Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised legal proceedings against separatist leaders in Catalonia as the regional assembly approved the legal framework for a referendum on independence, an outright challenge to the Spanish state. Rajoy will ask the Constitutional Court to invalidate the Catalan referendum law and consider criminal charges against Speaker Carme Forcadell and others involved in advancing the legislation. State prosecutors in Catalonia will also seek charges against Forcadell and her colleagues on the parliamentary council who allowed the bill to go forward. The bill passed with the support of 72 out of 135 Catalan lawmakers at about 9:30 p.m. in Barcelona on Wednesday, with most opposition deputies abandoning the chamber in protest before the vote. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont later signed a decree calling the referendum for Oct. 1. The Spanish cabinet will meet Thursday in Madrid to discuss its next move.
Breaking ranks with many of their fellow Republicans, a group of prominent politicians filed briefs on Tuesday urging the Supreme Court to rule that extreme political gerrymandering — the drawing of voting districts to give lopsided advantages to the party in power — violates the Constitution. The briefs were signed by Republicans including Senator John McCain of Arizona; Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio; Bob Dole, the former Republican Senate leader from Kansas and the party’s 1996 presidential nominee; the former senators John C. Danforth of Missouri, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming; and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former governor of California. “Partisan gerrymandering has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process,” reads a brief filed by Mr. McCain and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161, on Oct. 3.
The Postal Service is currently petitioning the agency that oversees it, the Postal Regulatory Commission, to grant the biggest change to its pricing system in a half century: the authority to lift a cap on postal rates. The commission’s decision is expected within weeks. If the Postal Service gets the ability to raise rates, it could add substantially to the cost of mailing prescription drugs and magazines, for example. Packaging and bulk-mail rates also would be affected, straining tight budgets for an increasing number of state and local governments that distribute election ballots by mail. Colorado, Oregon and Washington conduct elections almost entirely by mail, while California is making the switch and will fully do so beginning with the 2020 elections. Most other states also mail out ballots as a part of early voting. Ballots are typically distributed via bulk mail and returned by voters with first-class postage.
President Trump’s voter fraud commission may have violated federal records laws by using personal email accounts to conduct commission work. The lawsuit brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law against the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity states that Justice Department attorneys revealed during a Sept. 1 meeting that commission members have been using personal email accounts rather than federal government-issued accounts to conduct commission-related work. The Verge was the first to report on the latest filing. “Such use of personal email violates the Presidential Records Act (PRA), which Congress amended in 2014 specifically to require that all persons covered by the PRA — including members of this Commission — use official federal government email to conduct government business,” the Lawyer’s Committee argued in a joint status report filed by attorneys for both parties in the suit.
National: Facebook says likely Russia-based group paid for political ads during US election | The Guardian
Facebook said on Wednesday that it had found that an influence operation likely based in Russia spent $100,000 on ads promoting divisive social and political messages in a two-year-period through May. The social media network said that many of the ads promoted 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages that it has now suspended. The ads spread polarizing views on topics including immigration, race and gay rights, instead of backing a particular political candidate, it said. Facebook announced the findings in a blog post by its chief security officer, Alex Stamos, and said that it was cooperating with federal inquiries into influence operations during the 2016 US presidential election.
To stop cyberattacks on voting, America should follow the state’s lead on paper ballots
There’s no evidence that hacking impacted the 2016 elections. But there’s growing evidence that elections in 2018 and 2020 could be at risk. The threat could come from North Korea, Iran, or any of a host of foreign adversaries. The challenges are getting clearer. In August, Chicago’s Board of Elections reported that sensitive information about the city’s 1.8 million registered voters was left exposed online for an unknown period. Earlier in the summer, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that foreign agents targeted voting systems in 21 states in the last election. Other news reports found that hackers successfully compromised election technology vendors who program voting systems. In the fight to secure America’s voting systems, Alabama is already employing the most crucial defensive weapon: paper ballots. The transparency and simplicity of the state’s system is tough to hack and relatively easy to verify. To guard against a foreign attack on our nation’s election systems, we need action to ensure others follow Alabama’s example.
Colorado: Group files to put redistricting reform on 2018 ballot in a bid to end gerrymandering | The Denver Post
A bipartisan coalition backed by two former governors on Wednesday took the first step toward putting redistricting reform on the 2018 ballot, filing three initiatives that the group hopes will lead to more competitive elections in Colorado. The three ballot initiatives seek to dilute the influence of the two major political parties in the state’s redistricting process by putting more unaffiliated voters on the commissions tasked with drawing the lines for state legislative and congressional districts. Led by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Colorado and former state Rep. Kathleen Curry, a political independent, the effort has some high-profile backers in both parties.
Kansas: In Response To Justice Department, Kobach Cites Voter Database As Key Kansas Resource | HPPR
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is touting a controversial multistate voter database as a key resource in response to U.S. Department of Justice questions about Kansas’ compliance with federal voting law. In a recent letter to the Justice Department, obtained by the Kansas News Service through an open records request, Kobach describes the database as “one of the most important systems” Kansas uses to check the accuracy of voter rolls. … Critics, however, question the program’s value, saying poor data quality means there is far greater potential for mistakenly assuming people with the same name and birthdate to be the same person.
A proposed Massachusetts ballot question that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns from the prior six years to secure a spot on the state primary ballot cleared a key hurdle Wednesday. Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey certified the question, saying it passes constitutional muster. That clears the question to go before voters next year, provided that supporters can collect the tens of thousands of signatures needed to get on the ballot. The proposal is a reaction to Republican President Donald Trump’s refusal to publicly release his tax returns during the 2016 election. It would impose the same requirements for candidates for vice president.
Texas: Election workers spied on black voters and backed white candidate in Cedar Hill, complaints say | Dallas Morning News
When Texans vote, their choices are supposed to be secret. But that wasn’t true during a racially charged City Council election in this Dallas suburb last June, according to allegations under investigation by the district attorney’s office. Workers at one polling place here openly supported a white incumbent over a black challenger, according to complaints filed with the county and state. One of the workers looked at ballots and discussed with the others how black residents had voted. The poll workers also improperly used their cellphones to urge supporters of the white candidate to come vote, according to a statement submitted to the county elections board by another poll worker, a Hispanic woman.
Carson City is getting new voting equipment in time for the 2018 midterm election. Instead of a plastic card, voters will get a bar-coded, paper ballot to insert into the new machines. They will then make choices via a touchscreen, much like the existing system, and when done the machines will print out the inserted paper ballot, which voters can verify and then put into a ballot box, or scanner, to cast their vote. “This is a change, but when I talk to people about the difference they say that it would be so nice to have a paper ballot to drop in the box,” said Susan Merriwether, Carson City clerk-recorder.
New York is wrongly purging voter rolls to remove the names of supposedly inactive voters, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of a government watchdog group. The legal challenge against state elections officials argues the state’s purging policy violates federal law governing how states can scrub names from their list of registered voters. “New York’s outdated policies disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters in clear violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the good government group Common Cause-New York. The state’s aggressive purging policy was highlighted in last year’s elections, when tens of thousands of names were purged from voter rolls in Brooklyn, prompting widespread complaints from voters forced to cast affidavit ballots.
North Carolina: Lawmakers asked the public to comment on political maps. Here’s the response they got. | News & Observer
When legislators were in the middle of debating changes to North Carolina House and Senate districts last month, they were legally required to seek public input. But they don’t appear to have listened too intently. Of the more than 4,300 written comments that legislators received on redistricting, just 38 were positive, according to Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, who said he got the data from General Assembly staff. “That means 99.2 percent of the comments were opposed to precisely what the redistricting committee went ahead and did anyway — which was to draw the maps to favor one party,” Jackson wrote in a post on the Charlotte Agenda news website.
The federal government’s same-sex marriage postal vote is lawful, the high court has found, clearing the way for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to send voting forms to 16 million Australians. The seven high court judges unanimously dismissed the legal challenge mounted by Andrew Wilkie, PFlag (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and Melbourne lesbian mother Felicity Marlowe. The court also unanimously dismissed the case brought by senator Janet Rice and Australian Marriage Equality. The judges ordered the plaintiffs to pay costs. The survey will be sent out from 12 September and the result announced on 15 November 2017, ministers George Brandis and Mathias Cormann said after the judgment was announced.
An international team of researchers has informed the Estonian authorities of a vulnerability potentially affecting digital use of Estonian ID cards issued since October 2014; all the cards issued to e-residents are also affected. On 30 August, an international team of researchers informed the Estonian Information System Authority (RIA) of a vulnerability potentially affecting the digital use of Estonian ID cards. The possible vulnerability affects a total of almost 750,000 ID-cards issued starting from October 2014, including cards issued to e-residents. The ID-cards issued before 16 October 2014 use a different chip and are not affected. Mobile-IDs are also not impacted. … In the light of current events, some Estonian politicians called to postpone the upcoming local elections, due to take place on 16 October. In Estonia, approximately 35% of the voters use digital identity to vote online.
Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga has said that he will not take part in the presidential election re-run slated for 17 October “without legal and constitutional guarantees”. Last week, the Supreme Court annulled August’s election result saying the electoral commission (IEBC) had not followed the constitution. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner by the IEBC. The court said a new election needs to be held by 31 October. Speaking to journalists, Mr Odinga said that the fresh vote must held in an environment where everything that went wrong can be corrected.
The re-run of Kenya’s presidential election after the Supreme Court invalidated the Aug. 8 vote for irregularities has exposed high-profile observer missions sent by The Carter Center, the European Union and others to allegations that they endorsed a faulty process with generally supportive reviews of what they witnessed on voting day. Last week’s surprise court ruling nullifying President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election has been called a first in Africa. Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who challenged the vote in court and claimed vote-rigging, turned his anger on observer missions, accusing them of moving quickly “to sanitize fraud.” He said their role should be examined. As Kenya wonders whether officials can get the election right a second time around, observer missions that included former Secretary of State John Kerry and former African leaders face criticism that they viewed the vote too narrowly and were inclined to favor the stability associated with the incumbent leader.
Young Norwegians, politicized by the massacre of 77 people by far-right militant Anders Behring Breivik, will play a key role in an election next week that could hinge on issues close to their hearts such as climate change. In 2011 Breivik killed eight people in a bombing in central Oslo and gunned down another 69 at a Labour Party youth camp on Utoeya Island, in the worst attacks in Norway since World War Two. They motivated a generation of young people, often children or teenagers at the time, to become more involved in mainstream politics – both on the left and the right – in a backlash against his xenophobic and anti-Muslim world view. And data shows young voters are now more likely than in the past to actually cast their ballots. “I felt so powerless that day. It was a way to fight back,” said Anja Ariel Toernes Brekke, 21, who joined the youth wing of the Labour Party a few weeks after Breivik’s attacks. She is now the general secretary of the far-left Red party’s youth wing. “I wanted to prove that the left was not weakened, that there would be people with those beliefs to replace those who had died,” she told Reuters.
The Spanish government has accused the Catalan parliament of committing a “constitutional and democratic atrocity” by approving legislation to allow next month’s bitterly disputed independence referendum to go ahead. On Wednesday night, the region’s ruling, pro-sovereignty coalition – which has a majority in the Catalan parliament – managed to get the referendum law passed despite angry objections from opposition MPs, who complained that usual parliamentary procedures had been disregarded. The legislation passed by 72 votes after 52 opposition MPs walked out of the chamber in Barcelona in protest at the end of an ill-tempered, 11-hour session.
A huge rally for constitutional reform has taken place in Togo, a country presided over by one family for the past half-century. Opponents of the government want President Faure Gnassingbe to “leave by the front door.” Tens of thousands of protesters wearing the colors of Togo’s opposition parties – red, orange and pink – marched through the Togolese capital, Lome, on Wednesday. Some carried aloft placards bearing slogans including “Free Togo” and denouncing the Gnassingbe regime after 50 years in power. Opposition party leader Jean-Pierre Fabre said the demo had been “unprecedented” and estimated that “more than one million people” were on the streets of the capital, Lome.