National: House Democrats Ask Devin Nunes to Recuse Himself From Russia Inquiry | The New York Times

Top House Democrats on Monday called on the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to recuse himself from the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, thrusting the entire inquiry into jeopardy amid what they described as mounting evidence he was too close to President Trump to be impartial. The demands followed revelations that the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, had met on White House grounds with a source who showed him secret American intelligence reports. The reports, Mr. Nunes said last week, showed that Mr. Trump or his closest associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.

The new revelation that the information actually came from a meeting held on the grounds of the White House intensified questions about what prompted Mr. Nunes to make the claim about the intelligence gathering, and who gave him the information. Representatives Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, and Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, suggested that Mr. Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, was simply too close to the White House to run an independent, thorough inquiry.

National: House spat leaves Senate in driver’s seat on Russia probe | Politico

After a week of partisan rancor that threatened to bring down the House’s probe into Russian interference during the 2016 election, the Senate is quickly realizing it may be the only chamber left that can produce findings free of the cloud of White House meddling. “You don’t have the kind of blow-ups [in the Senate] you had at the House,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Politico. The Senate Intelligence Committee has been able to avoid the partisan fissures that have weakened its House counterpart, and began conducting private interviews with intelligence officials last week. Sources say it also plans to interview Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, who had met in December with the Russian ambassador.

National: The Legislators Working to Thwart the Will of Voters | The Atlantic

… “This isn’t how democracy works,” said Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a nonprofit that works with progressive ballot campaigns. “You don’t get to pick and choose when you like a process and when you don’t.” Sarver sees a trend of legislatures trying to restrict voters’ ability to make laws and amend state constitutions around the country. The popularity of initiatives has ebbed and flowed across the years, and the roles of defender and critic have been fluid. But there are a few factors that make the present moment especially ripe for such conflicts. First, Republicans dominate state legislatures around the country, thanks to favorable redistricting maps drawn after the 2010 Census, even in states with sizable Democratic-leaning voter bases that want more progressive policies. Second, while ballots sometimes function to deal with purely state-level concerns, policy fights are increasingly nationalized. Groups like BISC and the Fairness Project are working to coordinate state-level pushes around the country on liberal reforms like paid sick leave, minimum-wage hikes, or recreational marijuana. Their opponents are working at the national level too. In November, ProPublica and The New York Times reported on how major corporate lobbies, some convened under the auspices of the Koch brothers’ political network, have sought to push back on ballot measures.

Editorials: Floridians can put a stop to denying ex-felons the vote | Frank Askin/Miami Herald

Can Florida claim to be a democracy when one out of every 10 of adult citizens in the state are denied the right to vote because some time in their lives they were convicted of a felony? And 75 percent of those people are out of prison and otherwise living as free members of the community? Florida is one of a handful of states that impose a lifetime voting ban on convicted felons. Their right to vote can only be restored on a case-by-case basis with the approval of the governor and two members of the Board of Executive Clemency — the cabinet — on a petition filed five years after release from prison. Since Scott’s election in 2010, only 2,487 petitions have been granted. Only a few other states come even close to disenfranchising so many ex-felons.

Indiana: Senate Committee Approves Watered-Down BMV Voter Registration Bill | WBAA

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles would be required to offer Hoosiers the chance to register to vote more often under legislation approved by a Senate committee. But the bill does dramatically less than its original version. Under current law, the BMV is required to offer voter registration to anyone seeking a driver’s license, permit or ID card. Rep. Clyde Kersey’s (D-Terre Haute) bill would require the BMV to offer voter registration during all other customer interactions. But Kersey’s original proposal would have implemented automatic voter registration at the BMV. That language was stripped out in the House Elections Committee. Chair Milo Smith (R-Columbus) says there were issues with the idea, including that, in any given trip to the BMV, people might not have all the documents needed to register.

Minnesota: Ranked-choice opponents push St. Paul to vote on voting, again | Minnesota Public Radio News

Though St. Paul residents approved ranked-choice voting in a 2009 referendum, it may be heading for a vote in St. Paul again. Opponents of ranked-choice voting, also called instant-runoff voting, say it has unnecessarily delayed results and hasn’t delivered on supporters’ promises. They’re going to make their case to put it back before voters as soon as November. “It promises a lot of things and it doesn’t deliver on any of them,” says Chuck Repke, a neighborhood activist, one-time city council staffer and political activist.

Montana: Special election process stalled due to pending legislation, lawsuit | NBC

Counties across Montana are trying to figure out how to finance the special election on May 25 to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke. Zinke was nominated to President Trump’s cabinet as the Secretary of Interior in February. County elections officials proposed Senate Bill 305, which would allow counties to decide if they want to hold an all-vote-by-mail election, but there’s much debate. Missoula County Elections Administrator Rebecca Connors says an all-vote-by-mail election would save Missoula County around $130,000. She says the bill would help smaller counties with tighter budgets and smaller elections staff. Bill opponents argue the bill would make voting less accessible because not everyone has access to a mailing address.

Nevada: Democrats block open primary bill | Reno Gazette-Journal

State Senate Democrats are blocking a bill introduced by a Republican that would switch from partisan to open primaries, allowing all registered voters regardless of party in Nevada to participate. Senate Bill 103 introduced by state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, would have created an open primary process where the top two vote-getters in the primary move on to the general election. Currently, Nevada holds partisan primaries where only registered party members can vote, essentially keeping around 28 percent of registered voters – about 413,000 people – from participating. Despite Democrats’ policy outline – called the “Nevada Blueprint” – expressly stating they would “Fight to ensure that voting is free, fair, and accessible for all eligible voters in Nevada,” Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said Settelmeyer’s bill won’t get a hearing.

South Carolina: Election Commission seeks more money for onslaught of special elections | The State

Faced with paying to replace five elected officials, and eying a State House corruption probe that could kick out more, the S.C. State Election Commission has decided it needs more cash. The office that runs S.C. elections is seeking permission from state lawmakers to dip into two pots of state money — roughly $255,000 — left over from other election programs. The rare request comes because of concerns about the volume of special elections the commission must bankroll this year. “You never know how many you’re going to have,” Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said. “Someone could die. Someone could be convicted or resign. That’s out of our control.

Virginia: McAuliffe vetoes bills concerning voter registration | CBS

Three pieces of legislation involving voting have been vetoed. Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the vetoes on Monday, saying all three would have created barriers to voting instead of improving the integrity of the system. The first bill was Senate Bill 1253, which would have required electronic pollbooks to contain photographs of registered voters that comes from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles or from the creation of voter photo ID cards. It would also have not required the voter to present a statutorily required form of ID. McAuliffe wrote the bill required the state to make costly changes to the existing voter registration database that would not improve the integrity of the election. He also said no funding was provided by the legislation for localities to get and maintain the equipment necessary or for the state to prepare for implementing this requirement.

Bulgaria: Borisov’s pro-EU party beats Socialists in Bulgaria’s snap election | AFP

Boiko Borisov, the comeback specialist of Bulgarian politics, looked to have done it again as exit polls from a snap election put his pro-EU centre-right party in first place. Borisov’s European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party won about 32%, the exit polls on Sunday showed, ahead of the Socialist party (BSP) on about 28%. Observers had suggested victory for the BSP might see Bulgaria, a Nato member, tilt more towards Russia. Moscow, which has long had close cultural and economic ties with Bulgaria, has been accused of seeking to expand its influence in other Balkan countries in recent months. Borisov said after the exit poll that he was “obliged” by the vote to form a government but whether the burly former firefighter and mayor of Sofia, 57, can form a stable coalition remains to be seen.

Ecuador: Julian Assange and Ecuador’s Election | Wall Street Journal

Depending on how things go in the April 2 presidential runoff election in Ecuador, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may soon be looking for a new home. In 2012 Mr. Assange was granted asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy, where he went to avoid deportation. He is wanted in Sweden for questioning on sexual-assault charges but might eventually be sent to the U.S., where he could face severe penalties for posting classified material on the WikiLeaks website. If former banker and political outsider Guillermo Lasso of the opposition party CREO wins, he has promised to evict Mr. Assange. Should Lenín Moreno—President Rafael Correa’s handpicked candidate—prevail, Mr. Assange’s asylum lodgings are likely safe.

France: Le Pen says lacks election funds, has no Russian backing | Reuters

French far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Monday she had yet to secure all the funding she needs for her election campaign with less than four weeks to go before voting begins. The National Front leader, who is running in second place in the presidential race according to opinion polls, repeated her complaint that French banks were refusing to lend her money. Speaking on Europe 1 radio after a visit last week to Moscow where she met President Vladimir Putin, she said she did not have any financial backing from Russia, nor from any Russian financial institution, but that she was trying to get a loan from a foreign bank. “I have to,” she said. “I’m prevented from borrowing from French banks so now I am being told off for asking for a loan from a foreign bank. What am I supposed to do? … The French banks have lent to all the presidential candidates except for me.”

Kenya: Electoral Commission Defied Expert Advice in Sh3.8bn Polls Kit Tender | allAfrica

Electoral Commission chiefs went against the advice of their own tender evaluation committee and went ahead to award a Sh3.8 billion contract for the supply of voter technology to a French firm which had failed to meet the criteria set out in the bid document. The Nation has learnt that the firm – Safran Identity and Security – had been disqualified by a six-member committee set up to evaluate the bids by 10 companies that had expressed interest in supplying a system for voter identification and results transmission for the August 8 General Election. Despite the disqualification, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission announced last Friday that it had resolved to directly procure the election equipment from Safran, following the cancellation of a previous tender awarded to Gemalto SA – another French firm.

Russia: Why Russian protests are making the Kremlin rethink 2018 presidential elections | CSMonitor

By staging significant protest actions in almost 100 Russian cities Sunday, Alexei Navalny has laid down a serious challenge to Vladimir Putin. The anti-corruption blogger-turned-politician wants to run for president in elections that are barely a year off, and has been conducting himself as if his campaign were already under way. The Kremlin has the means to prevent him, by invoking a criminal conviction, recently upheld by a regional court, that could bar him from running for office. It has been standard procedure under Mr. Putin’s brand of “managed democracy” to cull the ballot, using various pretexts, to ensure that independent challengers are kept out and results are tailored to match the authorities’ expectations. That system has mostly worked in the Putin era, though it experienced a tough shock when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest alleged fraud in the 2011 Duma (parliament) elections. To continue working, the system requires public acceptance of election results, or at least apathy.