The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for September 25 – October 1 2017

In a public hearing of an election security task force, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that Russian probes and attempted hacks of state election systems in the last election are “a wake up call” for upcoming state and congressional elections in 2018. Johnson said that as his department initially uncovered the Russian probes he worried about the ramifications. “Last year, when we saw these voter registration databases being targeted, I was very worried it was the run-up to a huge catastrophic attack,” that would result in the deletion of voter registration information, he said. “We were very worried about that and we continue to worry about the ability of bad cyber actors to compromise voter registration data.” Johnson also suggested that Congress could institute “federal minimum standards” for cybersecurity election-related systems — though he encouraged lawmakers to tread lightly, given that states are responsible for administering elections and regard it as “their sovereign process.”

Twitter briefed staff members of the Senate and House intelligence committees for their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election amid disclosures that the social media network may have been used even more extensively than Facebook in the Russian influence campaign last year. In addition to Russia-linked Twitter accounts that posed as Americans, the platform was also used for large-scale automated messaging, using “bot” accounts to spread false stories and promote news articles about emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers.

In a CNN oped, President Obama’s ethics czar Norm Eisen suggests that 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.”

A lawsuit in federal court is challenging the Mississippi constitution’s lifetime disenfranchisement of citizens convicted of certain felonies. “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.”

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has 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. 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.

Travis County Texas has rejected proposals to build Star-Vote, a 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. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir collaborated with experts to design of STAR-Vote — with the STAR standing for “Secure, Transparent, Auditable, Reliable.” It came in response to security concerns, but was supposed to also be quick, accurate and accessible for voters with disabilities. It would also create a paper trail, which could be used if a recount becomes necessary.

Election security watchdogs say they’re encouraged by Virginia’s recent decision to get rid of its paperless voting machines. Still, Susan Greenhalgh, election specialist for Verified Voting, says using paper ballots is only the first step, and that they need to be counted to detect tampering. “We need to use them to audit the election results. It’s like we can have a seatbelt in our car but unless we actually strap in, that seat belt doesn’t give us any safety,” she says.

Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said 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. 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 were unsuccessful in compromising the vote.

In another independence vote, tensions were high as voters defied the Spanish government to participate in today’s referendum on Catalonian independence. 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.

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.