National: Cancellation of Hearing on Russia Adds to Friction on House Intelligence Panel | VoA News

Key U.S. lawmakers appear locked into a war of words over halting progress in their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign. The latest skirmish was sparked by the abrupt cancellation Friday of an open hearing set to feature top former intelligence officials. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, argued that it was instead necessary to hear closed-door testimony from the directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency. “The committee seeks additional information … that can only be addressed in closed session,” Nunes told reporters during a hastily arranged news conference. Word of the change ignited criticism from congressional Democrats, who pointed out FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers had already testified on Monday.

Arkansas: Governor Signs Bill Reinstating Voter ID law | Arkansas Online

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill into law Friday aimed at resurrecting many of the requirements of a voter-identification law that was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2014. House Bill 1047, by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, will require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots. It also will require the secretary of state’s office to issue free photo identification cards to those who lack other acceptable identification. A new provision — not included in the old law — allows people without photo identification to sign a sworn statement saying they are registered in Arkansas. By signing that statement, they will be allowed to cast provisional ballots to be verified later. “I’ve always supported reasonable requirements for verification of voter registration,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “This law is different — in a number of ways — than the previous law, which was struck down by the Supreme Court. It should hold up under any court review. For those reasons, I signed the bill into law.”

Georgia: Prior to suspected breach, KSU voting center received warning | Atlanta Journal Constitution

Kennesaw State University officials received a warning before the presidential election that a server system used by its election center may be vulnerable to a data breach. But they only notified state officials that they could have a problem after a second contact from a potential hacker raised alarms about the security of millions of Georgia voter records, according to top state officials briefed on the issue but not authorized to speak on the record. It is not clear whether the university acted to address the potential problem identified by the hacker last fall, those officials said. KSU hasn’t publicly discussed the alleged breach, citing an open investigation. It is also not clear the hacker had any ill intent and ever actually accessed the records, which the university keeps on behalf of the state as part of its Center for Election Systems.

Iowa: Voter ID bill gets Iowa Senate OK after contentious debate | Des Moines Register

Iowa voters would need to provide government-issued identification at the polls under an election bill approved Thursday by the Iowa Senate. House File 516, which was initiated by Secretary of State Paul Pate, passed on a 26-21 vote after a contentious debate. All Republicans supported the bill, and all Democrats and one independent were opposed. The bill returns to the House because it was amended by the Senate. The legislation is aimed at making sweeping changes to the state’s election laws that Republicans say are needed to ensure the integrity of the process and prevent fraud. … Democrats called the legislation a “voter suppression bill” intended to help Republicans win elections by reducing voter participation by minorities, older people and people with disabilities.

Maryland: Senate OKs bill to create redistricting commission — if other states do the same | Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Senate approved a bill Thursday that would require the state to create a nonpartisan commission for redistricting — but only if five other states agree to do the same. Senators were divided between those who see the bill as a hollow gesture and others who say it’s a first step toward fixing Maryland’s confusing, gerrymandered political districts. Proponents of the bill say that requiring five other Mid-Atlantic states to shift to nonpartisan redistricting is a regional solution to the problem. Opponents countered that the measure would simply delay any meaningful action. “We’re going to pass something that will never happen, just so we can say we did something,” said Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican who voted against the bill.

Montana: Passions flare over conducting special election by mail | Bozeman Daily Chronicle

The fight over Montana’s only congressional seat was thrust into the legislative arena Thursday, as lawmakers continued debate over whether to conduct the May 25 special election by mail. Passions flared in the House Judiciary Committee as dozens of people — some driving more than 400 miles to attend a hearing — urged lawmakers to save counties from financial hardship and logistical nightmares by allowing the election to be held with only mail-in ballots. So heated was the hearing that the committee’s chair, Republican Rep. Alan Doane of Bloomfield, halted proceedings and cleared the room after one woman refused to end her testimony. It would cost more than $2 million to hold an election, and counties say they could save as much as $750,000 by conducting the vote through the mail.

Texas: Court asked to block Texas congressional map for 2018 election | Austin American-Statesman

Texas should be blocked from using a map of congressional districts that was found to have been drawn in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, a federal court was told Thursday. The motion, filed with a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, follows a March 10 ruling that invalidated three districts, including one in Travis County, that the court said were drawn by Republicans to intentionally discriminate against Latino and black voters. That ruling, however, did not mandate or discuss any remedies to correct the problems. Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that there is no need to redraw the congressional map because the court invalidated districts that were drawn in 2011, while Texans have been electing members of Congress according to a map that the Legislature adopted in 2013. But according to the motion filed Friday, the three districts invalidated in the 2011 map were little changed in the 2013 version.

Bulgaria: Snap election to test Bulgaria’s divided loyalties | Reuters

Bulgarians vote on Sunday in a closely-fought election, with the centre-right GERB party challenged for power by Socialists who say they will improve ties with Russia even if it means upsetting the country’s European Union partners. Opinion polls put the GERB party of former prime minister Boiko Borisov, 57, only narrowly ahead of the Socialists, who have seen their popularity rise since the candidate they backed, Rumen Radev, won Bulgaria’s presidency in November. Borisov resigned in the wake of Radev’s victory, triggering Bulgaria’s third parliamentary election in just four years.

China: Hong Kong chooses new leader amid accusations of China meddling | The Guardian

A small electoral college has begun voting for a new leader of Hong Kong amid accusations that Beijing is meddling and denying the Chinese-ruled financial hub a more populist figurehead better suited to defuse political tension. The majority of the city’s 7.3 million people have no say in deciding their next leader, with the winner chosen by a 1,200-person “election committee” stacked with pro-Beijing and pro-establishment loyalists. Three candidates are running for the post of chief executive on Sunday: two former officials, Carrie Lam and John Tsang, and a retired judge, Woo Kwok-hing. Lam is considered the favourite. Outside the voting centre, there were some scuffles between protesters and police. The protesters denounced Beijing’s “interference” amid widespread reports of lobbying of the voters to back Lam, rather than the more populist and conciliatory former finance chief, Tsang. “Lies, coercion, whitewash,” read one protest banner. “The central government has intervened again and again,” said Carmen Tong, a 20-year-old university student. “It’s very unjust.”

National: Trump-Russia inquiry in ‘grave doubt’ after GOP chair briefs White House | The Guardian

The top Democrat on one of the congressional committees investigating ties between Donald Trump and Russia has raised “grave doubt” over the viability of the inquiry after its Republican chairman shared information with the White House and not their committee colleagues. In the latest wild development surrounding the Russia inquiry that has created an air of scandal around Trump, Democrat Adam Schiff effectively called his GOP counterpart, Devin Nunes, a proxy for the White House, questioning his conduct. “These actions raise enormous doubt about whether the committee can do its work,” Schiff said late Wednesday afternoon after speaking with Nunes, his fellow Californian, before telling MSNBC that evidence tying Trump to Russia now appeared “more than circumstantial”. Two days after testimony from the directors of the FBI and NSA that dismissed any factual basis to Trump’s 4 March claim that Barack Obama had him placed under surveillance, Nunes publicly stated he was “alarmed” to learn that the intelligence agencies may have “incidentally” collected communications from Trump and his associates.

Voting Blogs: NASS releases facts and findings on cybersecurity in 2016 election | electionlineWeekly

Rigged! Hacked! Tampering! Fraud! Even before one vote was cast in the 2016 election, rumors swirled about the integrity of the election. The cacophony of misinformation and innuendo has not stopped since the election and all of this has caused some Americans to lose faith in the electoral system. In the days leading up to the election a survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only 4 in 10 Americans had a high degree of confidence that their votes would be counted correctly nearly a third of all who responded thought there was a great deal of voter fraud in the country despite the lack of evidence. This week, the National Association of Secretaries of State released the State Election Officials Report Facts & Findings on Cybersecurity and Foreign Targeting of the 2016 U.S. Election. The report is an effort by NASS to help improve voter confidence and show for a fact that the election was not “hacked”.

Alabama: Governor wants to toss lawsuit on delayed Senate election | WHNT

It turns out Gov. Robert Bentley, or at least his lawyers, will not have to appear in Montgomery Circuit Court Tuesday in connection with a lawsuit filed by Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler. Zeigler filed a lawsuit against the governor, arguing Bentley is violating state law by waiting until next year’s election cycle to hold a special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by now-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. After Sessions was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in February, Bentley appointed Luther Strange to the vacant seat. Under the current schedule, the seat will be up for a special election in 2018, and then it will be up again in 2020 for a full six-year term. A hearing was set on the lawsuit for Tuesday, but it was continued until April 12.

Florida: House Moves Ahead With Fix to Vote-By-Mail Ballot Law | Associated Press

The Florida Legislature is moving ahead with a fix to the state’s vote-by-mail ballot law that a federal judge called “illogical and bizarre.” The Florida House on Thursday unanimously passed a bill (HB 105) that requires county election offices to notify voters if their signatures on their ballot and voter registration forms don’t match. Voters would then be given a chance to fix the problem before the election. A similar measure is moving in the Senate.

North Carolina: Veto override means voters will know judges’ party affiliations | News & Observer

Voters casting ballots for judges next year will know the political parties of the candidates. Republicans who control the General Assembly say that gives voters helpful information. Democrats say it politicizes the courts. House Bill 100 makes Superior Court and District Court elections partisan, completing a change that the legislature began with appellate courts including the state Supreme Court. On Thursday, the state Senate with little discussion overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of HB 100 by a vote of 32-15, with two Republicans voting against the override: Sen. John Alexander of Raleigh and Sen. Danny Earl Britt of Robeson County. The House had voted 77-44 the day before to override the veto. The measure will restore party primaries for trial-court races. Political affiliations will be included on the general-election ballot.

Oklahoma: As Court Challenge Continues, Oklahoma Looks to Solidify Voter ID Law | Oklahoma Watch

The ongoing fight to overturn Oklahoma’s voter identification law – a legal challenge that has spanned more than five years – could soon face a new obstacle. The state Senate passed a joint resolution this week that seeks to amend the Oklahoma Constitution with language requiring “proof of identity” to be able to vote. In practice, this would have little to no impact on the state’s existing law that requires voters to show a voter ID card or a photo ID issued by the U.S. government, Oklahoma state government or an Oklahoma tribal government. Elevating the requirement to the constitutional level would better shield it from lawsuits, including one that is now before the state Supreme Court.

Pennsylvania: Controversial 197th District special election heading to federal court? | Philadelphia Inquirer

Tuesday’s controversial special election to fill the state House’s 197th District seat may be moving from the polling place to federal court, as Philadelphia’s City Commissioners prepare to start tallying the votes Friday morning. Lawyers for Republican nominee Lucinda Little, the only candidate who was listed on the ballot, and Green Party nominee Cheri Honkala, who waged a write-in campaign, sent letters to the Commissioners Thursday, demanding that they seal and preserve the ballots. Both camps alleged widespread voter fraud in the North Philadelphia district. Little won just 198 votes, which was 7.4 percent of the 2,681 ballots cast. In an unusual development, 2,483 write-in votes were cast.

West Virginia: House committee sends watered-down voter ID bill to floor | Charleston Gazette-Mail

The House Judiciary Committee sent a bare-bones, edited version of a new voter-identification law to the chamber floor Thursday for consideration by the full West Virginia House of Delegates. The original bill would have required state-issued photo identification to vote, making West Virginia one of the strictest states, in terms of voting standards. However, the new version of the bill only delays last year’s voter identification law — which has not yet been enacted — until July 1, 2019. The new bill also stops a requirement that the Division of Motor Vehicles forward to the Secretary of State’s Office information from anyone who opts out of registering to vote.

Europe: Who rules the rulers?: Safeguarding democratic rule within the EU | The Economist

As the European project grew from six reasonably cohesive members to 28 more diverse and less controllable ones, it was faced with two big questions. One was what to do if a country decided to leave. The response of the United States to South Carolina’s secession in 1860 seemed excessive, so instead the treaty was amended to include Article 50, which sets out the procedure for exit. The hope was that it would never be used, but now Britain is invoking it. Untried though the procedure is, one thing seems certain: it will be long-drawn-out and painful for everyone. The second question was what to do if a country started to trample on the democratic standards that are a condition of membership. Europe has had to consider this issue before, in 2000, when Austria brought Jörg Haider, a far-right politician, into a coalition government. The EU tried to isolate Austria by freezing contacts, but when that failed to oust Mr Haider it gradually thawed, and has since tacitly accepted governments sustained by extremist parties. In the 2000s several commentators suggested that Italy under Silvio Berlusconi would have failed the Copenhagen criteria for membership because he wielded such enormous power over the Italian media, but at the time nothing was done about it.

Bulgaria: The Under-the-Radar EU Vote That Opens the Door for Russia | Bloomberg

With eyes fixed on populist threats in other European Union elections, one vote has escaped the glare. And this one promises to strengthen Russia’s foothold in the region. While affirming their commitment to the EU, Bulgaria’s two biggest parties say they’ll revive economic ties with Russia to benefit voters who feel let down by the bloc a decade after membership. The Socialists, neck and neck with Gerb before Sunday’s snap parliamentary ballot, vow to go further, by sinking sanctions against President Vladimir Putin’s government. A Russian-friendly Socialist won the presidency in 2016.

China: Hong Kong faces ‘selection not election’ of China’s favoured candidate | The Guardian

Every newly elected leader of Hong Kong takes the oath of office in front of China’s president, below a giant red national flag of China, and the slightly smaller banner of the city. It is a tightly scripted event designed to shield Chinese officials from the embarrassment of dissenting voices. In Hong Kong politics, formality is everything, and many say the election for the city’s next leader which happens on Sunday will indeed be a formality. Most expect Beijing’s preferred candidate to be anointed despite her rival being by far the more popular choice. … However, only 1,194 people are able to cast a ballot, far less than the city’s 3.8 million registered voters. Those who have a say include all 70 members of the city’s legislature and some district politicians, business groups, professional unions, pop stars, priests and professors.

France: Le Pen visits Russia ahead of French presidential election | AFP

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was due in Moscow on Friday for meetings with lawmakers less than a month before a presidential election clouded by allegations of Russian interference. The leader of the National Front, an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union party, is seeking to bolster her international credentials ahead of the two-round French election on April 23 and May 7. Her visit comes on the heels of a trip this week to Chad, base of a French military operation that’s aimed at rooting out Islamic extremists from a swath of Africa. The head of the Russian Duma’s international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying Le Pen would hold meetings on the “international agenda such as the war on terrorism”.

India: Election Commission served notice by top court on efficacy of Electronic Voting Machines | Times of India

The Supreme Court today served a notice to the Election Commission on a complaint filed seeking an investigation into the efficacy and accuracy of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) that some politicians recently said can be “easily manipulated.”
The top court however refused to grant the petitioner’s request to issue a notice to the CBI on the same issue. ML Sharma, the petitioner, had filed the petition after BSP leader Mayawati and then AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal raised questions about EVMs, saying their parties suffered big defeats in UP and Punjab, respectively, because of these machines that had been “tampered with”.

Zimbabwe: Opposition Parties Demand Internationally-run 2018 Elections | VoA News

Opposition parties in Zimbabwe say they have no confidence in the country’s electoral commission and are calling for an international body to run the 2018 elections. Opposition parties led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai held a rally of about 500 people Wednesday in Harare at which they said the next election is heading for a dispute unless the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, or ZEC, steps aside. The rally follows the electoral commission’s request to President Robert Mugabe’s government to buy biometric voter registration equipment in preparation for Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections. The opposition says the move is unconstitutional. Opposition supporters marched to the commission’s offices to present a petition, singing on their way.