Former high-level Obama administration officials appeared before congressional Democrats on Thursday to offer suggestions on how to secure future elections from cyber threats. Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of Homeland Security, and Suzanne Spaulding, a former high-level cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), faced a myriad of questions from lawmakers about what Congress can do to help states shore up the cybersecurity of their election systems. The meeting took place less than a week after Homeland Security officials notified 21 states of evidence that Russian actors targeted their networks ahead of the 2016 election. Among their recommendations, Spaulding encouraged lawmakers to provide more resources to states for cybersecurity, suggesting that the money could be allocated through a grant program that also mandates a full assessment of their systems.
National: Twitter, With Accounts Linked to Russia, to Face Congress Over Role in Election | The New York Times
After a weekend when Americans took to social media to debate President Trump’s admonishment of N.F.L. players who do not stand for the national anthem, a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia seized on both sides of the issue with hashtags such as #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee. As Twitter prepared to brief staff members of the Senate and House intelligence committees on Thursday for their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, researchers from a public policy group have been following hundreds of accounts to track the continuing Russian operations to influence social media discourse and foment division in the United States. For three weeks, a harsh spotlight has been trained on Facebook over its disclosure that Russians used fake pages and ads, designed to look like the work of American activists, to spread inflammatory messages during and since the presidential campaign.
The latest reporting regarding the scope of attempted Russian cyber-interference in the 2016 presidential election suggests election officials made a mistake in ending efforts to recount the contest in key states. Those recounts offered the best opportunity to identify and resolve issues that are now coming to light. We should study our errors to avoid repeating them — and to make sure recounts in the future are better at detecting hacking and other threats. Post-election efforts to recount the 2016 presidential vote did not get far. For example, the Michigan recount was shut down after just three days; a federal judge rejected a request to recount paper ballots in Pennsylvania; and while Wisconsin did conduct a recount, in many counties, officials neglected to hand-count paper ballots and did not examine vulnerable software in electronic voting machines. Just as Donald Trump continues to resist the finding that Russia manipulated our democratic process, he furiously contested the need to investigate the vote. His campaign and the Republican Party engaged in court battles to block the recounts in all three states. The exact outcome varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the bottom line was the same.
Mississippi’s constitution bars its citizens from voting ever again after being convicted of certain felonies. Now a legal group wants the federal courts to remove what it calls an illegal vestige of white supremacy by striking down most of these restrictions. Attorney Rob McDuff, who filed suit Thursday in Jackson, estimates that more than 50,000 Mississippians have been disqualified from voting since 1994 due to these convictions. About 60 percent are African-American, in a state whose population is 37 percent black. The suit describes the disenfranchising crimes as “an integral part of the overall effort to prevent African-Americans in Mississippi from voting.” “Once you’ve paid your debt to society, I believe you should be allowed to participate again,” said plaintiff Kamal Karriem, a 58-year-old former Columbus city councilman who pleaded guilty to embezzlement in 2005 after being charged with stealing a city cellphone. “I don’t think it should be held against you for the rest of your life.”
On Sept. 12, a New Hampshire Superior Court judge allowed Senate Bill 3 — a bill that changes the proof of residency requirements for voters who choose to register same-day — to take effect but blocked a portion of the bill imposing fines on voters who are unable to produce the required documents. Hanover town clerk Betsy McClain said that before the bill, voters who chose to register same-day could verbally confirm their residency and sign a document on-site if they were unable to produce proper identification on voting day, swearing under penalty of perjury that they live in the town of Hanover. Now, these voters will need to fill out a different form and return to the clerk’s office within 10 days of registration to provide proof of residence. Acceptable proof of residence documents include a driver’s license, a utility bill or, according to McClain, “[proof of] residence at an institution of learning.”
Ohio: Should registered voters in Ohio who haven’t voted in six straight elections be purged from the rolls? | Cleveland Plain Dealer
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted appealed a lower court ruling that rejected the state’s policy of starting to purge the registration of voters who fail to vote over a two-year period. Registration is canceled if the voter does not cast a ballot during the subsequent four years or update his or her address. Repeated notices are sent to voters whose registration has been flagged. Organizations who challenged Ohio’s policy say targeting inactive voters for eventual registration cancellation amounts to “voter suppression” that violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. “It is common sense that eligible voters have the right to choose when, how, and how often to vote,” said a statement on the case from ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Dale Ho. “They shouldn’t be disenfranchised for exercising that right.”
The Travis County Commissioners court rejected all proposals to build its custom-designed voting system that was supposed to improve security, turning it toward more traditional methods of finding a replacement for its current system. Officials made this decision after proposals to build STAR-Vote did not meet the requirements to create a complete system that fulfills all of the county’s needs. A request for proposals went out late last year, with vendors submitting their ideas early this year. Since 2012, Travis County and the county clerk invested more than $330,000 in time and resources to evaluate election computer security and compare various voting systems. Ultimately, it decided to try to invent its own.
This fall’s statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey are the first big test of security measures taken in response to last year’s attempts by Russia to meddle with the nation’s voting system. Virginia was among 21 states whose systems were targeted by Russian hackers last year for possible cyberattacks. While officials say the hackers scanned the state’s public website and online voter registration system for vulnerabilities and there’s no sign they gained access, state authorities have been shoring up the security of their election systems. One of the most drastic steps was a decision by the Virginia Board of Elections earlier this month to order 22 counties and towns to adopt all new paper-backed voting machines before November. The board decided that the paperless electronic equipment they had been using was vulnerable to attack and should be replaced.
Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said on Tuesday that Kurds had voted “yes” to independence in a referendum held in defiance of the government in Baghdad and which had angered their neighbors and their U.S. allies. The Kurds, who have ruled over an autonomous region within Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, consider Monday’s referendum to be an historic step in a generations-old quest for a state of their own. Iraq considers the vote unconstitutional, especially as it was held not only within the Kurdish region itself but also on disputed territory held by Kurds elsewhere in northern Iraq. The United States, major European countries and neighbors Turkey and Iran strongly opposed the decision to hold the referendum, which they described as destabilizing at a time when all sides are still fighting against Islamic State militants.
A variety of intelligence gathered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including some that is secret, led to the conclusion that Wisconsin’s elections system had been targeted last year by Russia, state election leaders said Friday. Elections officials repeated, as they said last week, there’s no evidence that Wisconsin’s elections systems were compromised or that Russian scans of state websites resulted in a security breach. “These scanning attempts were unremarkable, except for the fact that (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) later identified their source as being Russian government cyber actors,” said Michael Haas, the state’s elections administrator, and Mark Thomsen, chairman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, in a joint statement. The commission’s update Friday was the latest effort to explain fully what happened with the reported Russian run at Wisconsin’s systems, and the first to cite intelligence as a foundation for the federal report.
Kenya’s main opposition coalition walked out of negotiations on how a rerun of last month’s annulled presidential election will be managed and threatened street protests, setting back preparations for the Oct. 26 ballot. The officials quit the talks because of plans by the ruling Jubilee Party to remove powers from the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission, James Orengo, a senator for the opposition National Super Alliance, told reporters Thursday in the capital, Nairobi. Proposed changes to the law include enabling commissioners to appoint a new chairman and reducing the number of people required to make a quorum, according to a copy of the bill provided by government spokesman Eric Kiraithe’s office. “This law is going to create a lame-duck commission,” Orengo said. “We are left with no alternative but to walk out of this meeting,” he said, adding that negotiations “at this stage are an exercise in futility.”
Spain is bracing itself for an unprecedented challenge to its territorial unity as the Catalan regional government stages an independence referendum that has been suspended by the country’s constitutional court and dealt a series of devastating blows by the central government in Madrid. The pro-sovereignty administration of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont says that as many as 5.3 million people are eligible to vote in the unilateral poll and has vowed to declare independence within 48 hours of a victory for the yes campaign. But the Spanish authorities, which have ruled Sunday’s referendum illegal and unconstitutional, insist that the vote will not take place. After a tumultuous 10 days that have seen Catalan government officials arrested, referendum websites blocked and millions of ballot papers seized, the Spanish government said it was confident it had dismantled the electoral apparatus.
Russian interference in U.S. institutions reaches further than the interference in the election infrastructure in 2016 and requires a strong strategy to counter a sustained effort by that country to undermine the integrity of the vote, former DHS leaders told a congressional task force. Russian probes and alleged attempted hacks of state election systems in the last election are “a wake up call” for upcoming state and congressional elections in 2018, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson told House Democrats on the Election Security Task Force in a Sept. 28 public meeting. House Democrats created the Election Security Task Force in June to study ways to keep Russian interference out of 2018 elections. While Johnson told the panel that he found no evidence that Russian probes of state systems, including voter registration systems, altered ballots or election results, he said those efforts “exposed cyber vulnerabilities.”
The Department of Homeland Security has notified two states that Russian hackers attempted to scan networks other than their election systems in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, contrary to details provided last week. On Wednesday, California became the second state — after Wisconsin — to receive the clarification. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement that homeland security officials told him the scanning activity took place on the state technology department’s network and not on the Secretary of State website, as the state was told last week. “Our notification from DHS last Friday was not only a year late, it also turned out to be bad information,” Padilla said in a statement. He said the public and officials who oversee elections “deserve timely and accurate information” from Homeland Security
National: Campaign watchdogs cite ‘significant concerns’ if Texas lawyer Trey Trainor gets FEC post | Dallas Morning News
Campaign watchdog groups blasted Austin lawyer Trey Trainor on Wednesday, warning senators that his ties to the White House and views on campaign finance should raise “significant concerns” should he win a spot on the Federal Election Commission. Ten groups wrote a letter to senators expressing their concerns, though they stopped short of urging the Senate to reject the nomination. “Americans expect and deserve an FEC that does not allow special interest to run roughshod over our campaign finance laws, and the Senate must take great care to make sure Trey Trainor is not just another fox to guard the henhouse,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “Trainor has exhibited an open contempt for many of the campaign finance laws he would be charged with enforcing at the FEC which is deeply troubling at a time when the agency is mired in dysfunction, unable or unwilling to enforce the laws passed by Congress.”
Everyone in the election field knows how important it is to minimize waits at the polls, and in recent years, we’ve seen big advances in using data to help predict and avoid polling place stress. But while there’s a lot of research on overall wait times, there’s little data out there that addresses one critical piece of the puzzle: the amount of time it takes to vote a ballot. For that reason, the Center for Technology and Civic Life is working with software developer Mark Pelczarski to build a tool that will estimate how long it will take voters to mark a ballot based on its contents. Once it’s ready, the tool will be available for free in the Election Toolkit.
Former state Senate Democratic leaders Arthenia Joyner and Chris Smith have filed a measure with the Constitution Revision Commission that would restore voting rights to felons who have served their time and completed any other post-prison requirements. Joyner, a Tampa lawyer, and Smith, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, are members of the commission, which can place state constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 general-election ballot. Under the proposal, voting rights for convicted felons would be restored “upon completion of all terms of a sentence including parole and probation.” Felons convicted of murder or a sexual offense would be excluded from the automatic voter restoration under the amendment.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Thursday that his department is ready to launch the RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov website in compliance with a 2015 law that required online registration to be available by Oct. 1. Detzner, who originally opposed the policy, said the Department of State has been working over the last two years, in cooperation with the 67 supervisors of elections across the state, to “implement an online voter registration website that provides Floridians with a secure and more easily accessible way to register to vote. The right to vote is sacred in our country and I hope that with this new and convenient method, more Floridians will register to vote and engage in the electoral process,” Detzner said in a statement.
Rockdale Elections Director Cynthia Welch recently held a demonstration showing off the new “paper” ballot voting machines that will be used in the Nov. 7 Conyers municipal elections. Rockdale is the first county in Georgia to pilot the new machines, which will provide voters with a paper ballot they can examine before casting their ballot in a tabulator machine that counts the votes. “If they’re not satisfied with their vote, they can take it to a poll worker and request a new ballot and start all over. Once they are satisfied with their selections, they can cast the ballot in the tabulator,” Welch said.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate says the integrity of the state’s elections system remains intact, although he acknowledges it’s been repeatedly attacked by outsiders who have included would-be hackers from Russia. “On a regular basis, we have bad actors who attempt to breach our system. Hundreds of thousands every single day … and we deflect them so that they are not successful,” Pate said. “To be a hacker, they have to actually get into the system. We have not been hacked. The Russians have not hacked us.” But Pate, a Republican who is Iowa’s chief elections official, confirmed to The Des Moines Register this week that he intends to ask the Iowa Legislature in 2018 for additional money for technology upgrades to the state’s elections system. The cost won’t be in the millions of dollars, but it will be significant, he added. “We have to stay ahead of the curve here. We need to make sure we are head of the bad guys before they come,” Pate said.
New Hampshire: State Says ‘Miscommunication’ to Blame for Notice Telling Towns to Remove Voters from Checklists | NHPR
The Secretary of State’s office says “miscommunication” is to blame for a message that appeared to direct local officials to strike the names of some voters from checklists without notifying them first. “It was miscommunication, pure and simple,” Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said. “What should have been a very quiet summer for us has actually been incredibly busy. There are a number of groups that have filed lawsuits against the election laws, and they file those against our office — so we’re dealing with that. We’re dealing with numerous right-to-know requests. We’re trying to train election officials. There’s only so many of us that can go around. You can understand how a miscommunication can take place,” Scanlan added, “and we just have to work harder at it, that’s all.”
A federal judge on Thursday rejected a constitutional challenge to a New York state law barring voters from taking photographs of their marked ballots, known as “ballot selfies,” so they could post them on social media websites. U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan also upheld the constitutionality of a New York City Board of Elections policy barring photography at city polling places. Rejecting free speech challenges under the First Amendment, Castel said the state law was “narrowly tailored” to help thwart fraud and ensure the integrity of the election process, while the city policy was a reasonable means to limit delays at the ballot box. The judge issued his 41-page decision one month after a two-day, non-jury trial.
North Carolina: New York Times story on Russian election hacking peeves North Carolina officials | The Washington Post
The New York Times never reported that election systems in Durham, N.C., had succumbed to Russian hacking. In fact, the story indicated straight-up that “no clear-cut evidence of digital sabotage has emerged, much less a Russian role in it.” Even so, the Sept. 2 front-page story by Nicole Perlroth, Michael Wines and Matthew Rosenberg did quote an election “troubleshooter” as saying something suspicious regarding irregularities on Election Day in Durham: “It felt like tampering, or some kind of cyberattack,” Susan Greenhalgh told the newspaper. There were indeed difficulties, as laid out in the lede of the story by Perlroth, et al. So-called e-poll books — essentially digital rolls that guide voting-day check-ins — malfunctioned, resulting in potential voters leaving in frustration or standing in line, annoyed. The state’s vendor for e-poll books was VR Systems, a Florida company that was targeted by Russian state hackers, according to a leaked document from the National Security Agency. Many accounts have concluded that VR Systems was “successfully infiltrated,” though the company disputes the characterizations. “Absolutely we deny it,” says VR Systems’s Ben Martin.
Wisconsin: State treasurer to Legislature: Penalize Dane County for funding voter ID study | Wisconsin State Journal
Republican State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk on Wednesday called on the Legislature to penalize Dane County for funding a UW-Madison study on the effects of the state’s voter ID law. Dane County spent $55,000 on the study by UW-Madison political science professor Ken Mayer. It concluded nearly 17,000 registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties may have been deterred from voting in November because of the controversial law. In a statement, Adamczyk called the taxpayer expenditure “a complete waste of money” partly because nearly three in four of those surveyed lived in Milwaukee County. He called for cutting $55,000 in shared revenue Dane County receives from the state in the next budget. The county receives about $3.9 million in shared revenue.
Iraq: Thousands of attempts to crash e-voting site for Kurdistan referendum “failed,” developer says | Kurdistan24
The company who developed the website for people in the Diaspora to cast their ballot in the Kurdistan Referendum announced it had successfully stopped thousands of attempts to take down the e-voting site. Speaking to Kurdistan 24, Gohdar Jadir Ibrahim, Director of Awrosoft Company, the website developer responsible for the Kurdistan Referendum e-voting portal, confirmed there were hacking attempts to prevent people of the Kurdistan Region in the Diaspora from voting, but that they had “all failed.” “In three days, we received 815,000 visits.
A surge of popularity for a freshly minted opposition party in Japan is making Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to call a snap election look riskier than initially thought. Abe dissolved the lower house of parliament Thursday, setting the stage for an Oct. 22 vote. The Party of Hope, launched earlier this week by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, may not dethrone Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party but analysts say it could put a dent in the LDP’s majority. A major setback could derail Abe’s presumed hope to extend his rule for three more years at a party leadership meeting next year. Minutes after the lower house dissolution, Abe made a fiery speech to party members. He said he is seeking a public mandate on his tough diplomatic and defense policies to deal with escalating threats from North Korea, and that party members would have to relay his message to win voter support during the campaign.
Liberia: Elections Violence Overwhelming Liberia, Liberians In Great Fear For Elections Result Acceptance | GNN
Since the start of political campaigns around the country for elected positions in the pending October 10, 2017 general and presidential elections, the news of election violence seems to be overwhelming as many supporters of political parties continue to breed confusion during their exercises. Uncountable elections temptations are been reported each day with one party and the others are said to be at each other’s throat with their supporters reportedly inciting what many considered as elections violence, a situation if not carefully handled may lead to a serious crisis during this period.
A task force of congressional Democrats is slated to meet with an Obama-era Homeland Security secretary this week as part of an ongoing effort to address cyber threats to election infrastructure. The election security task force announced that it will host a public forum on Thursday featuring Jeh Johnson, who led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Obama administration. News of the forum comes days after the DHS notified nearly two dozen states that they were targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 presidential election. It was Johnson who was responsible for engaging with state-level officials on cybersecurity ahead of the election last year. The department offered voluntary cybersecurity assistance to states to shore up their systems ahead of the vote.
Wisconsin: State to end use of ballot-counting machine that had flaw highlighted in recount | Wisconsin State Journal
State elections officials plan to end the use of a type of ballot-tabulation machine after the statewide 2016 recount linked the machine to vote-counting discrepancies in the last election. State elections commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to de-certify the machine, the Optech Eagle, immediately after the 2018 election. The commission also required that if those machines are used in a recount before then, a hand recount would be required. A Wisconsin State Journal analysis of the recount results, published in January, highlighted the problems. The Optech Eagle, which processed about 10.6 percent of the ballots in the state, produced a higher error rate than other machines — likely because some voters didn’t comply with instructions to use a certain kind of ink or pencil to mark their ballots.
Democrats and Republicans are poised for a Supreme Court fight about political line-drawing with the potential to alter the balance of power across a country starkly divided between the two parties. The big question at the heart of next week’s high court clash is whether there can be too much politics in the inherently political task of drawing electoral districts. The Supreme Court has never struck down a districting plan because it was too political. The test case comes from Wisconsin, where Democratic voters sued after Republicans drew political maps in 2011 that entrenched their hold on power in a state that is essentially evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. “It could portend massive changes in our electoral system,” Washington lawyer Christopher Landau said, if the court for the first time imposes limits on extreme partisan gerrymandering, or redistricting. Courts have struck down racially discriminatory maps for decades.