National: British spies were first to spot Trump team’s links with Russia | The Guardian

Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told. GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added. Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said. The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence – known as sigint – included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

National: Safer Elections Mean Newer Equipment, No Networks | StateTech Magazine

Among the many contentious arguments of the 2016 presidential election was the question of the security of the vote itself. Accusations flew, with claims that the election would be rigged or hacked in some way. In part, those accusations were lent credence by the state of voting equipment in the United States. In many localities, equipment is approaching the end of its useful life; many states and counties last upgraded with the help of federal funding provided through the Help America Vote Act of 2002. “As the 2000 election demonstrated, and now again, elections in general and voting technology in particular is a highly under-resourced and underappreciated part of our democratic infrastructure,” says Professor Charles Stewart III of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab.

National: Global Cyber Norms Insufficient to Prevent Future Election Hacks | MeriTalk

As the State Department works to gain international support for its cybersecurity framework, experts said that global norms and deterrence won’t be enough to convince state actors not to influence elections through cyber means in the future. Robert Axelrod, Walgreen Professor for the study of human understanding at the University of Michigan, compared the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hacks to Watergate. Both incidents involved the theft of information. The difference is that in Watergate, the incident was handled by domestic law enforcement and the president resigned. In the DNC hacks the incident was handled by international powers and there was “minor retaliation,” according to Axelrod. … “I think we’re going to see a lot more attacks like them in future campaigns,” said J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan. Halderman said that most people think that the United States’ voting machines are secure because they are different in each county and they aren’t connected to the Internet. “In fact, many of these things break down,” said Halderman.

Iowa: Contentious voter ID bill gets final OK; heads to Branstad | Des Moines Register

The Iowa Senate gave final approval Thursday to contentious legislation that will require voters to show government-issued identification at the polls and will reduce the time period for early voting. House File 516 passed on a 28-21 vote with Republicans casting all the yes votes. Democrats and one independent all voted no. The bill now heads to Gov. Terry Branstad, who is expected to sign it. The measure had previously passed the Senate, but a second vote was needed on Thursday because of several amendments approved by the House. There was only brief debate Thursday, but Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, strongly objected to one amended provision. The change pushes back the date for allowing 17-year-old Iowans to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 by the date of the general election. The change will now take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, instead of being available for the 2018 election. “This change goes hand in hand with a voter suppression bill,” Bisignano said.

Montana: Judge won’t halt special election ballots for appeal | The Missoulian

A federal judge on Tuesday denied a request to delay the printing and mailing of ballots for Montana’s special congressional election for three minor party and independent candidates who are suing to be in the race. The request by Thomas Breck of the Green Party and independents Steve Kelly and Doug Campbell was made after U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said he would not unilaterally add them to the ballot in the May 25 election. The three men appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked Morris to prevent state election officials from printing and mailing ballots to military and overseas voters while the case is pending. Morris said in his order that he would halt the lawsuit in his court until the appeal is resolved, but he won’t prevent the election from proceeding because the three men haven’t shown that they are likely to win their case.

North Carolina: Republican Lawmakers Dilute Democratic Governor’s Powers | Associated Press

After being rebuffed once by judges who determined lawmakers went too far, Republican legislators on Tuesday tried a second time to dilute the power of North Carolina’s new Democratic governor to run elections. In separate votes, the state House and Senate voted along party lines to trim the power governors have had for more than a century to oversee elections by appointing the state and county elections boards that settle disputes and enforce ballot laws. The state elections board has had five members appointed by the governor, with the majority being members of the governor’s party, since 1901, according to state records. Gov. Roy Cooper has promised to veto the new legislation, which lets the governor appoint all eight members of an expanded elections board — but from lists provided by the two major political parties.

Texas: Judge: voting rights law intentionally discriminates | Houston Chronicle

For a second time, a judge ruled Monday that state lawmakers violated federal voting rights protections by intentionally discriminating against minority voters when they approved a strict law requiring an approved photo ID to cast a ballot.
In a 10-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos wrote that the state “has not met its burden” to prove that Texas legislators could have enforced the 2011 voter ID law “without its discriminatory purpose.” At issue is Senate Bill 14, signed by former Gov. Rick Perry, which requires Texans to show one of a handful of acceptable government-issues photo IDs before they vote, including a drivers’ license, state handgun permit or U.S. passport. The measure, among the strictest in the nation, has for years gone through the federal court system for years. “After appropriate reconsideration and review of the record … the court holds that plaintiffs have sustained their burden of proof to show that SB 14 was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the judge wrote. “Racial discrimination need not be the primary purpose as long as it is one purpose.”

U.S. Territories: Territorial Voting Rights Brief Filed in Seventh Circuit | Virgin Islands Consortium

Earlier today Plaintiffs from Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico filed their opening brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit challenging discriminatory overseas voting laws and making the case that where you live shouldn’t impact your right to vote for president. The brief comes just days after the Harvard Law Review published a special feature, “Developments in the Law: U.S. Territories,” addressing the unequal status facing the over 4 million citizens who live in the territories. “We are optimistic that the Seventh Circuit will recognize that the right to vote is ‘fundamental’ for all Americans, including those in U.S. territories,” said Neil Weare, President and Founder of We the People Project, a non-profit that advocates for equal rights and representation in U.S. territories. “We are pleased the Harvard Law Review is giving attention to how the courts and Congress have historically treated citizens in U.S. territories with a second-class status. This case represents an important opportunity for the Seventh Circuit to change that narrative.”

Ecuador: Electoral Council to recount 1.3 million election votes as opposition leader alleges fraud | Associated Press

Ecuador election officials have agreed to recount nearly 1.3 million votes as opposition leader Guillermo Lasso continues to allege fraud in the presidential election. The National Electoral Council announced late Thursday it would recount all ballots contested in complaints filed by both parties, about 10 per cent of the total vote. Official results from the small Andean nation’s April 2 election showed former banker Lasso lost by less than 3 percentage points to Rafael Correa’s hand-picked successor, Lenin Moreno. International observers including the Organization of American States have said they found no irregularities, though Lasso claims his campaign found numerous inconsistencies and has refused to accept the official results.

India: Come, prove electronic voting machines can be tampered with, EC challenges sceptics | Times of India

With Congress, Left, AAP and others claiming that electronic voting machines were manipulated to favour BJP, the Election Commission on Wednesday threw a challenge to political parties, scientists and technical experts to prove that EVMs could be tampered with. The open challenge, which will be on the lines of a similar exercise undertaken in 2009, follows doubts raised by several opposition parties which met the EC and have also petitioned the President. These also include BSP, SP and RJD. The allegations have been raised in the context of BJP’s landslide win in the UP assembly elections.

Turkey: Voters Go the Polls After Erdogan Campaign | The New York Times

Turks have begun voting on Sunday on a referendum that would substantially reconfigure the political system and grant sweeping powers to the office of the presidency. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes Turks at home and abroad will vote “yes” to his demand for the reconfiguration, but his critics fear the vote may add the weight of the constitution to his de facto one-man rule. If passed, the proposed changes would have a profound impact on a country that is a leading player in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia. The latest polls suggest the vote could be close, despite the government’s prolonged intimidation of “no” campaigners, several of whom have been shot at and beaten while on the stump by persons unknown.

Turkey: Observers to guard against voter fraud in Turkey′s referendum | Deutsche Welle

Turks are voting in today’s referendum on presidential power, and tens of thousands of ballot box observers have volunteered across the country to monitor the voting process. Some are independent, while others are aligned with political parties, but all will work to deter voter fraud in what may be the republic’s most significant decision since its founding in 1923. Shortly after voting began on Sunday, there were reports that “observers detained in Diyarbakir” and “Reports of monitors being barred from their assigned polling areas in southeast Turkey” … During a phone interview on Friday, Hakan Ozturk, a board member for the opposition-affiliated Unity for Democracy (DIB), said, “We expect fraud.”

National: The Entirely Preventable Battles Raging Over Voting Rights | The Atlantic

In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts made a sweeping declaration about the state of voting rights in America. “Our country has changed,” he wrote in his majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, “and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” With those words, Roberts and four other justices on the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a hammer of a civil-rights law that helped bludgeon recalcitrant states toward multiracial democracy. The majority concluded Congress was relying on out-of-date data when formulating which jurisdictions still had to receive federal approval to change their election laws and policies—a practice known as preclearance that’s meant to block discriminatory measures. Four justices, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, denounced the decision in stark terms. “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA,” she wrote in dissent.

National: Gorsuch Arrives At The Supreme Court At A Crucial Moment For Voting Rights | TPM

Less then a week into the job, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will have his first chance, behind closed doors at least, to weigh in on voting rights. When the justices meet Friday for their private conference, the first since Gorsuch’s confirmation, among the cases that they will be considering whether to take up is an appeal of a landmark ruling striking down North Carolina’s mammoth restrictive voting law. The moment is an anxious one for voting rights advocates, who had seen a number of lower court victories on key cases in the months since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and were cautiously optimistic that the Supreme Court was about to flip their way in time for them to cement that progress at the highest court. While it is unclear how Gorsuch is likely to rule on the major questions bubbling up in voting rights litigation, if he does represent the second coming of Scalia, as he has been billed by his supporters, then some of those intermediary wins are now at risk.

National: New threat rising to Voting Rights Act | National Constitution Center

About four years after the Supreme Court took away the government’s strongest authority to protect minority voters’ rights, a backup power under the federal Voting Rights Act – weaker and harder to use – is now being threatened, just as federal courts have begun applying it. At issue now, as it was when the Supreme Court decided the case of Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013, is a form of government supervision of voting rights that goes by the technical term, “pre-clearance.” When operating against a state or local government, that means that officials cannot put any new voting law or procedure – however minor – into effect without first getting approval in Washington, D.C. Three cases now developing in federal courts based in Texas are testing whether the variation of “pre-clearance” will take the place of what the Supreme Court scuttled. And there are already serious challenges facing that prospect, in each of those cases.

Arizona: House approves Chamber-backed initiative proposals | Associated Press

Republicans who control the Arizona House on Thursday passed two measures that dramatically tighten rules on how citizen initiatives make the ballot and how they can be challenged, adding to a previously passed law restricting how initiative petition circulators can be paid. Together, the action by the Legislature reassembles a major catch-all bill pushed early in the year by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry in response to the passage of a minimum wage increase. Republican backers and the Chamber call the measures needed reforms to the initiative process. Democrats and voting rights groups call them an all-out assault on the initiative process that has been in place since statehood. No Democrats voted for the measures, and all Republicans voted yes.

California: In narrow election, downtown votes against creating neighborhood council for skid row | Los Angeles Times

Downtown residents and business people narrowly defeated a proposal to form a separate neighborhood council for skid row, the city’s epicenter of homelessness, but the measure organizers said Friday that they would continue to press for a stronger voice for their community. People with ties to a broad swath of downtown interests voted 826 to 764 against a breakaway council for the 10,000 residents of skid row’s tents, renovated slum hotels and apartments, according to an unofficial tally. The results will not be certified until challenges or recount requests, if any, are resolved, according to Stephen Box, the director of outreach and communications for the L.A. Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

Editorials: Kobach finally convicts an immigrant, but Kansas is paying a price | The Kansas City Star

Hand out the celebratory cigars. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach finally nabbed himself an immigrant. Pardon if we don’t order the band to play. Kobach announced Wednesday that he’d achieved an elusive goal — catching an immigrant who voted illegally in a Kansas election. Victor David Garcia Bebek of Wichita pleaded guilty to voter fraud. The Peruvian native’s voting record was uncovered after he registered to vote and it was discovered that he’d already voted three times in past elections. It’s a misdemeanor. A cautionary note for those tempted to crow that the case confirms the nonsense about undocumented immigrants committing widespread voter fraud: Bebek was discovered after he gained U.S. citizenship this year. He was legally present in the country when he cast previous votes.

Maine: Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments on new ranked-choice voting law | Portland Press Herald

The state’s highest court heard arguments Thursday on whether a ballot question approved last November to elect top state and federal officials under a ranked-choice voting system complies with the Maine Constitution. Issues debated in the hourlong hearing before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court included the impact on the two-party political system, the Legislature’s responsibility to enact the will of the people and whether the change would create a constitutional crisis. Several cities around the United States, including Portland, use ranked-choice voting, but no states employ it for statewide offices. The law fundamentally changes the way voters select the state’s top elected officials – legislators, the governor and Maine’s four congressional delegates. Attorneys representing the Maine Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the campaign to pass the ranked-choice voting law, made arguments to the justices.

Montana: Special election continues to be mired in confusion | Mineral Independent

“What is better for democracy than to put a ballot in the hands of every registered voter?” was the prominent headline on an April 7 press release by Governor Steve Bullock. He issued an amendatory veto to House Bill 83, and added language that would allow counties to conduct the special Congressional election by automatic absentee mailing. “We can and should help people participate in our democracy by streamlining government and saving taxpayer’s money,” said Gov. Bullock during a press conference. “I take seriously my responsibility to strengthen our democracy by helping make sure that more eligible citizens can participate in that democracy-not fewer. And what is better for democracy than to put a ballot in the hands of every registered voter?”

New Hampshire: Town Clerk: GOP Voting Bill “Overwhelmingly Complicated And Confusing” | New Hampshire Public Radio

The uproar over Senate Bill 3 shows no signs of abating. The bill’s lead sponsor, Republican state senator Regina Birdsell, insists it simply ensures that each vote cast in New Hampshire is valid and that voters meet certain requirements. She says she removed elements that were especially objectionable to opponents, including involvement of local police in helping to confirm voters’ addresses. “We are looking to make sure that anyone who casts a ballot has a stake in the community that they say they’re domiciled in,” she said on The Exchange. Birdsell denied that college students or members of the military will be adversely affected.

Tennessee: Justin Timberlake selfie bill gets OK from State Senate | The Tennessean

Voters in Tennessee got one step closer Thursday to being able to take a selfie inside a voting booth at the next election. The Senate voted 30-0 in favor of a bill that would allow voters to take photos in a voting booth as long as they don’t take a picture of their ballot, use a flash or noise on their phones or take photos of others. The issue gained national attention last year when Justin Timberlake sparked debate over a little-known state law after he shared a selfie on Instagram that showed him casting his ballot at a church in Germantown, near Memphis.

Editorials: Can the Kremlin Influence the French Election? | Cécile Vaissié/The New York Times

Never, it is being said, has a presidential election in France seemed so uncertain. And never has there been so much concern about possible attempts by the Russian leadership to shape — perhaps even interfere with — the outcome. Last month, President François Hollande of France denounced the Kremlin’s efforts to “influence public opinion” through “ideological operations” and its “strategy of influence, of networks” in France. His comments followed another accusation, by Richard Ferrand, the national secretary of the En Marche! (Onward!) movement, who claimed that the Kremlin was responsible for a series of cyberattacks against the party’s website and that it was seeking to undermine Emmanuel Macron, En Marche!’s presidential candidate, for being, among other things, too pro-European Union. The Kremlin has denied this.

Ecuador: Electoral Council to recount 12 percent of presidential votes | AFP

Ecuador will recount almost 1.3 million ballots from the country’s presidential election earlier this month, 12 percent of the total, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has said. Socialist Lenin Moreno won the April 2 second round with a 51.15 percent share — more than 226,000 votes ahead of his conservative rival Guillermo Lasso, who has alleged fraud, refused to accept the result and asked for a full recount. In a statement issued late Thursday, the electoral council said it approved a “recount of the votes corresponding to the disputed tallies” to be held Tuesday.

Russia: Russia To Move 2018 Presidential Vote To Day Marking Seizure Of Crimea | RFERL

Russia is preparing to move the date of the 2018 election that is expected to hand President Vladimir Putin a new term from March 11 to March 18 — the day Russia celebrates its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. The State Duma approved a bill on the date change on April 12 in the first of three votes on the issue in the lower house of parliament. It is certain to pass. Russian law says that presidential elections are held on the second Sunday in March unless that is a working day, in which case the voting must be held a week earlier. The authors of the bill said that March 11 was likely to be a working day after the March 8 International Women’s Day holiday. But instead of holding the election a week earlier, they proposed March 18.