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.
National: Facebook isn’t consulting the experts to fight Russian election meddling on its platform | Quartz
There’s a crop of experts in Washington, DC with decades of experience in running campaigns and writing legislation, who are trying to keep America’s elections free and fair. They can be found at Democracy 21, founded by veteran campaign-finance lawyer Fred Wertheimer; at the government transparency group Sunlight Foundation; at Issue One, which aims to keep outside groups from hijacking elections; in the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations; and the at the Campaign Legal Center, which hopes to give regular Americans more of a voice in elections. Outside the capital, New York University’s Brennan Center looks at voting rights and elections. As Facebook grapples with how Russia may have used its platform to influence the US election, however, it hasn’t reached out to a single one of these organizations, representatives from the groups told Quartz this week. A Facebook spokesman said he had no more information to offer than was already public on the situation.
Seven Democratic senators on Tuesday asked the Department of Justice to explain any involvement it has with President Donald Trump’s commission convened to investigate voter fraud. Justice Department officials have said it has no involvement with the commission, which Trump created in May. But in a Tuesday letter, Democrats said two incidents made them suspicious. In June, the department sent an unusual letter to 44 states asking them for information on their practices for purging voters from the rolls. The same day, the voter fraud panel sent out a request to all 50 states for sensitive voter information. Earlier this month, a public records request by the Campaign Legal Center revealed that a February email from Hans von Spakovsky, a commission member, was forwarded to the Department of Justice with instructions for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to read it. In the email, von Spakovsky said Democrats shouldn’t be appointed to the commission and lamented it also might be filled with Republicans whose views were too mainstream.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he’s received reports from several voting locations where Alabamians who voted in the Aug. 15 Democratic primary were attempting to cast ballots in Tuesday’s GOP runoff. According to Alabama state law, that’s considered voter fraud and is illegal. State residents are prohibited to vote in one party’s primary and later voting in the other party’s runoff election. The process, deemed “crossover voting,” was made illegal earlier this year in an attempt to limit cross-party candidate selection as Alabamians are not required to register to a specific party to vote, but may only vote in one party’s primary.
Citing concerns about election cyber security, San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong has decided to keep neighborhood polling places with an option to vote by mail in 2018, opting out of a state test of an all-vote-by-mail system. Gong said the new model that also would have included a handful of voting centers to be open for multiple days — and expected to increase voter participation and save money — may be implemented for the presidential primaries in March 2020. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill to modernize California elections a year ago. Fourteen counties, including San Luis Obispo, were offered a chance to participate in 2018. So far, Sacramento, Nevada, Napa and San Mateo counties decided to make the switch, according to the State Secretary of State Office.
At the summer study committee on election laws, it was announced lawmakers are planning to file bills for same-day voter registration and the ability to vote by mail. While we don’t have details on these bills there were plenty of suggestions on improving voting laws. In a time where many issues can cause divide, some want election laws to be different. “Voting in elections should be among the most inclusion activities we experience as Hoosiers,” said Julia Vaughn with the organization Common Cause. “Our assumption should be that people want to participate.”
Ashanti Witherspoon served 27 years at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery and has been on parole since 1999, but because Louisiana law bars him from voting until his parole expires in 2045, he was on hand at a Baton Rouge appeals court Wednesday where documents were filed challenging the law’s legality. The 1976 state law prohibits roughly 71,000 felons on probation and parole from voting. “I’ve campaigned for people, but I can’t vote,” Witherspoon, 68, of Baker, said inside the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. Witherspoon is a pastor, minister, motivational speaker and husband. “We’ll sit down and discuss the issues,” he said of his wife during election times. “I drive her to the place where she votes.” Witherspoon is one of the plaintiffs who filed suit against the state in an effort to have the four-decade-old law struck down.
New Hampshire: State Sends Mixed Signals to Towns on Rules for Removing Voters from Checklists | NHPR
The Secretary of State’s office had to backtrack this week on its instructions about how to handle voters flagged through the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck System. It initially suggested local checklist supervisors could remove people from local rolls without notifying them first. The Crosscheck system is a multi-state database that’s been promoted as a tool to catch potential cases of voter fraud — in part, because it’s designed to flag people who are registered in multiple states. New Hampshire agreed to join the program last year. (The system has been championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the chair of the Trump administration’s election commission who recently came under fire for alleging that out-of-state voters swayed the outcome of New Hampshire’s elections.)
Since moving into his White House office months ago, Jared Kushner—senior adviser and son-in-law to the President, savior of the Middle East, and possible person of interest in a federal investigation—has amassed a rather extensive project portfolio. The issues under Kushner’s purview include negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine, fixing the opioid crisis, updating technology across the entire federal government, and spearheading criminal justice reform, to name just a few. It seems like a nearly impossible set of challenges for anyone to tackle, and even more so for Kushner. Because in addition to not having any previous government experience, the former real estate exec has demonstrated repeated difficulty filling out simple, routine forms correctly. This includes his own voter registration form. According to the records held by the New York State Board of Elections, Jared Corey Kushner is a woman. Is Kushner a woman? Did he just accidentally fill out the form incorrectly? Is he the victim of a malicious voter impersonation scheme? Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no way to know for sure, because he has yet to provide WIRED with a comment. But based on his recent history with paperwork, option two seems like a pretty safe bet.
The Butler County commissioners are concerned the Board of Elections dropped a maintenance contract on its 1,600 voting machines, presumably because they thought they would be getting new ones soon. Commissioner Don Dixon said he understood the Board of Elections may have been trying to save money — the maintenance agreement costs about $85,000 a year — if they thought the voting machines would be replaced soon, but that’s not the case. “If they are under the impression that this equipment is going to be changed out in the next months, I think they are operating under the wrong assumption,” said Dixon, who added that an 85/15 funding bill from the state would not happen until 2018 or 2019. Butler County has about 1,600 voting machines — 150 are currently broken but are used for spare parts, according to the Board of Elections — that are 12 years old.
Who should control the drawing of congressional district maps is at stake as Republican leadership at the statehouse come together to create a panel of four lawmakers who could develop a new method by the end of the year. For months, an effort supported by the League of Women Voters has been underway to gather signatures so a ballot issue could be placed before the people of Ohio. The measure would be similar to one introduced a few years ago. In 2015, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot issue that restructured how the General Assembly districts will be drawn starting in 2021. To get to that point, four lawmakers sat down and hashed out a plan over a three-hour meeting; though to hear State Senator Matt Huffman tell the story, it was mostly himself and Vernon Sykes working out the details with some help from the other two men in the room, Keith Faber and Joe Schiavoni; this after hearing testimony from the public, of course.
Editorials: With Russian hackers apparently bent on wrongdoing, Pennsylvania must protect its voting systems | LNP
Last week, the Trump administration informed election officials in 21 states, including Pennsylvania, that Russian hackers targeted their election systems before last year’s presidential election, The Associated Press reported. Pennsylvania was not the only key battleground state targeted; so, too, were Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. The targeting was reported to have been mostly preparatory — scanning computer systems for weaknesses that could be exploited — and to have been aimed at voter registration systems, rather than vote-tallying software. The notification “came roughly a year after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia,” the AP reported. … In 2015, the state Supreme Court rejected an appeal from voters who sought to halt the use of direct-recording electronic voting machines in Pennsylvania. Election officials say that because the machines aren’t connected to the internet, they’re safe. But they don’t produce a verifiable paper trail — which now seems like a glaring deficit.
When state election officials ordered the immediate elimination of touch-screen voting machines in early September, the decision struck some localities as hasty. Now it looks as though it might have come just in the nick of time. The Board of Elections issued the order after hearing about vulnerabilities in the touch-screen systems. A demonstration at a tech conference this summer showed just how easy it is to hack into supposedly secure machines — by using a touch-screen machine from Virginia. Replacing the machines in the dozen or so localities, mostly small and rural, that still rely on them will strain their abilities. Board member Clara Bell Wheeler even expressed concern that the resulting confusion could disenfranchise some voters. But after hearing about technical vulnerabilities in a closed-door session, Wheeler agreed the switch was necessary. She called the briefing “enlightening.”
Two days after a historic vote saw an overtly nationalist party enter the German parliament for the first time in more than five decades, a group of over-60s vent their grievances over lunchtime beers and cigarettes in the smoky back room of a dry petrol station on the border between the German state of Saxony and the Czech Republic. The German government is throwing cash at refugees “while native pensioners can’t afford to buy a new pair of glasses”, they complain. Putin is Europe’s “only guarantor of peace”, they argue, and Germany is still “under occupation” by America. A retired lorry driver with a handlebar moustache cites a joke he read in the tabloid Bild, which says that in the wake of Sunday’s federal elections, Angela Merkel should consider handing Saxony to the Czechs in exchange for some of their toxic waste. “Let’s have it,” he shouts. “We’ll become Sudeten Germans again.”
India: Big data firm Cambridge Analytica in talks with Indian opposition party for 2019 polls: Sources | Moneycontrol
Cambridge Analytica, the international data mining and analysis company that famously helped United States President Donald Trump win the elections through a targeted communication campaign, is in talks with a large opposition party in India for the upcoming general elections in 2019. In a presentation made to the party in August, Cambridge Analytica has etched a data-driven strategy to target voters on social media, analysing online user behaviour and “connecting the dots” across different citizen databases. According to two people familiar with the discussions, the big data analytics company whose tagline says “Data drives all we do,” has chalked out a comprehensive plan for the Indian political party.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has asked his lawyers to prosecute six employees of telecoms operator Safaricom for conspiring with election board officials to rig the nullified Aug. 8 presidential poll. The Supreme Court annulled President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election on Sept. 1, citing irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results, and ordered another election within 60 days. Kenya used two systems to transmit results from polling stations: paper forms and the electronic transmission of the vote tallies plus scanned copies of the forms, using three local telecoms firms and hardware from French IT firm OT-Morpho. Odinga accused Safaricom of failing to alert the authorities about illegal activities during the electronic transmission of results. He said they were sent to a server in Europe rather than the election centre in the Kenyan capital.
Editorials: Mixed Member Proportional voting system: delivering for New Zealand? | Otago Daily Times
Has New Zealand really got to grips with MMP? Does it better serve the people or politicians? Those questions are worth asking in light of last weekend’s general election and the expected two-to-three-week wait while negotiations to form a government take place. The MMP (mixed member proportional) voting system to elect Parliament was first used in 1996 after a final binding referendum in 1993 that endorsed the change from FPP (first past the post). There are similarities this time with that first MMP election, in that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (who had 13.4% of the party vote and won the then five Maori seats) was wooed by the two major parties, National (on 33.9%) and Labour (on 28.2%), to form a government.
The Catalan regional government has accused the Spanish authorities of behaving like Turkey, China and North Korea by blocking websites designed to help people vote in Sunday’s independence referendum. Over the past week the Spanish government has stepped up its efforts to stop the unilateral vote by deploying thousands of extra police officers to Catalonia and taking control of the region’s finances. It insists the referendum is illegal and a clear violation of the Spanish constitution. The Catalan high court has assumed control of efforts to prevent the vote, instructing local and national police officers to stop public buildings being used as polling stations and to seize any material related to the referendum.