Despite Russia’s attempt to hack the 2016 U.S. election and the voter registration systems of 21 states, an NBC News investigation reveals that election officials in the most heavily populated counties of three crucial swing states still haven’t received formal training on how to detect and fight attacks. Election officials in three of Pennsylvania’s four biggest counties — Philadelphia, Allegheny and Bucks, which together account for nearly a third of the state’s voters — told NBC News they never received cybersecurity training, which experts say is crucial for officials to identify risks. NBC reached out to election officials in every county in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan and got responses from 60 percent of the counties. Officials from all 15 Arizona counties responded, but only five said their officials had received cybersecurity training. In Pennsylvania, where 42 of 67 counties responded, eight counties said their workers had training. In Michigan, 40 of the state’s 83 counties responded, and only 12 indicated receiving formal training.
National: Proposed legislation discourages Russia-U.S. cyber pact, while prioritizing election security | SC Magazine
A U.S. intelligence bill that recently passed committee in the Senate contains key provisions designed to defend the electoral process from Russian meddling and other foreign interference, as well as curtail any possible White House effort to form a joint cybersecurity unit with the Kremlin. Passed in the Senate Intelligence Committee by a 14-1 margin this past July and made public just days ago, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2018 explicitly forbids the U.S. government from using federal resources to form a cyber partnership with Russia, unless the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) first submits a report that congressional intelligence committee members can review 30 days in advance of such an agreement. This key clause is a blatant rebuke of President Donald Trump, who fleetingly announced a U.S.-Russian cyber unit in July before backing off the idea amidst backlash.
The technology behind elections is hard to get right. Elections require security. They also require transparency: anyone should be able to observe enough of the election process, from distribution of ballots, to the counting and canvassing of votes, to verify that the reported winners really won. But if people vote on computers or votes are tallied by computers, key steps of the election are not transparent and additional measures are needed to confirm the results. In a New York Times op-ed a couple weeks ago, James Woolsey and Brian Fox proposed using “open-source systems that can guard our votes against manipulation.” Their hypothesis is that “open-source software is less vulnerable to hacking” than proprietary voting software because “anyone can see how open-source systems operate. Bugs can be spotted and remedied, deterring those who would attempt attacks. This makes them much more secure than closed-source models.” This sounds reasonable, but in fact, open-source systems are only one step towards guarding our votes against manipulation—and the hypothesis that using open source software will by itself improve security is questionable at best.
First elections, then probes into hacking. Now, the lawsuits over election hacking. A group of Democrat and Republican voters in Georgia is suing the state to overturn its fiercely fought June special election, saying evidence the state’s voter database was exposed to potential hackers for at least eight months invalidates the results. The lawsuit, which went to pre-trial conferences this week, could be a sign of disputes to come as revelations mount about the vulnerability of the U.S. election system and Russian attempts to infiltrate it. “As public attention finally starts to focus on the cybersecurity of election systems, we will see more suits like this one, and eventually, a woke judge will invalidate an election,” said Bruce McConnell, vice president of the EastWest Institute and former Department of Homeland Security deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity during the Obama administration. Plaintiffs argue the disclosure in August 2016 by Logan Lamb, a Georgia-based computer security expert, that much of Georgia’s voting system was inadvertently left out in the open on the Internet without password protection from August 2016 to March 2017 should make the results moot. What’s more, Georgia’s use of what the plaintiffs say are insecure touch-screen voting computers, which they claim don’t comply with Georgia state requirements for security testing, means the election results couldn’t legally be certified, they say.
A conservative firebrand promoting President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud oversees a Kansas election system that threw out at least three times as many ballots as any similarly sized state did, fueling concerns about massive voter suppression should its practices become the national standard. Only six states – all among the top 10 in population – discarded more votes during the 2016 election than the 33rd-largest state of Kansas, according to data collected by the bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency that certifies voting systems. Kansas’ 13,717 rejected ballots even topped the 13,461 from Florida, which has about seven times as many residents. Critics of Kansas’ election system argue its unusually high number of discarded ballots reflects policies shaped over several elections that have resulted in many legitimate voters being kept off voter rolls in an effort to crack down on a few illegitimate ones.
Maryland: Federal court knocks down redistricting case as plaintiffs vow to appeal to Supreme Court | Baltimore Sun
A federal district court rejected a claim Thursday by seven Maryland Republicans that the state’s 2011 redistricting violated their First Amendment rights, setting up another Supreme Court fight over the heavily litigated maps. In a case closely watched by state political leaders, the court found the plaintiffs failed to meet the standard required to order an immediate redrawing of the boundaries. In a 2-1 decision, the court said it wanted to see the outcome of a separate gerrymandering claim from Wisconsin pending before the Supreme Court before deciding the Maryland lawsuit. “The time and resources necessary to implement a new map would surely have the effect of scuttling other legislative priorities in advance of the 2018 [legislative] session,” the court wrote. “The remedy would be highly consequential.”
The maps that Republican leaders have proposed for electing N.C. General Assembly members in 2018 won approval on Friday from a key House committee and the full Senate, despite objections from Democratic lawmakers. There are more votes scheduled for next week. Each chamber must approve a set of maps that will then be sent to…
Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday. A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts. Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.
A federal judge has tossed out a new law softening Texas’ strict voter identification requirements. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos on Wednesday ruled that Senate Bill 5, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, doesn’t absolve Texas lawmakers from responsibility for discriminating against Latino and black voters when they crafted one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws in 2011. The judge also ruled that the state failed to prove that the new law would accommodate such voters going forward. The Corpus Christi judge’s ruling is the latest twist in a six-year battle over Texas’ laws restricting what forms of identification are accepted at the polls, and it sets up a round of squabbling over whether the federal government should once again pre-approve the state’s election laws. SB 5 was the Legislature’s attempt to wriggle free of consequences after courts found fault with its 2011 ID law.
The ruling party in Angola has claimed a widely expected election victory, setting the stage for a change of leadership after decades of authoritarian rule by the cold war veteran José Eduardo dos Santos. Though final results from Wednesday’s voting were still being counted, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) said it was on track to win a two-thirds parliamentary majority, based on its calculations. In Angola, political parties are allowed to observe the elections by posting party members at every polling station and by assimilating results, the parties attempt to predict the election outcome. Though the MPLA has yet to lose an electoral contest since a return to multiparty democracy 25 years ago, the real significance of the poll was that 74-year-old Dos Santos, who has ruled Angola for 38 years, did not stand as a presidential candidate.
Kenya’s opposition will argue before the Supreme Court that technology enabled rather than curbed election fraud, as it seeks to overturn a vote this month won by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) said in a petition filed on Friday that results from more than a third of polling stations were “fatally flawed”, in some cases because of irregularities in electronic transmission of paper results forms. The documents suggest the opposition will link alleged irregularities to the murder of Chris Msando, the election official overseeing information technology, days before the Aug. 8 election.
The American Civil Liberties Union says California election officials may have discarded over 45,000 ballots during the November 2016 election without notifying the affected voters. The ACLU sued California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Sonoma County Registrar of Voters William Rousseau, saying the state’s practice of tossing ballots when voter signatures don’t match is a violation of the state Constitution. “By statutory mandate, tens of thousands of California voters, including petitioners, are disenfranchised each election without even knowing their fundamental right to vote has been usurped,” the ACLU said in its petition, filed Aug. 23 in the First Appellate District. California’s appeals courts have constitutional jurisdiction over cases of public importance that must be resolved quickly.
The census, one of the most important activities our government undertakes, is under threat by uncertain funding and a leadership vacuum at a crucial moment. As former directors of the U.S. Census Bureau, serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations, we urge President Trump to act swiftly and the Senate to cooperate in naming a new director as the 2020 Census nears. The immediate task is to nominate someone who can provide stability through the final years of the decade, explain the importance of the agency’s mission compellingly, address Congress’s fiscal concerns and be ready for full immersion in the important tasks at hand.
Editorials: It’s time to start punishing public officials who disenfranchise voters | Catherine Rampell/The Washington Post
In the federal government and in most states, there are consequences when governments deprive Americans of their constitutional right to liberty — through, say, wrongful imprisonment. So why aren’t there more meaningful consequences when states deprive Americans of their constitutional right to vote? Again and again, “voter fraud” has been shown to be virtually nonexistent. Yet in the name of eradicating this imagined scourge, state officials around the country have been systemically and aggressively disenfranchising American citizens. To prevent a handful of votes from possibly being cast illegally, officials purge thousands of eligible voters from state rolls, toss ballots and pass modern-day poll taxes.
Facing a civil rights advisory committee, multiple Alaskans expressed concerns over Alaska Native voting rights Thursday. From challenges with location to overcoming language barriers, a group of activists discussed some of the changes they say are still needed to improve Alaska Native voting rights, particularly for those in rural areas. In 2014, a ruling in a historic lawsuit shifted the way 29 communities of voters understand election information. As part of the settlement for the Toyukak v. Treadwell lawsuit voting materials were translated into Yup’ik and Gwich’in languages. Changes, Indra Arriaga, the elections language assistance compliance manager for the state of Alaska division of elections said could be seen in the 2016 Presidential Election.
California: A lawsuit claims absentee ballots were wrongly rejected because of ‘penmanship’ problems | Los Angeles Times
A lawsuit filed in a California appeals court on Thursday alleges the ballots of as many as 45,000 voters weren’t counted in November because of the state’s flawed rules for verifying the signatures of those who vote by mail. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on behalf of a Sonoma County voter who said his ballot wasn’t counted after his signature on the ballot envelope was deemed to not match the one that elections officials had on file. “People should not be denied their right to vote because a government official doesn’t like their penmanship, but that’s exactly what is happening in California,” said Michael Risher, an ACLU staff attorney, in a written statement.
Senate Democrats have put forward another bill to boost the political prospects of embattled state Sen. Josh Newman, the target of a well-funded recall effort on the verge of qualifying for the ballot. The effort to oust Newman, D-Fullerton, began soon after his April 6 vote for a road-funding plan that will raise taxes on gas and diesel fuel and increase vehicle fees by billions of dollars. Newman, who represents an area that has long had Republican representation, won election last fall by just 2,498 votes. Kicking him out would eliminate Democrats’ two-thirds edge in the Senate – and the ability to raise taxes and put constitutional amendments on the ballot without GOP support.
Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala was quick to respond this week to House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s call to abolish public financing for statewide elections. Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, wants the Constitution Revision Commission to place a measure on the 2018 general election ballot that would eliminate the financing system, which offers to candidates matching state funds for individual contributions up to $250. Under the system, candidates also pledge to cap their overall expenditures. Corcoran, who is considering a run for governor, called the system “welfare for politicians,” noting that more than $10 million in public funding supported candidates running for governor and the three state Cabinet seats in the 2010 and 2014 elections. But Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is an announced candidate for governor and might use public financing in his campaign, said it is a non-issue in a race that should focus on the bigger problems facing the nation’s third-largest state.
The State Board of Elections put off a decision Tuesday on the latest request for Illinois voter information made by a panel formed by President Donald Trump to look into his claims of voting irregularities in last year’s presidential election. Instead, the board is sending a letter requesting more information about the purpose of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Illinois officials also want to know whether any information provided truly could be kept confidential, as the federal panel pledged and as Illinois law requires. The privacy issue is a critical one for state election officials. In early July, the bipartisan elections board rejected an initial appeal for “publicly available” voter data by the federal panel because, under Illinois law, it had no such information available that could be publicly disclosed.
A conservative firebrand promoting President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud oversees a Kansas election system that threw out at least three times as many ballots as any similarly sized state did, fueling concerns about massive voter suppression should its practices become the national standard. Only six states — all among the top 10 in population — discarded more votes during the 2016 election than the 33rd-largest state of Kansas, according to data collected by the bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency that certifies voting systems. Kansas’ 13,717 rejected ballots even topped the 13,461 from Florida, which has about seven times as many residents. Critics of Kansas’ election system argue its unusually high number of discarded ballots reflects policies shaped over several elections that have resulted in many legitimate voters being kept off voter rolls in an effort to crack down on a few illegitimate ones.
The challengers who forced the redrawing of maps used to elect N.C. General Assembly members have drawn lines of their own that they hope legislators will consider before changing the districts. In a letter sent Wednesday to legislative redistricting committees and attorneys representing the lawmakers, Anita Earls and Edwin Speas, lawyers for the challengers, contended that their analyses show the new district lines drawn by Republican mapmaker Tom Hofeller do not fix the old problem and create legal questions.
A rural North Carolina county could elect black candidates to serve on its governing board for the first time in more than 20 years, because of a court settlement reached this week in a voting rights lawsuit. A national civil rights organization sued in February on behalf of black voters who alleged racial discrimination in how commissioners are elected in Jones County, 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Raleigh. Rather than continue costly litigation, the two sides reached an agreement in which at-large elections for the five commissioner posts will be replaced with a system in which seven commissioners are elected in specific districts. The change, approved by a federal judge, will take place for the 2018 elections.
A national nonprofit has pledged $140,000 to help supporters of a constitutional amendment that would move South Dakota to an open primary system for many races, the nonprofit’s spokesman said Tuesday. New York-based Open Primaries is supporting the amendment campaign’s signature-gathering efforts, spokesman Jeremy Gruber said. The proposed amendment would have the top two finishers in a primary advance to the general election regardless of party. Backers of the amendment hope to start gathering signatures around Sept. 1, campaign chairman Joe Kirby of Sioux Falls said. They must submit nearly 28,000 valid signatures to the secretary of state by November 2017 for the amendment to appear on the 2018 ballot.
If you haven’t heard anything about the election campaign in Germany, that’s because there isn’t much of one, despite the fact that nationwide elections that will determine, among other things, whether Chancellor Angela Merkel stays or goes are set for Sept. 24. Yes, we are talking about the same Germany that has taken in roughly one million refugees and migrants in the last two years. The same Germany that bailed out bankrupt European states with billions of euros. The same Germany that has taken a tough stance toward Russia after its annexation of Crimea. The same Germany that is switching off all its nuclear power plants and turning to green energy.
Kenya’s election commission urged the Supreme Court to uphold the results of this month’s vote that returned President Uhuru Kenyatta to power and dismiss a legal challenge by his political opponents, saying the process was “impartial, neutral and accountable” to the constitution. The Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission called on the court to throw out a petition filed by the opposition National Super Alliance challenging Kenyatta’s win against former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the Aug. 8 vote. That petition “lacks merit and should be dismissed,” the commission’s lawyers said in opposing papers filed at the Supreme Court. The elections were conducted according to the constitution and the president was “validly elected” the IEBC’s lawyers said. “Discrepancies” cited by the opposition “did not materially affect the outcome of the presidential elections.”
A joint committee of the House of Representatives, comprising Elections & Inauguration and the Judiciary is reviewing a new election law to amend certain provisions of the elections law to clarify the powers and authority of the National Elections Commission with respect to the qualification of political parties and organizations for elections, determining election results and election disputes.’ The Joint Committee is expected to report and advise the House’s Plenary next Tuesday, August 29, as to whether the august body should concur with the Liberian Senate.
The king of the small Pacific nation of Tonga on Friday took the extraordinary step of dissolving the nation’s parliament and ordering new elections. Although the government was facing difficulties, the action took many Tongans by surprise. It came after the parliament had closed for the week and was not accompanied by any announcement or explanation by King Tupou VI. “I think he’s had enough of what’s going on,” said lawmaker Samiu Vaipulu. The king ordered a new election be held by Nov. 16 in a dissolution notice posted Friday afternoon on the attorney general’s website. The king holds the power to dissolve the government under Tonga’s constitution. The action means the end of the government led by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, whose term was due to end next year.