (LR15CA) to prohibit voter ID mandates, a proposal that he acknowledged was offered in direct response to Murante’s proposal for a constitutional amendment that would clear the path for voter photo ID requirements in Nebraska. Either proposal would be submitted for voter approval in 2018 if it clears the Legislature with at least 30 votes.

North Carolina: Roy Cooper vetoes GOP bill making judge elections partisan | News & Observer

Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday vetoed his first bill, one that would restore partisan judicial elections. The bill’s author said the General Assembly would vote to override the new governor’s first veto. The legislation, House Bill 100, would make District Court and Superior Court judicial candidates go through a party primary. Under the bill, general election ballots would include the candidates’ party affiliations. Candidates who aren’t registered with a political party would need to go through a petition process to get their names on the ballot. Superior Court elections were switched from partisan to nonpartisan in 1996, and state leaders made the same change for District Court in 2001.

Texas: Groups awaiting latest decision regarding the long-contested voter photo ID law | SE Texas Record

Groups and individuals suing the state recently presented evidence in a hearing to determine whether or not the voting ID law, also known as SB 14, was enacted in 2011 with discriminatory intent. The January hearing was delayed to allow the Department of Justice to review the case with the new administration. Texas and the DOJ sought to delay the hearing again, but was denied the request. The Feb. 28 hearing took place with U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos and is awaiting final decision. SB 14 makes Texas’ voting law the strictest in the country, requiring voters to have a photo ID from a very narrow, specific list allowable IDs. Evidence was presented to courts showing about 650,000 Texans do not have IDs that qualify under SB 14.

France: Fillon banks on voter anger over ‘stolen’ election | AFP

French rightwing presidential candidate Francois Fillon said on Wednesday (Mar 15) he had the backing of angry voters after being charged with misusing public money, as scandals rather than policy continue to dominate the campaign. “There’s been a manipulation of events against me with one objective: to stop me being a candidate in the presidential election,” Fillon told Radio Classique, again denying allegations his wife was paid from public funds for a fake job. “There’s a very strong movement going on. There’s anger among voters on the right and in the centre who don’t want to see their election stolen.” The comments came as new problems piled up for the presidential contenders, with almost daily revelations in the press and fresh legal investigations creating a cloud of suspicion overhanging the two-round vote in April and May.

Malaysia: Election Commission chairman says Malaysia not ready for automatic voter registration | The Star

The extra sensitive job scope of the Election Commission is among the factors for Malaysia not being ready to implement the automatic voter registration system. EC Chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Hashim Abdullah said the commission did not want to be blamed for any problems arising from any changes related to voter registration. “There may be some things which we do not deem serious, but is taken seriously by certain parties. Especially when we make changes. “If we are not prepared, but we proceed to do the changes, then many issues will arise,” he said when he appeared as a guest in the Slot Khas Ekspresi programme on Bernama Radio with the discussion “Voting and the Responsibility of a Citizen”.

Netherlands: Fake news or hacking absent in Dutch election campaign | NL Times

Even the digitally savvy activists of the Pirate Party still use analog campaign methods. “Hello, can I offer you a flyer?”, the party’s leader, Ancilla van de Leest, asked passers-by in Amsterdam on Tuesday. The two men on their way to Amsterdam’s LGBTQ film festival kindly rejected her offer. “Do go out and vote, though,” she responded. One day before the elections for the Dutch lower house of parliament, Van de Leest’s party is predicted by an aggregate of six polls to receive around 1 percent of the votes, which for the first time could be enough for a seat. If elected, Van de Leest hopes to increase the level of debate on digital affairs. “The level of knowledge [about technology] is really low,” she said about the current members of parliament, adding that MPs often admit so themselves.

United Kingdom: Conservatives fined £70,000 for misreporting election spending | Financial Times

The Conservative party is facing a police inquiry over its election spending and organisation after being fined a record £70,000 for “numerous failures”. The party did not accurately report campaign spending at the 2015 general election and three by-elections in 2014 according to the Electoral Commission, Britain’s elections watchdog. It is the largest ever fine levied by the commission, which has also referred Simon Day, who was party treasurer at the time, to the Metropolitan Police over the incorrect returns. Prosecutors are already considering police files on at least 12 Tory MPs over allegations that they overspent during the election campaign.