When people in several North Carolina precincts showed up to vote last November, weird things started to happen with the electronic systems used to check them in. “Voters were going in and being told that they had already voted — and they hadn’t,” recalls Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The electronic systems — known as poll books — also indicated that some voters had to show identification, even though they did not. Investigators later discovered the company that provided those poll books had been the target of a Russian cyberattack. There is no evidence the two incidents are linked, but the episode has revealed serious gaps in U.S. efforts to secure elections. Nine months later, officials are still trying to sort out the details. … At first, the county decided to switch to paper poll books in just those precincts to be safe. But Bowens says the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement got involved “and determined that it would be better to have uniformity across all of our 57 precincts and we went paper poll books across the county.”
The recent news that thirty electronic voting machines of five different types had been hacked for sport at the Def Con hackers’ conference in Las Vegas, some in a matter of minutes, should not have been news at all. Since computerized voting was introduced more than two decades ago, it has been shown again and again to have significant vulnerabilities that put a central tenet of American democracy—free and fair elections—at risk. The Def Con hacks underscored this. So did the 2016 presidential election, in which the voter databases of at least twenty-one and possibly thirty-nine states, and one voting services vendor, came under attack from what were apparently Russian hackers. Last September, then-FBI Director James Comey vowed to get to the bottom of “just what mischief” Russia was up to, but, also sought to reassure lawmakers that our election system remained secure. “The vote system in the United States…is very, very hard for someone to hack into because it’s so clunky and dispersed,” Comey told the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s Mary and Fred putting a machine under the basketball hoop in the gym. These things are not connected to the Internet.” Comey was only partially correct. Clunky and dispersed, American elections are run by the states through three thousand individual counties, each one of which is responsible for purchasing and operating the voting machines set up by Mary and Fred. But Comey missed a central fact about many of those machines: they run on proprietary, secret, black-box software that is not immune to hacking, as Def Con demonstrated.
It’s Nov. 6, 2018. Election Day. More than 100,000 Delaware voters have already cast their ballots with just one hour until polls close when suddenly the state’s election system goes down. Software experts are able to quickly restore it, but it’s too late: All the votes have been wiped out. The system failure has invalidated votes all across the state, and now the integrity of the election is at stake. While unlikely, this scenario is possible, and it’s a big part of the reason why advocacy groups are urging state officials to fund the purchase of new voting machines. Delaware has about 1,600 Danaher ELECTronic 1242 voting machines, purchased in 1995. Those machines were state of the art 22 years ago, but they’re now outdated and, according to some, in desperate need of replacement. “We need a voting system that inspires public trust,” said Jennifer Hill.
Indiana: Republicans limit early voting in Democratic Marion County, encourage it in GOP strongholds | Indianapolis Star
State and local Republicans have expanded early voting in GOP-dominated areas and restricted it in Democratic areas, an IndyStar investigation has found, prompting a significant change in Central Indiana voting patterns. From 2008 to 2016, GOP officials expanded early voting stations in Republican dominated Hamilton County, IndyStar’s analysis found, and decreased them in the state’s biggest Democratic hotbed, Marion County. That made voting more convenient in GOP areas for people with transportation issues or busy schedules. And the results were immediate. Most telling, Hamilton County saw a 63 percent increase in absentee voting from 2008 to 2016, while Marion County saw a 26 percent decline. Absentee ballots are used at early voting stations. Population growth and other factors may have played a role, but Hamilton County Clerk Kathy Richardson, a Republican, told IndyStar the rise in absentee voting in Hamilton County was largely a result of the addition of two early voting stations, which brought the total to three.
The city of College Park, the Washington suburb that is home to the University of Maryland’s flagship campus, postponed a vote Tuesday on whether to extend municipal voting rights to noncitizens while it weighs whether to hold a referendum and let voters decide. The City Council had been expected to vote on whether noncitizens would be allowed to participate in the city’s November election but opted to wait until its Sept. 12 meeting to decide. The measure comes as leaders in some of Prince George’s County’s more liberal-leaning jurisdictions and in neighboring Montgomery County struggle to create policies that protect undocumented immigrants without getting in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.
North Carolina’s legislative leaders adopted rules Thursday that they will use when drawing new election district lines, after 28 districts were ruled unconstitutional last year. The current lines were drawn in a way to unfairly disenfranchise black voters, federal courts found. While racial gerrymandering is illegal, the U.S. Supreme Court has so far allowed political gerrymandering, and one of the new rules is that legislators may consider past election results when drawing the new lines. Rep. David Lewis told a joint meeting of the House and Senate redistricting committees that the process “will be an inherently political thing.” Democrats opposed that rule, along with another one that says the new maps can be drawn in such a way to protect incumbents. “It just seems ridiculous to me that you get to say, ‘We will protect the incumbents elected using unconstitutional maps,’ ” House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat, said.
The Justice Department has thrown its weight behind Ohio in a high-profile legal fight over the state’s purging of infrequent voters from its election rolls, reversing the federal government’s position under the Obama administration that the practice was unlawful. The move was the latest in a series of changes the department has made in how it enforces civil rights law under the Trump administration. The dispute centers on an aggressive practice used in Ohio, a crucial swing state in presidential elections, that removes voters who sit out three election cycles and fail to respond to a warning. Last year, when the state sought to delete several hundred thousand registrations of infrequent voters ahead of the presidential election, civil-liberties groups filed a lawsuit against Ohio’s secretary of state, Jon Husted. After the Obama-era Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief calling the purging practices unlawful, a federal appeals court ordered Ohio to let those people vote.
The Texas House approved a bill Thursday that would increase penalties for mail-in election crimes. Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, was approved by a vote of 92-39 despite vociferous opposition from House Democrats who spent hours on Wednesday trying to amend and kill the bill. The bill now heads back to the Senate where lawmakers can accept the changes the House made or appoint committees to hash out the differences before passing it along to Gov. Greg Abbott to sign into law. Abbott, who has promised to fight voter fraud, made it one of his priorities for the special legislative session. The issue received little attention during the regular session, despite being the primary way experts believe voter fraud occurs. But it gained traction after allegations of mail-in ballot fraud in West Dallas and Grand Prairie this spring.
Texas: House approves one crackdown on mail-in ballot fraud, but pushes repeal of another | The Texas Tribune
Two months ago, Texas lawmakers quietly did something rare in this statehouse: They sent Gov. Greg Abbott a bill designed to make voting easier for thousands of Texans. Abbott praised that effort and ultimately signed the legislation that, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, both Democrats and Republicans supported. Scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1, the law would overhaul balloting at nursing homes — an attempt to simultaneously remove opportunities to commit ballot fraud while expanding ballot access to nursing home residents. But on Wednesday, the Texas House voted to repeal the new law, which some Republicans dubbed a well-intentioned mistake. “It was an oversight that people missed,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who led the repeal effort.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is backing Wisconsin in a high-profile case asking the U.S. Supreme Court whether lawmakers can go too far when drawing political maps to advantage one party. Paxton, a Republican, filed an amicus brief seeking to protect the status quo in political gerrymandering — redistricting maneuvers that allow controlling parties to bolster their majorities in state Legislatures and Congress even when statewide demographics shift against them. Fifteen other states signed onto the brief. “Never has the U.S. Supreme Court disallowed a legislative map because of partisan gerrymandering, and it surely can’t find fault with Wisconsin’s, which is lawful, constitutional and follows traditional redistricting principles,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday.
An electoral system with a spotty record, claims of hacking, the mysterious killing of an election official, and the threat of post-election violence makes this week’s presidential election in Kenya one of the most closely watched in Africa. Adding to the intrigue: The head of the country’s election commission acknowledged Thursday there had been an unsuccessful attempt to hack its database. That acknowledgment came a day after Raila Odinga, a leading presidential candidate, claimed the elections were fixed in favor of the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta. “Hacking was attempted but did not succeed,” said Wafula Chebukati, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). His remarks have the potential to raise tensions in a country that already has seen five people killed in post-election violence. Although the results are not final, Kenyatta holds a strong lead over Odinga with most of the votes counted at polling stations.
Around 60,000 voters could miss out on voting in the September General Election after their enrolment update packs were returned marked “gone no address”. Enrolment update packs were sent to 3.15 million enrolled voters at the end of June to check their details were correctly listed on the electoral roll for the September General Election. Voters whose packs are returned to sender are taken off the electoral roll. “Those voters need to get back on the roll now so their vote will count this election,” chief electoral officer, Alicia Wright said.
Editorials: The Trump Justice Department joins the GOP crusade to shrink the vote | The Washington Post
The idea that voting should be encouraged, and voter registration simple, has been a touchstone of federal law for decades. That idea is now under assault by Republicans in statehouses across the country and, more recently, in the Trump Justice Department. On Monday, political appointees in Justice engineered an about-face in the government’s position on a key voting rights case before the Supreme Court, backing Ohio’s efforts to purge hundreds of thousands of infrequent voters from the state’s voter rolls. You read that right. According to Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, who is now running for governor, it’s okay for a state to disqualify people from voting in the future if they haven’t voted in the recent past — specifically, in the past six years.
Editorials: Can Youth Suffrage Finally Become a Mainstream Issue in 2020? | Elizabeth King/Pacific Standard
Turning 18 is an exciting time for a lot of American teenagers: Once turned the age of majority, one is suddenly allowed to buy tobacco, enlist in the armed services, gamble, and, come election time, head to the polls and vote. And yet, maybe 18 shouldn’t be the franchise gatekeeper that it is: Teenagers under 18 are stakeholders in a variety of local and national issues (education, transportation, and labor rights, to name a few), as the past two years have shown. After the election of Donald Trump, teenagers in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area walked out of school in November, and took to the streets to march. California high schoolers in Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego staged similar walkouts, among other forms of peaceful protest. Those under 18 were unable to participate in politics at the ballot box because of their age, but advocates for youth suffrage hope this won’t always be the case, and are working to lower the voting age to 16. In a country where the president waxes political to a crowd of teenage Boy Scouts, politics are visibly changing the lives of American teens—and youth-suffrage activists are looking to maximize the opportunity to revive their cause.
Editorials: It’s Time to Restore and Strengthen the Voting Rights Act by Tamara Power-Drutis | Tamara Power-Drutis/Yes Magazine
If judging only by the 99 new laws proposed in 2017 to restrict registration and voting access, one might assume that voter fraud is a widespread issue. Yet according to a study in May by the Brennan Center for Justice, of the 23.5 million votes cast in the 2016 general election, only an estimated 30 incidents across 42 jurisdictions were referred to by election officials as suspected noncitizen voting. In a one-year period, America has had more proposed laws prohibiting voting than cases of actual voter fraud incidents. So what makes a statistically nonexistent issue warrant the current level of scrutiny or legislative action? If the proposed cures appear worse than the problem they’re designed to solve, that’s because the problem isn’t voter fraud, but the growing number of women, people of color, young, and low-income voters filling out ballots.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program’s 2016 Post-Election Report to Congress shows that its voting assistance efforts work: FVAP continues to make progress in reducing obstacles to absentee voting for active duty military and has expanded outreach initiatives for voters covered under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). “I am proud of the work accomplished by FVAP to support military members, their families, and Americans living abroad throughout the 2016 cycle,” FVAP Director David Beirne said.
California: More voters than eligible adults? Group makes dubious claim about California | McClatchy
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has twice rebuffed demands for voter data from a commission created by President Donald Trump to investigate unproven claims of voter fraud last fall. Now a conservative Washington, D.C.-based legal group has threatened to sue the state over what it contends are California counties’ failure to properly maintain lists of inactive voters. The Aug. 1 letter from Judicial Watch to Padilla alleges that 11 California counties have more registered voters than their estimated populations of citizens eligible to vote. The claim was picked up Breitbart and other news sites and prompted Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, to post on Twitter, “11 counties in California have more total registered voters than citizens over the age of 18. How is this possible?” Short answer: It’s not. California voter registration stood at 19.4 million as of February. No California county is anywhere close to having more voters than its estimated number of citizens deemed eligible to vote.
Delaware voters soon will cast their ballots on new voting machines. But exactly when – and what those machines will look like – remains to be seen. A state task force created last year to study the issue is still debating what bells and whistles the new voting machines should feature – four months after it was supposed to make a final recommendation to the Delaware General Assembly. … First deployed in 1996, Delaware’s 1,600 voting machines are among the oldest in the nation and have outlived their expected lifespan, creating a growing list of potential problems. The computer operating system used to create electronic ballots, for instance, is no longer supported by Microsoft, meaning security updates are no longer available. The outdated equipment also precludes the General Assembly from adopting the kind of no-excuse early voting currently used by 34 other states. And Delaware is now one of five states using voting machines that never let voters see a paper copy of their ballot to ensure its accuracy.
The last time Republicans had to redraw districts – in 2016, when courts found North Carolina’s congressional map unconstitutional – they included a required 10-3 Republican advantage in the map-making criteria. At the time, Lewis said he didn’t think an 11-2 map was possible. On Thursday, Lewis said he probably wouldn’t say it that way if he could go back, but he was trying to show the courts that race wasn’t the deciding factor in new maps – partisan politics was. Political gerrymanders are legal, although a Wisconsin case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court could change that. What the courts have forbidden is an over-emphasis on race when it comes to drawing lines.
Editorials: Will Move to Purge Ohio Voting Rolls Kickstart Congressional Action? | Mary C. Curtis/Roll Call
Fifty-two years ago this week, John Lewis of Georgia was a young activist, not the Democratic congressman he is today. Yet he got a warmer welcome from the then-president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, than from today’s occupant of the White House. On the Twitter feed of the longtime member of the U.S. House of Representatives, you can see a picture celebrating that time a few decades ago, when, with Democratic and Republican support, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and then signed. Lewis was one of those who suffered arrests and shed blood to make it so. You might think that at 77 years of age, he has earned the right to relax just a little. But instead of celebrating progress made, he has to ignore occasional insults from President Donald Trump and some of his congressional colleagues, while refighting a version of that same fight for voting rights.
Gay-rights advocates filed a court challenge Thursday to the government’s unusual plan to canvass Australians’ opinion on gay marriage next month, while a retired judge said he would boycott the survey as unacceptable. The mail ballot is not binding, but the conservative government won’t legislate the issue without it. If most Australians say “no,” the government won’t allow Parliament to consider lifting the nation’s ban on same-sex marriage. Lawyers for independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie and marriage equality advocates Shelley Argent and Felicity Marlowe, applied to the High Court for an injunction that would prevent the so-called postal plebiscite from going ahead. “We will be arguing that by going ahead without the authorization of Parliament, the government is acting beyond its power,” lawyer Jonathon Hunyor said.
One morning in November, Simon Hegelich, a professor of political science at the Technical University of Munich, was surprised to get an urgent invitation from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wanted to hear more about his research on the manipulation of voter sentiment. Less than two weeks earlier, the U.S. elections had ended in victory for Donald Trump, and the post-mortems were full of buzzwords the Chancellor urgently needed to understand: filter bubbles, bots, fake news, disinformation, much of it related to the claims that Russia had somehow hijacked the elections. “Basically she wanted to know what the hell is going on,” Hegelich recalls. What was past, Merkel thought, may be prologue. With German elections scheduled for Sept. 24, the Chancellor knows that her bid for a fourth term in office may be subject to the same dirty tricks employed in the U.S. presidential race. As Europe’s most powerful leader and its most determined critic of the Kremlin, Merkel has long been a target of Russian influence campaigns. Troves of emails were stolen from her political allies in 2015 by the same Russian hackers who later targeted the U.S. presidential race. During her 12 years in power, Merkel has also watched the Kremlin’s media apparatus air broadsides against her policies in a variety of languages, including German, English, Spanish and French.
International election observers have called on politicians defeated in Kenya’s fiercely contested polls to concede gracefully without taking their struggle to the streets. The statements by delegations from the EU, the African Union and the US came as opposition groups accused electoral officials of hiding the true results of Tuesday’s elections, which they said showed their leader, Raila Odinga, had won by 300,000 votes. Provisional results released by Kenya’s election commission have put the incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, ahead by 54.2% of votes counted, to 44% for Odinga. A final verified declaration of results based on returns signed by agents from all parties at polling stations and constituencies is expected on Friday.
The announcement of results for various elective seats in Kilgoris constituency, Narok County, was marred by delays and arrests, which almost crippled the process. Tallying was temporarily halted after a presiding officer, his deputy and a police officer were arrested with ballot papers in a house. Mr George Akumu, the presiding officer for Endoinyo Nkopit polling station and his deputy, Ms Sarah Yiamat Leperon, were seized in Milimani estate in Kilgoris town. Trans Mara West director of criminal investigations David Njogu said the two were in the company of Mr Pius Otieno, an Administration police officer. Mr Njogu said they suspected that the materials were intended to be used to stuff ballot boxes before sending them for tallying.
The headlines around the world said it all in describing the bogus July 30 election in Venezuela. “Venezuela heading for dictatorship after ‘sham’ election,” wrote the Guardian, quoting Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Venezuela faces more isolation after controversial vote,” read an article published in the Latin American section of Aljazeera’s English online news service. Boycotted by the opposition, the vote further distanced Venezuela from the free and democratic world. International condemnations were sharp and swift. The U.S. slapped immediate sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro — in addition to previously imposed sanctions on 13 other Venezuelan officials. In the face of the new sanctions, Venezuela’s dictator reportedly asked a strange, almost childlike question, in response, wondering out loud: “Why are they sanctioning me?”