The leader of Catalonia has stopped short of declaring independence from Spain, calling instead for international mediation in a dispute that threatens to fracture Europe’s fifth-largest economy. Carles Puigdemont, in a speech on Tuesday to the breakaway region’s parliament in Barcelona, said the people of Catalonia had won the right to independence. The current relationship between Catalonia and the Spanish government is unsustainable, Puigdemont said. But the Catalan leader asked Calatonia’s parliament to suspend the effects of the region voting “yes” for independence and called for dialogue with the Spanish government. Puigdemont said it is worth exploring international mediation between Catalonia and Spain.
Catalonia’s leader balked at making a formal declaration of independence from Spain on Tuesday, calling for talks with Madrid over the region’s future in a gesture that eased fears of immediate unrest in the heart of the euro zone. In a much-anticipated speech to the Catalan parliament, ringed by thousands of protesters and hundreds of armed police, Carles Puigdemont made only a symbolic declaration, claiming a mandate to launch secession but suspending any formal steps to that end. His remarks disappointed many of his supporters who had gathered outside, waving Catalan flags in the expectation that he would move a formal independence motion to the assembly. But the speech pleased financial markets, boosting the euro on hopes that his gesture would mark a de-escalation of Spain’s worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981.
American voting machines are full of foreign-made hardware and software, including from China, and a top group of hackers and national security officials says that means they could have been infiltrated last year and into the future. DEFCON, the world’s largest hacker conference, will release its findings on Tuesday, months after hosting a July demonstration in which hackers quickly broke into 25 different types of voting machines. The report, to be unveiled at an event at the Atlantic Council, comes as the investigation continues by four Hill committees, plus Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, on top of the firm intelligence community assessments of interference. Though the report offers no proof of an attack last year, experts involved with it say they’re sure it is possible—and probable—and that the chances of a bigger attack in the future are high.
New Zealand opposition leader Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday (Oct 10) ruled out giving Winston Peters a stint as prime minister if she forms a government with the populist “kingmaker”. Ardern and her conservative rival Prime Minister Bill English are both in coalition talks with Peters, who holds the balance of power after the country’s Sept 23 election ended in a deadlock. There has been speculation that Peters could demand a year in the prime minister’s role as the price of his support, with some seeing it as the 72-year-old’s last chance for a shot at the top job.
President Donald Trump says allegations of Russian hacking in the 2016 election are a hoax — but his own agencies are working with states to beef up their cybersecurity, heeding the U.S. intelligence community’s warning: Moscow will be back in 2018. The Department of Homeland Security, state and local election officials, the FBI, and a federal election council have joined forces to work through hacking scenarios and root out weaknesses in state election systems. The project, in which states will have access to grants to upgrade election technology and tools to run simulations to examine holes in their systems, is a test for how well officials can work together to ward off potential election-related threats ahead of the midterm elections next year and the presidential election in 2020, experts said.
National: Google uncovers Russian-bought ads on YouTube, Gmail and other platforms | The Washington Post
Google for the first time has uncovered evidence that Russian operatives exploited the company’s platforms in an attempt to interfere in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the company’s investigation. The Silicon Valley giant has found that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents who aimed to spread disinformation across Google’s many products, which include YouTube, as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that have not been made public. Google runs the world’s largest online advertising business, and YouTube is the world’s largest online video site. The discovery by Google is also significant because the ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated troll farm that bought ads on Facebook — a sign that the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may be a much broader problem than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far.
National: Microsoft is reviewing its records for signs of potential Russian meddling during the 2016 election | Recode
Microsoft is currently reviewing its sales records to determine whether trolls aligned with the Russian government purchased ads on Bing or other company products during the 2016 U.S. presidential race. The decision to conduct an internal investigation comes as Microsoft’s tech industry peers — Facebook, Google and Twitter — contend with parallel probes by the U.S. Congress into the extent to which Kremlin-backed agents spread disinformation on their platforms around Election Day. “We take reports of misuse of our platform seriously,” a Microsoft spokesman said late Monday. “We are therefore investigating and if inappropriate activity is found, we will take steps to minimize such misuse in the future.” Reuters first reported the news.
Editorials: Referendums: Yes or No? – When is it a referendum, and when is it a plebiscite? | Neal Ascherson/The New York Review of Books
Last week brought two passionate and dramatic popular votes for independence, in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Catalonia, Spain. Everyone, even those who dismissed both votes as illegal and meaningless, called them “referendums.” But were they? In practice, the two terms—”referendum” and “plebiscite”—are hopelessly tangled. My young friend Joan (a male name in his country) has just voted Yes to the question “Should Catalonia become an independent republic?” He emails me: “I casted [sic] my ballot with watering eyes,” and a photo shows him smiling in order to hold back tears as he puts his vote in the box. This he calls a referendum. My late, far older friend Willy, who was a German schoolboy in 1921, got a French bayonet in his backside during a plebiscite. Germany and the resurrected Polish state were both claiming the coal and steel basin of Upper Silesia. Two bloody uprisings had solved nothing. So the Allied Powers at Versailles arranged a plebiscite, district by district, to determine the borders.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a Wisconsin case, is poised to make a historic ruling that could make extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional. Texas, whose maps historically are challenged because of racial gerrymandering, should nonetheless pay close attention. For all intents and purposes, racial and political gerrymandering are the same things in this state. Questions asked during a hearing Tuesday in the case offer a glimmer of hope that the days of gerrymandering might be coming to an end — or at least rendered more difficult to achieve. One question the court grappled with during the hearing: When does partisan gerrymandering — drawing legislative districts to advantage a certain political party — serve a valuable societal purpose? And the answer: Never.
Voting Blogs: Challenges to Better Security in U.S. Elections: The Last Mile | Brian Hancock/EAC Blog
Every election has a set of outcomes. Usually it’s winners and losers, but occasionally – and perhaps not coincidentally in presidential elections – there are also outcomes that shape our perceptions about the fairness and efficacy of our elections. In 2000, it was the hanging chad and the role of the Electoral College. In 2012, it was long lines. And in 2016, it was cybersecurity. Once an issue is introduced into the election ecosphere, it often remains a permanent and recurring part of the landscape. For example, a recent Google search of the words “cybersecurity elections” produced over 12 million hits. And at nearly every election-related forum I’ve attended during the past year, cybersecurity was a key topic of discussion. The 2016 election elevated the profile of election security issues and demonstrated a need for state and local election officials not only to reassess their readiness, but to educate the public about this important work and the role it plays in securing elections.
Alabama has clarified its voting rights policy in response to a report by AL.com. Secretary of State John Merrill said via email Thursday that a class of felons featured in a Wednesday AL.com story are in fact eligible to register to vote, despite the fact that a number of them said they had recently applied for and been denied that right. Felons like Randi Lynn Williams are in fact eligible to immediately regain their voting rights, according to Merrill. Williams, a 38-year-old Dothan woman who was convicted of fraudulent use of a credit card in 2011, would not have lost the right to vote under a new state law that went into effect in August.
Even as Florida attracts hundreds of new residents every day, the state’s pool of active voters is actually shrinking. This paradox is easily explained. All 67 counties must periodically scrub the voter roll to make it more accurate and to be sure voters live where they say. Counties can’t do that close to an election, so they do it in non-election years. Turns out, that’s good news for Republicans and bad news for Democrats. In Florida, a revolving-door state where people are constantly coming and going, the roster of active voters keeps changing. The voter roll expands in a presidential election year, when political parties are aggressively signing up voters, and it shrinks the following year, only to grow again, then shrink, like an accordion.
Congressional and legislative redistricting is in the spotlight as we move closer to the next round of reapportionment that will follow on the heels of the 2020 federal census. What could be a landmark challenge of a partisan legislative redistricting plan in Wisconsin is now before a divided U.S. Supreme Court. Early hints suggest Justice Anthony Kennedy may tip the court toward a breakthrough ruling striking down excessively partisan redistricting plans. That could be a game-changer, although the court faces a difficult challenge in determining and defining what might be considered to be excessive.
We realize “infrastructure” can be a yawn-inducing word. So instead of New York’s and the nation’s “voting infrastructure,” let’s talk about national security. The deflections and distractions of some politicians aside, there seems to be little if any credible dispute that Russia attempted last year to penetrate this country’s voting systems. To put a fine point on it, an adversary sought to affect the outcome of an election that would determine who decides where America sends its military, who it points nuclear weapons at, how it spends $3.3 trillion in our taxes and fees, and whether or not it continues sanctions on that particular adversary for aggression that includes forcibly annexing part of another country. So whether you’re pleased with the outcome of the election or not, it should matter to you that anyone tried to rig the system, and that there is no reason to believe they won’t try again.
An elections bill passed in one of several legislative actions in last week’s brief session, has drawn the 13th veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, who objected to a provision eliminating next year’s judicial primaries. “This legislation abolishes a scheduled election and takes away the right of the people to vote for the judges of their choice,” Cooper said in a statement released with Monday’s veto. “It is the first step toward a constitutional amendment that will rig the system so that the legislature picks everybody’s judges in every district instead of letting the people vote for the judges they want. If the legislature doesn’t like the fact that judges are ruling many of their laws unconstitutional, they should change their ways instead of their judges.”
North Carolina has long been a battleground state for Republicans and Democrats. And for many of its politicians, the same timeworn tool has plagued both parties. Gerrymandering, a term used to describe drawing voting districts to benefit whomever happens to be drawing the lines, dates back to 19th century Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry. Gerry was the first noted politician to shape a voting district in favor of himself so blatantly that one voter noted the shape of his district resembled a salamander, to which another voter replied, “No, it looks like a gerrymander,” and the term was born. The practice of gerrymandering for partisan purposes has been a tried and true weapon in the arsenal of political gain since the beginning of democratic elections. However, the practice of gerrymandering to disenfranchise minority groups was a ticking time bomb for North Carolina Republicans. Not to mention completely illegal.
With various legislator scandals and resignations, the Oklahoma State Election Board is on track to spend as much as a quarter of a million dollars on special elections this year. Eight state legislators have resigned their seats early since Dec. 31, 2016. Along with multiple resignations due to various sex and malfeasance scandals at the Oklahoma Legislature, a few lawmakers also have stepped down over the past year to take new full-time jobs. Among three special elections scheduled for Nov. 14 is one to replace Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow, who died while in office.
The return of paper ballots for all Virginia voters, a process begun a decade ago and accelerated by the threat of hacks of computerized voting machines, has kicked into high gear a month before the next state election. Edgardo Cortés, Virginia’s commissioner of elections, said last week all of the commonwealth’s cities, towns and counties will use paper ballots and electronic scanners on Nov. 7, ensuring voting and tabulation are secure. “The issue here is not whether it’s hackable or not,” Cortés said in an interview. “The issue is if you end up with some kind of question, you have those paper ballots you can go back to.” The danger is not theoretical.
Australia: Voting Twice Online in Australia’s Same-Sex Marriage Poll Was Frighteningly Easy | Mother Jones
For the past month, Australians have been casting their ballots in a nonbinding-yet-divisive survey to advise their elected leaders on the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” As an overseas Aussie who cares deeply about the issue, I wanted my say. So, one day a few weeks ago, I entered my personal details into a designated government website and received a “Secure Access Code” that allowed me to cast my vote online. When I checked my mail later that day, however, I found a letter from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the agency administering the survey. This letter contained a different Secure Access Code. My reporter’s red flag flew up immediately. Was it possible, I wondered, that the system would validate both of these codes and let me vote twice? That would be a potentially troubling situation, because if I could do it, then others could, too. I had to find out.
At midnight on Sunday, as Liberia prepared to vote for the successor to Africa’s first female president, a rebel warlord arrived at his Monrovia residence, where a pair of menacing cement lions greeted him. Prince Johnson, the former rebel leader who ordered the murder of President Samuel Doe in 1990 – and filmed himself drinking beer as he watched Doe’s ear being chopped off – had just wrapped up his presidential campaign in his countryside strongholds in north-east Nimba. In the last poll in 2011, he played kingmaker, pledging his support to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when the election went to a run-off. This time, however, he feels he could win it. “I don’t see why I should be kingmaker and not king,” he said, holding court at his battered desk on a verandah, wearing a dapper pink and green suit and a red tasseled hat, as cocks crew in the surrounding yard.
Liberia: Ballot Boxes Reportedly Held Hostage by Campaign Traffic Ahead of Liberia Elections | Front Page Africa
Officials in Liberia are raising fears that some ballot boxes making their way to rural parts of the country may not get to some parts of the country by voting day Tuesday. A senior security official confirmed to FrontPageAfrica Saturday that a back line of traffic in the capital has left cars stranded for several hours. The opposition Alternative National Congress held its rally Saturday at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium while the ruling Unity Party also held a closing rally at its headquarters in Congo Town. Earlier in the day supporters of the ANC braved massive rains to storm the ATS in its launch in the nation’s capitol.
The communal elections in Luxembourg are a good opportunity to discuss the voting rights of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and of the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg Prince Guillaume. In a constitutional monarchy, how does the sovereign exercise his right to vote? Luxemburger Wort spoke to Luc Heuschling, Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at the University of Luxembourg to find out the answer. Heuschling is also the author of the book “Le Citoyen Monarque. Réflexions sur le grand-duc, la famille grand-ducale et le droit de vote ” (Monarch and citizen. Reflections on the Grand Duke, the Grand Ducal Family and the right to vote” published in 2013. On Sunday the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg Guillaume and the Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg Stéphanie exercised their voting rights as citizens of Luxembourg.
Standing in front of his apartment across from barracks occupied by Spain’s national police, Xavi Gomez recounted the dueling protests over Catalonian independence that unfolded on his street the previous night. He talked about the secessionists who protested recent police violence by laying down flowers and the nationalists who chanted, “Long live Spain.” Then, as he noticed three officers walking out of a gate and under an iron arch with the words “All for the Homeland,” he went quiet. “You see how they are looking at me?” said Mr. Gomez, 30, as one officer gave him a hard glare and walked away. Out of earshot, he said he suspected the “monsters” were the first wave of shock troops “coming to take over Catalonia.” “For this reason,” he said, “Sant Boi doesn’t want these people.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Barcelona to protest against the Catalan government’s decision to push for independence, as Spain’s prime minister warned that he was prepared to suspend the region’s autonomy to stop it splitting from the rest of the country. Sunday’s rally – organised by Societat Civil Catalana, the region’s main pro-unity organisation – comes a week after the independence referendum that has plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in four decades. The march, whose slogan is “Let’s recover our common sense”, was intended to call for a new phase of dialogue with the rest of Spain and featured such luminaries as the Nobel-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and Josep Borrell, former president of the European parliament. Societat Civil Catalana said more than 1 million people had taken part, but Barcelona police put the turnout at 350,000.
The Intercept posted an article examining reactions from state election officials to the Department of Homeland Security notification that Russian actors had targeted elections systems in 21 states in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Balancing the necessity to prepare for potential attacks in the future through a thorough examination of last years experience with a desire to reinforce confidence in the election process has proven difficult. Warning that most states lack the mechanisms to deal with large-scale changes to voter registration, Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity specialist at Harvard’s Berkman Center advised that “[t]he time to create a plan is before the battle lines are drawn, before we know who the hack favored, before we know who won and who lost.”
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden called on six of the main voting machine manufacturers in the U.S. to provide details about their cybersecurity efforts. The request comes as details have emerged of Russia’s successful attempts to hack election systems in many states. In his letter, Wyden asked a series of questions about cybersecurity efforts, requesting answers from Dominion Voting, Systems Election Systems & Software, Five Cedars Group, Hart InterCivic, MicroVote and Unisyn Voting Solutions, as well as voting system test labs V&V and SLI Compliance.
According to documents unsealed Thursday by a federal judge, Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of a voter fraud panel set up by President Trump, began soon after the election to draft legislative changes that would allow states to require voters to prove their citizenship when registering. In one memo Kobach recommended eliminating a provision of the NVRA that doesn’t allow officials at motor vehicles agencies to ask for any information on a voter registration application beyond what is required on a driver’s license application and suggested adding a provision in the law clarifying that it didn’t prevent states from asking about a proof of citizenship requirement.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging Wisconsin redistricting that could determine the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering – the process of redrawing electoral districts in order to favor one party over another. In a Guardian editorial that examines the recent history and impact of political gerrymandering, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold called on the court “to invalidate the practice of hyper-partisan gerrymandering, and force state legislatures to redraw the districts and maps that make voters irrelevant and our elections a rubber stamp.”
Members of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission have taken initial steps toward loosening restrictions on felon voting rights. The Atlantic examined the history of the provision in Florida’s constitution that prohibits voting by convicted felons. While the effect of the provision has been to disproportionately affect blacks and other minority citizens, the provision punishes people of all races who have served their debt to society, been released from prison, and asked to fully assume all the duties of citizenship, from paying taxes to participation in a draft.
A group led by the former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. has filed suit in Federal District Court in Georgia that accuses the state of flouting the Voting Rights Act, claiming that Georgia Republicans reshaped two state legislative districts to minimize the electoral influence of African-American voters. The complaint charges that race was the “predominant factor” in adjusting two districts — the 105th and 111th — in the Atlanta area where white lawmakers had faced spirited challenges from black Democrats.
Electionline Weekly featured an article on the disappointing demise of Travis County Texas’ plans to develop a voting system that would improve the security of the county’s voting system and provide a verifiable paper trail.
Hacking attacks on the web platform used by Italy’s 5-Star Movement to select representatives and shape policy threaten to dent confidence in its methods before a parliamentary election it is well placed to win. Internet-based direct democracy, in which members vote online, is a hallmark of the anti-establishment group that first entered parliament in 2013.
After a vote on independence marred by scenes of police brutality, Catalonia has announced it’s intention to declare independence from Spain after on Monday. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said he favored mediation to find a way out of the crisis but that Spain’s central government had rejected this. The New Yorker featured an article describing tense political situation following the disputed poll last Sunday.
National: The U.S. Election System Remains Deeply Vulnerable, But States Would Rather Celebrate Fake Success | The Intercept
When the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that Russian actors had targeted their elections systems in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the impacted states rolled out a series of defiant statements. … But in most cases, according to the DHS, Russian actors scanned the public-facing websites of state agencies, apparently looking for vulnerabilities. The DHS said that in almost all of the cases, there was no evidence the operatives attempted to exploit any vulnerabilities. It was not, in other words, a thwarted bank robbery. Instead, Russian operatives surveyed the bank from the sidewalk, and then headed home. While the states are busy celebrating their successes, they are doing far too little to ensure that operatives don’t get in next time they show up and actually try to infiltrate, say cybersecurity experts.
A U.S. senator wants to know how well the country’s top six voting machine manufactures protect themselves against cyberattacks, a move that comes just weeks after federal authorities notified 21 states that they had been targeted by Russian government hackers during the 2016 presidential election. In a letter Tuesday to the CEOs of top election technology firms, Sen. Ron Wyden writes that public faith in American election infrastructure is “more important than ever before.” “Ensuring that Americans can trust that election systems and infrastructure are secure is necessary to protecting confidence in our electoral process and democratic government,” writes Widen, an Oregon Democrat.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach urged President Donald Trump to pursue changes to federal voting law to promote proof-of-citizenship requirements, according to documents unsealed Thursday by a federal judge. Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor and the vice chair of Trump’s voting commission, was photographed carrying a strategic plan for the Department of Homeland Security into a meeting with Trump in November. The American Civil Liberties Union sought the documents as part of an ongoing lawsuit challenging a Kansas law that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, when they register. Kobach was ordered to turn over the documents to the ACLU earlier this year, but the documents had been sealed until Judge Julie Robinson opened them Thursday.
On Tuesday, the US supreme court hears oral arguments in Gill v Whitford. This will open the door for a potentially precedent-setting ruling on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering – the process of redrawing electoral districts in order to favor one party over another. The past several years have seen a new level of hyper-partisan gerrymandering that defies voters and has subverted our democracy. Thus far, however, the court has refused to rule on the constitutionality of this political ploy, deferring instead to the political process. The result is a system that demands immediate course correction. While there is progress to be made at the state level, in today’s political climate, the supreme court is best poised to demand the needed course correction before this illegitimate political ploy further distorts our elections.
Next year, Florida voters may finally right a wrong first perpetrated 150 years ago by racist state legislators who were desperate to deny equality to African Americans. Voters may enfranchise almost 1.6 million fellow Floridians; or they may retain an approach that long-dead white supremacists conceived to disenfranchise blacks, an approach that is still spectacularly successful at diluting their political power. This particular historical evil began after the Civil War, when white-supremacist legislatures were resisting efforts to treat blacks as fellow humans with equal rights and dignity. Though attempts to block the 14th Amendment failed, and though the Reconstruction Act of 1867 forced Florida to add an article to its state constitution granting suffrage to all men, creative racists kept many blacks from the ballot box with educational requirements and a lifetime voting ban for convicted felons, knowing blacks had been and would be abused by the criminal-justice system.