When he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, former FBI agent Clint Watts described how Russians used armies of Twitter bots to spread fake news using accounts that seem to be Midwestern swing-voter Republicans. “So that way whenever you’re trying to socially engineer them and convince them that the information is true, it’s much more simple because you see somebody and they look exactly like you, even down to the pictures,” Watts told the panel, which is investigating Russia’s role in interfering in the U.S. elections. In an interview Monday with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, says the Russian misinformation campaign didn’t stop with the election of President Trump.
President Donald Trump has been trying very hard to convince his supporters that the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US election and possible connections between members of his campaign and the Russian government are some sort of plot against him. Over the past several days, Trump has labeled the stories about the investigation “fake” and “a scam” on Twitter. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation appears to disagree. Over the weekend, The Financial Times revealed that the agency charged with counter-espionage investigations is ramping up its inquiry into Russian election-meddling by bringing a veteran agent back to Washington to head up a new 20-person unit dedicated to the direction of the sprawling effort. One of the sources the FT relied on said that the change reflected a “surge” of new resources into the investigation, and was seen as confirmation that the agency is taking the case extremely seriously. At the same time, Trump has been using his social media accounts to point fingers everywhere but toward himself and his associates.
We are still not conclusively able to connect the dots on the question of whether there was any coordination or collusion between members of Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians who interfered in our election to benefit him, but those dots do continue to multiply at an alarming rate. First, and we have to keep saying this because this fact keeps getting obscured in the subterfuge of deflection, misdirection and ideological finger-pointing about what has yet to be proven: It is absolutely clear that the Russians did interfere in our election. This is not a debatable issue. This is not fake news. This is not a witch hunt. This happened. The investigations, rightly, are seeking to figure out exactly how and to what degree, and those questions obviously depend on knowing more about campaign contacts with Russian meddlers.
California: Here’s why California counties can ignore a half-dozen election laws | Los Angeles Times
In the partnership between state and county governments that underwrites California’s elections every two years, one of the partners has racked up a sizable IOU. Yes, it’s the state. And the running tab is almost $76 million. Whether that tab gets paid off, or keeps growing, is an open question. In the meantime, the unpaid bill means local officials can legally refuse to follow a half-dozen election laws. Small ones? Hardly. They could refuse to provide absentee ballots to anyone who wants one. Or perhaps even more provocative in the current election-integrity climate, they could refuse to use long-standing legal rules when asked to verify a voter’s signature on a provisional ballot. No money, no mandated services.
Kevin Deegan-Krause held up an oddly shaped Lego creation last week and asked a crowd of about 150 people in Plymouth, “Can a creepy lizard threaten democracy?” His red and blue depiction of the sprawling 14th Congressional District didn’t look like a creepy lizard. His son thinks it looks like a saxophone, while his daughter says it resembles an assault rifle — even including an open spot for a trigger where Farmington has been carved out of the district. The Lego blocks may not look like the Massachusetts congressional district drawn in 1812 that spawned the term gerrymander — that district looked like a salamander and was combined with the name of the Massachusetts governor at the time, Elbridge Gerry. But Deegan-Krause’s teaching tool is a pretty accurate representation of the 14th Congressional District and a classic example of how gerrymandering is happening in Michigan.
New Hampshire: U.S. Supreme Court declines to review ruling striking down ban on ‘ballot selfies’ | Union Leader
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review lower court rulings striking down New Hampshire’s ban on “ballot selfies.” The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire challenged the state’s ban on “ballot selfies,” a prohibition of a voter taking a photo of their marked ballots and posting on social media to show how they voted, in 2014. Lower courts sided with the ACLU and three voters in the Granite State on the grounds of free speech. The ACLU represented former Rep. Leon H. Rideout, Andrew Langlois, and Brandon D. Ross, in the suit against Secretary of State William Gardner. Rideout said Monday the state was overreacting to new technology and social media. “I’m actually kind of surprised it went this far,” he said.
North Carolina: Federal judge rules lawmakers’ attempt to change Greensboro election process unconstitutional | News & Observer
A federal judge on Monday overturned a legislative redrawing of the Greensboro City Council districts, calling the maps unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles stated in her ruling that the action taken by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in July 2015 established one racially gerrymandered district and unjustly packed too many Democratic-leaning voters into several districts, weakening their overall voting power. The Greensboro redistricting plan was sponsored by Republican Sen. Trudy Wade but she claimed legislative immunity and refused to testify at the trial earlier this year about why she introduced the 2015 plan. It surfaced in the same legislative session that the General Assembly attempted to change election districts for the Wake County commissioners. Both bills drew much criticism and speculation that the changes were power grabs designed to elect more Republicans.
North Dakota: Voter ID bill, eliminating affidavit option, passes North Dakota Senate | Bismarck Tribune
North Dakota senators approved changes to the state’s voter identification laws Monday. The bill, introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, requires voters to provide an identification issued by the state Department of Transportation or tribal government. It also includes options for those living in “special circumstances.” If the information on the ID isn’t current, it could be supplemented with a current utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.
Monday is the final day that Franklin County residents can register for the May primary. Voters will weigh in on 16 different issues, including for members of City Council and the Board of Education. In 2017, Ohio became the 38th state to implement online voter registration. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, this minor modernization has a number of benefits. According the Pew report, online registration is more accessible, especially for young adults who tend to move more frequently. And because it’s instantly cross checked by records at the BMV, it’s more accurate than the standard paper system.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has criticised Armenia’s weekend election, saying it had been tainted by instances of vote-buying and interference. President Serzh Sarksyan’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) won Sunday’s elections, official results showed, laying the foundation for a new parliamentary system of government. The OSCE said in a statement the elections were well-administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. But, it added, they had been marked by organisational problems and undue interference in the process, mostly by party representatives. It also noted some pressure on civil servants as well as private sector employees.
The office in charge of elections in Hong Kong was ridiculed on Monday for its “nonsensical” account of why it transported the personal data of nearly 3.8 million registered voters to a back-up venue for the chief executive ballot, only to have it stolen a week ago. The Registration and Electoral Office said the information was needed to check the identities of Election Committee members entering the venue at the AsiaWorld-Expo. Facing criticism that such reasoning made no sense because all that was required was a list of the 1,194 committee members tasked to pick the city’s leader instead of the entire electorate at large, the office admitted its procedures had been “inappropriate” in hindsight.
Grilled by lawmakers on the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee, chief electoral officer Wong See-man revealed that the follow-up apology to voters had cost taxpayers HK$5 million.
Right-wing opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso alleged fraud Sunday in Ecuador’s presidential runoff election, vowing to contest results that had his rival Lenin Moreno extending a decade of socialist rule. Moreno, the designated heir to President Rafael Correa’s “21st-century socialism,” had 51.07 percent of the vote to 48.93 percent for ex-banker Lasso, with 94.2 percent of districts reporting, said the National Electoral Council. Lasso said his campaign had evidence of an attempt to rig the results. “We are going to defend the will of the Ecuadoran people in the face of an attempted fraud that aims to install what would be an illegitimate government,” he said, setting up what could be a long and ugly fight.
France’s polling commission has issued a warning over a Russian news report suggesting conservative candidate François Fillon leads the race for the presidency, contradicting the findings of mainstream opinion polls. The cautionary note from the watchdog followed allegations in February by aides of centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron that he was a target of “fake news” put out by Russian media, including the Sputnik news agency. Macron takes a hard line on European Union sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, whereas Fillon has said they are totally ineffective, creating a “cold war” climate that needs to be reversed. Almost all media in France are drawing on polls that have shown since mid-February that Fillon, a former prime minister, is trailing in third place behind Macron and the Front National candidate, Marine Le Pen, for the 23 April first round. Third place would mean Fillon’s elimination from the 7 May runoff.
The German government is scrambling to respond to a serious and growing threat of cyber attacks, but it lacks the legal framework to retaliate with cyber attacks of its own, top officials said on Monday. Cyber security is a major concern for Berlin as a Sept. 24 federal election approaches. German intelligence agencies said in December Russia was seeking to use propaganda, cyber attacks and other means to destabilize German society before the vote. “Cyber is what keeps me up at night,” Deputy Defense Minister Katrin Suder told reporters at an event hosted by the Federal Academy for Security Policy, a government training body. “This is not science fiction anymore … It is a topic of immense and growing importance.” Suder said the German military was making progress with a new cyber command that starts operations on Wednesday, and control over cyber functions that had been scattered across the military had become more centralized.
In less than three weeks, 7 million people in the capital will have the chance to exercise their voting rights in the runoff of one of the fiercest gubernatorial elections in the city’s history. While recent elections in the capital have been largely free of conflicts, this time a large mass movement called Tamasya AlMaidah (Al-Maidah Tour) has cast lingering fear among voters, especially with hard-line group Islam Defenders Front (FPI) expected to join the movement. Named after a verse in the Quran that is often used by conservative Muslim political groups to urge Muslims to vote for political candidates of the same faith as themselves, the movement aims to deploy at least 100 volunteers to supervise 1,000 polling stations that they consider prone to foul play on election day on April 19. Al-Maidah Tour initiator Farid Poniman claimed that more than 100,000 people had joined the movement and others would follow suit.
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic appeared headed toward a first-round victory in Serbia’s presidential election on Sunday, winning more than 50 percent of the vote among a field of 11 candidates, according to exit polls and early results. If the preliminary vote count holds and Mr. Vucic passes the 50 percent threshold, he would avoid a riskier two-way runoff on April 16. While Serbia is a parliamentary republic and the presidency is intended as a largely symbolic position, the actual effect of the election result is seen as removing the last check on Mr. Vucic’s power and as a further erosion of Serbia’s nascent democratic institutions. Mr. Vucic, by far the most popular political leader in the country, will choose his successor as prime minister, most likely a pliant one, and he is expected to exercise unchallenged control over all of the country’s main political institutions: Parliament, the executive branch, the ruling party and now the presidency.