Hackers will target American voting machines—as a public service, to prove how vulnerable they are. When over 25,000 of them descend on Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas at the end of July for DEFCON, the world’s largest hacking conference, organizers are planning to have waiting what they call “a village” of different opportunities to test how easily voting machines can be manipulated. Some will let people go after the network software remotely, some will be broken apart to let people dig into the hardware, and some will be set up to see how a prepared hacker could fiddle with individual machines on site in a polling place through a combination of physical and virtual attacks.
American voting relies heavily on technology. Voting machines and ballot counters have sped up the formerly tedious process of counting votes. Yet long-standing research shows that these technologies are susceptible to errors and manipulation that could elect the wrong person. In the 2016 presidential election, those concerns made their way into public consciousness, worrying both sides of the political fence. The uncertainty led to a set of last-minute, expensive state recounts—most of which were incomplete or blocked by courts. But we could ensure that all elections are fair and accurate with one simple low-tech fix: risk-limiting audits. Risk-limiting audits are specific to elections, but they are very similar to the audits that are routinely required of corporate America. Under them, a random sample of ballots is chosen and then hand-counted. That sample, plus a little applied math, can tell us whether the machines picked the right winner.
Editorials: Internet voting and paperless machines have got to go | Barbara Simons/Minneapolis Star Tribune
“They’ll be back in 2020, they may be back in 2018, and one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sowed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process.” — Former FBI Director James Comey, testifying about the Russian government before a House Intelligence Committee hearing, March 20, 2017
We are facing a major national security threat. As former Director Comey stated, we know that Russia attacked our 2016 election, and there is every reason to expect further attacks on our elections from nations, criminals and others until we repair our badly broken voting systems. Despite a decade of warnings from computer security experts, 33 states allow internet voting for some or all voters, and a quarter of our country still votes on computerized, paperless voting machines that cannot be recounted and for which there have been demonstrated hacks. If we know how to hack these voting systems, so do the Russians and Chinese and North Koreans and Iranians and ….
Editorials: The Supreme Court may just have given voting rights activists a powerful new tool | Richard Hasen/The Washington Post
Sometimes the most important stuff in Supreme Court opinions is hidden in the footnotes. In Monday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutionally influenced by race, the majority buried a doozy, a potentially powerful new tool to attack voting rights violations in the South and elsewhere. At issue in the case was whether two congressional districts drawn by the North Carolina General Assembly were unconstitutional “racial gerrymanders.” A racial gerrymander exists when race — not other criteria, such as adherence to city and county boundaries, or efforts to protect a particular political party — is the “predominant factor” in how a legislature draws lines and the legislature presents no compelling reason for paying so much attention to race.
Georgia’s voting infrastructure is too old, unreliable and vulnerable to be used without a forensic review of its operating systems, according to a lawsuit seeking to require voters’ use of paper ballots for next month’s 6th Congressional District runoff election. The suit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, names Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp — the state’s top election official — as a defendant, along with the election directors for all three counties that have communities in the 6th District: Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton. It comes at a crucial time. Early in-person voting for the June 20 runoff begins Tuesday, with all eyes on Georgia ahead of the hotly contested race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff. … The Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Foundation filed the suit in conjunction with two Georgia voters, Donna Curling and Donna Price. Both Price and Curling are members of the foundation, which focuses on fair elections and government transparency, as well as a group called Georgians for Verified Voting.
Maine’s high court said Tuesday that the state’s first-in-the-nation ranked-choice voting system is unconstitutional, throwing the voter-approved law into jeopardy ahead of the key 2018 campaign when it was supposed to be implemented. In a unanimous, 44-page opinion issued Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s seven justices agreed with Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Republican legislators that the system violates a provision of the Maine Constitution that allows elections to be won by pluralities — and not necessarily majorities — of votes.
Michigan’s fee to recount election votes would double if a losing candidate is down by more than 5 percentage points under legislation approved Tuesday by the state Senate in response to Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s recount bid last fall. The bill would increase the fee from $125 per precinct to $250. It would stay at $125 if the margin is 5 points or less and remain at $25 if it is under half of a point. Stein sought the recount despite winning 1 percent of the vote, questioning the accuracy of the vote and suggesting, without evidence, that votes were susceptible to hacking.
North Carolina: Justices Reject 2 Gerrymandered North Carolina Districts, Citing Racial Bias | The New York Times
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down two North Carolina congressional districts, ruling that lawmakers had violated the Constitution by relying too heavily on race in drawing them. The court rejected arguments from state lawmakers that their purpose in drawing the maps was not racial discrimination but partisan advantage. The decision was the court’s latest attempt to solve a constitutional puzzle: how to disentangle the roles of race and partisanship when black voters overwhelmingly favor Democrats. The difference matters because the Supreme Court has said that only racial gerrymandering is constitutionally suspect.
The Texas House on Tuesday tentatively approved legislation to overhaul the state’s embattled voter identification law, moving it one step closer to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. Senate Bill 5 would in several ways relax what some had called the nation’s most stringent ID requirements for voters — a response to court findings that the current law discriminated against black and Latino voters. The 95-54 vote followed a six-hour debate that saw fierce pushback from Democrats, who argued the legislation wouldn’t go far enough to expand ballot access and contains provisions that might discourage some Texans from going to the polls. Democrats proposed a host of changes through amendments, a few of which surprisingly wriggled through.
Wisconsin: Attorney General Brad Schimel asks U.S. Supreme Court to block order on voting maps | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Wisconsin’s attorney general on Monday asked the nation’s high court to block a ruling that would force lawmakers to draw new legislative maps by November. A panel of three federal judges ruled 2-1 last fall that lawmakers had drawn maps for the state Assembly that were so heavily skewed for Republicans as to violate the voting rights of Democrats. The judges ordered the state to develop new maps by November. GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in February and the state is waiting to hear if the justices will hold arguments in the case.
The embattled Maltese government has claimed that it has come under attack from a Russian-backed campaign to undermine it, amid worsening relations with the Kremlin. Malta assumed the presidency of Europe’s Council of Ministers in January, an important position under which it chairs high-level meetings in Brussels and sets Europe’s political agenda. Since then, the Maltese government’s IT systems have seen a rise in attacks, according to a source working within its information technology agency, a government body. He claimed the attacks, which have increased ahead of next month’s general election, are designed to damage the government. “In the last two quarters of last year and the first part of this year, attacks on our servers have increased,” the source said.
Nepal’s Maoist prime minister resigned on Wednesday in line with an agreement with his coalition partner, casting doubt over the future of second round elections scheduled for next month. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who led a 10-year Maoist insurgency until a peace agreement was reached in 2006, came to power in August after making a deal with the center-right Nepali Congress party, the largest in parliament. Under the deal, Dahal agreed to hand over power to three-time former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba after nine-months.
Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation. Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the people said. The Washington Post reported last week that a senior White House official close to the president was a significant focus of the high-stakes investigation, though it did not name Kushner.
Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy was just trying to help. But as they have for weeks, attempts to defend President Trump against the accelerating investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia just seem to make things worse. At a May 23 House Intelligence Committee hearing into the Russian operation against the 2016 presidential election, Gowdy asked former CIA chief John Brennan, who stepped down on Jan. 20, whether he had seen any “evidence of collusion, coordination [or] conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russian state actors.” If Gowdy thought Brennan was going to distance the President from the spreading scandal, his move backfired. “I saw information and intelligence that was worthy of investigation by the [FBI] to determine whether or not such cooperation or [collusion] was taking place,” Brennan said. When pressed by the retreating Gowdy on whether he meant Trump in particular, Brennan said he wasn’t referring to “any individuals” but wouldn’t rule Trump out, either. The damage was done.
The prominent New York lawyer expected to represent President Donald Trump in the widening Russia probes has professional connections of his own to Moscow, which could create yet another public-relations problem for the White House. Marc Kasowitz, who has been Trump’s go-to lawyer for years on both personal and business matters, is defending a Russian bank, OJSC Sberbank, in an ongoing lawsuit in US court. He also represents a company controlled by a Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to the Kremlin. Kasowitz’ clients with Russian ties may not pose any legal conflicts of interests as he prepares to help Trump navigate an investigation that the president calls “a witch hunt.” But the optics of the situation — a lawyer with Russian-linked clients representing a president, whose campaign is being investigated for alleged collusion with Russia — could make a messy situation for Trump even messier.
Racial gerrymanders have been undone many times, most recently when the Supreme Court ruled against a pair of North Carolina congressional districts this week. But another case from that same state, heading into federal court next month, has a shot at eventually persuading the justices to do what they’ve never done before: strike down an election map as an unconstitutionally partisan gerrymander. The high court ruled three decades ago that it may be unconstitutional to draw political boundaries so that one party was sure to win a disproportionate number of elections, but it’s never come up with a means for deciding when such mapmaking has become too extreme. The new lawsuit involving North Carolina congressional districts stands to provide just such a rationale. That’s especially true if it ends up getting paired with a similar case involving Wisconsin’s state legislature districts, which the Supreme Court seems virtually certain to consider in its term beginning this fall.
The Democratic National Committee is launching a new voting commission to combat a recently announced Trump administration effort — to investigate voter fraud — which Democrats fear will lead to voter suppression in poor and minority communities. The commission will document and report on “voter suppression tactics” and make recommendations for strengthening access to the polls for all Americans, according to a statement provided to USA TODAY. It is part of a broader restructuring by the committee’s new leadership that prioritizes voting rights after a number of U.S. states imposed new restrictions for the first time in 2016, including the swing states of Wisconsin and Virginia.
While it’s been obvious for years that election law — the rules by which votes are counted, district lines are drawn and campaigns are paid for — represents a front in the culture wars, we don’t usually think of it that way. That’s because the term culture war signifies the politicization of competing belief systems — over abortion, for example, or religion or the appropriate social roles for men and women. (I use the word “belief” advisedly, recognizing that an anti-abortion position is purely opportunistic for a fair number of the Republican politicians who embrace it, including but not limited to President Trump.) The election-law wars, by contrast, aren’t about belief. They are about power: who has it, who gets to keep it. And as underscored by this week’s Supreme Court decision invalidating two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, the justices are as fully engaged in combat as anyone else.
Project Vote, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit that has spent recent years focusing its attention on improving voter registration, especially the enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) will officially close its doors on May 31. Michael Slater, executive director since 2003, cited the lack of funding as the reason for the closure. “[F]unding for voter registration programs declined precipitously after 2008, and the number of funders supporting voting rights advocacy and litigation slowly decreased as well,” Slater said. “At the same time, more organizations created voting rights programs, which resulted in more competition.” Slater also pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strike down the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act which resulted in the donor community focusing available voting rights resources on VRA enforcement, which had the effect of reducing funds for other work, such as Project Vote’s work enforcing the NVRA.
Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan said Wednesday her office is looking to update the state’s voter registration systems, but it has little to do with last year’s hack. “We’re updating, yes, and it’s not actually due to anything that happened last year,” she said. “It’s something that, by law, we’re required to go out to bid for this in 2017.” Arizona was one of the first states to introduce online voter registration and, 15 years later, it’s time to upgrade from the VRAZ-II, an aging platform that reached its peak use in the late 1990s. Reagan has issued a request for proposal for the development of the Access Voter Information Database. Bids should begin coming in during the next few weeks.
On a partisan vote of 79 to 70, the House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that could test the limits of the states’ ability to regulate campaign finances in the post-Citizens United era by imposing rules intended to end the use of untraceable dark money in Connecticut elections. Republicans opposed the reforms as insufficient, saying they fail to close loopholes that allow unlimited money to flow into publicly financed campaigns for state office, despite a promise by candidates participating in the voluntary program to abide by spending and contribution limits. Democrats rejected a series of GOP amendments that would have closed avenues that now allow donors to funnel money into legislative and other state races, such as the ability of state parties to make unlimited expenditures on behalf of candidates.
Maine: State House leaders allow opposing bills to address ranked-choice voting | Portland Press Herald
State House leaders Thursday approved introducing competing bills that address ranked-choice voting – one would repeal the first-in-the-nation voting law and the other would put a ballot question to voters on whether to change the state’s constitution to make it legal statewide. Members of the Legislative Council, which includes majority and minority leaders in both chambers as well as the Senate president and the speaker of the House, approved the bills in 9-0 votes. They now will move to public hearings and work sessions before the full Legislature votes on them.
Last week Secretary of State Steve Simon undertook a tour of all 87 counties. He wanted to learn about the local government’s experiences during the 2016 election. His goal was to get the State to give some kind of grant or match to help with the cost of replacing aging voting machines. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which was a one time federal fund to help purchase equipment. Minnesota purchased most of its equipment between 2004-2007. According to the vendors, the machines are good for 10 years, and can be pushed to 15 years max. In 2017, the max is getting dangerously close. It costs roughly $10,000 per polling location to upgrade. Simon’s case for State funding is that upgrading the machines is a mandatory cost that can’t be deferred. The previous generation of machines was purchased with help from federal funding for all 50 states. 43 states are in need of upgrades.
In Montana, once a ballot is put into a ballot box or dropped in the mail, it’s too late for voter to change their minds. During the first couple of hours the poll was open Thursday morning at Montana ExpoPark in Cascade County, no one had requested to get their ballot back, Cascade County Clark and Recorder Rina Moore said. If people still have an absentee ballot that they received in the mail that they would like to change, they can bring it to a poll and a new ballot will be reissued, Moore said. In Cascade County, 75 percent of registered voters, about 31,000 people, requested ballots for the May 25 special election of Montana’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives be mailed to them. Of those mailed ballots, 70 percent have already been returned.
A bill at the Legislature would make it possible for some of the tens of thousands of disenfranchised Nevada residents to make it back into the voting booth. Assembly Bill 181 would generally restore the right to vote and serve on a civil court jury to people convicted of nonviolent felonies. The proposed law applies to those who are released from prison as well as those discharged from probation or parole. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that his bill is intended to use taxpayer dollars effectively while encouraging offenders to reintegrate into society.
The state Senate approved a bill Thursday that seeks to end special elections in New Jersey to fill congressional vacancies and instead let voters choose replacements in the general election. The bill (S1737) would also require the governor to choose someone of the same political party when filling any vacancies in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. The proposal is all but sure to face rejection from Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed a similar measure in 2013.
An upstate New York developer pleaded guilty Thursday for his role in a voter-fraud scheme designed to elect public officials who would support his real-estate project. Kenneth Nakdimen is scheduled to be sentenced in September in the U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y. for one count of conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process. Prosecutors said Mr. Nakdimen and his associates falsely registered voters to overcome local opposition to their 396-unit townhouse project in the tiny Catskills village of Bloomingburg. The developers anticipated making hundreds of millions of dollars from the development, according to prosecutors.
Oregon’s six Democrats in Congress want to spread the state’s vote-by-mail law across the country. Both of Oregon’s senators and four U.S. representatives announced the introduction of a bill Thursday that would require “every state to provide registered voters the opportunity to vote by mail,” according to a statement. The bill summary promises that Congress would cover the postal costs for implementation. The Democrats argue vote-by-mail would help increase voter participation — in contrast to efforts at the state and federal level that they characterize as suppressing the vote.
Texas: Fearing 2018 losses, Texas Republicans in Congress want special session on redistricting | The Texas Tribune
There are few things that strike more fear into the heart of a member of Congress than the word “redistricting.” That proved particularly true this week among Texas Republicans in Washington, thanks to a recent court ruling that came about just as talk was increasing in Austin that Gov. Greg Abbott may call a special session. Some Texas Republicans in Congress hope that any upcoming special session will include redrawing the state’s 36 congressional districts as part of its agenda. The message coming out of Austin thus far: not going to happen.
A Supreme Court that prides itself on trying to remain above politics will be forced to rule soon on what one justice calls the “always unsavory” process of drawing election districts for partisan gain. A case headed its way from Wisconsin, along with others from Maryland and North Carolina, will present the court with a fundamental question about political power: How far can lawmakers go in choosing their voters, rather than the other way around? Should the court set a standard — something it has declined to do for decades — it could jeopardize about one-third of the maps drawn for Congress and state legislatures. That could lead to new district lines before or after the 2020 Census, which in turn could affect election results and legislative agendas. “If the court makes a broad, sweeping decision … this could have a massive impact on how maps are drawn,” says Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer for the Republican National Committee. “It will make more districts more competitive.”