Last November, election officials in a small Rhode Island town were immediately suspicious when results showed 99 percent of voters had turned down a noncontroversial measure about septic systems. It turned out an oval on the electronic ballot was misaligned ever so slightly and had thrown off the tally. The measure actually had passed by a comfortable margin. The scary part: The outcome might never have raised suspicion had the results not been so lopsided. … States vary widely in what they are doing to tighten security. Colorado and Rhode Island have adopted more rigorous statistical methods for double-checking the votes, while others are making or weighing changes to their voting technology. “Always, there’s been a hypothetical. But clearly, now it is a real threat,” said Noah Praetz, election director for Cook County, Illinois. “The fact that we now have to defend against nation-state actors — Russia, China, Iran. It’s a very different ballgame now.”
Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election yielded an unexpected result for officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): it has put them in the driver’s seat for protecting future elections from cyberattacks. Since January, officials at the agency have grappled with how to work with state and local election officials to share information on imminent threats and develop response plans for when things go awry. The effort has spawned tensions with state officials, who are wary of a “federal takeover” of elections and have panned the slow pace at which the federal government offered up details on the Russia threat. Homeland Security has pressed forward, standing up a special council in October to engage with election officials on potential threats and how to defend against and respond to them.
The election commission set up to investigate President Trump’s charges of voter fraud seems to have gone dark in recent weeks. The commission last met on Sept.12 in New Hampshire, and it’s unclear — even to commission members — when or where the next meeting will be. Groups suing the commission for more information about its activities also have no clue. “There’s not a lot of information out there,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “It’s been chaotic from day one and remains chaotic. I think that they don’t know what they’re doing. I think this commission was poorly structured and poorly conceived.” The Lawyers’ Committee and several other civil rights and voting rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have sued the commission, arguing it hasn’t been transparent and hasn’t conducted enough of its business in the open.
Not since the death of poll taxes and literacy tests in the 1960s has access to the ballot box been so under siege. And as the march toward Election Day 2018 begins, the forces that helped abolish those voting obstacles appear to be moving in the opposite direction. Fueled by conservative Supreme Court rulings, GOP politics and President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, attacks on ballot access now threaten to make voting more of a privilege in the United States than a constitutional right, say voting rights advocates. “There appears to be an almost coordinated campaign unfolding across the country to institute voting suppression measures at the local and state level,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Whether it’s hostility, recalcitrance or recklessness, sadly, we’re seeing many efforts to turn back the clock on the voting rights of ordinary Americans.”
In the fall of 2010, the Russian billionaire investor Yuri Milner took the stage for a Q. and A. at a technology conference in San Francisco. Mr. Milner, whose holdings have included major stakes in Facebook and Twitter, is known for expounding on everything from the future of social media to the frontiers of space travel. But when someone asked a question that had swirled around his Silicon Valley ascent — Who were his investors? — he did not answer, turning repeatedly to the moderator with a look of incomprehension. Now, leaked documents examined by The New York Times offer a partial answer: Behind Mr. Milner’s investments in Facebook and Twitter were hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kremlin. Obscured by a maze of offshore shell companies, the Twitter investment was backed by VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank often used for politically strategic deals. And a big investor in Mr. Milner’s Facebook deal received financing from Gazprom Investholding, another government-controlled financial institution, according to the documents. They include a cache of records from the Bermuda law firm Appleby that were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and reviewed by The Times in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial investments in Twitter and Facebook through a business associate of Jared Kushner, leaked documents reveal. The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser. The discovery is likely to stir concerns over Russian influence in US politics and the role played by social media in last year’s presidential election. It may also raise new questions for the social media companies and for Kushner. Alexander Vershbow, who was a US ambassador to Russiaunder George W Bush and to Nato under Bill Clinton, said the Russian state institutions were frequently used as “tools for Putin’s pet political projects”. Vershbow said the findings were concerning in light of efforts by Moscow to disrupt US democracy and public debate. “There clearly was a wider plan, despite Putin’s protestations to the contrary,” he said.
One hundred and fifty years ago this month, ex-slaves lined up across the South, clutching their ballots, joining the first elections in which large numbers of black Southerners participated. One year ago, on Nov. 8, Americans voted in another historic election. Donald Trump lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral College. On the strength of this mandate, he began an inquiry into alleged voter fraud, raising the very real specter of voter suppression. These two anniversaries are part of the same story of voting rights. It cannot be told as a succession of amendments and laws protecting ever greater freedoms. But neither is it simply a tale of dreams deferred and disenfranchisement. Rather, the vote has expanded and contracted, through law and custom.
There were fewer illegal crossover votes in last month’s Republican Senate runoff than originally estimated, probate judges told the Alabama secretary of state. Local election officials, responding to a request from Secretary of State John Merrill to review a list of 674 possible crossover voters — who voted in the GOP runoff after voting in the Democratic primary — said many of those names were errors. Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King said none of the 380 names identified in Jefferson County were crossover votes. King said the party affiliations were marked incorrectly or were incorrectly listed as voting. “We ended up having zero crossover votes,” King said. “As far as I am concerned in Jefferson County, there is no issue here anymore,” King said. Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed told the Montgomery Advertiser that at least 14 of the 34 names identified in Montgomery County were scanning errors and were not crossover votes.
On Friday, the state of Alaska is appealing the court’s decision on a lawsuit regarding unaffiliated candidates to run in a specific party’s primary election. The court ruled last month that candidates do not have to be a registered member of a party to appear on that party’s primary ballot. The suit was originally brought by the Alaska Democratic Party. A superior court judge found that the requirement violates the party’s first amendment right to associate with candidates who are not Democrats. The case will now be taken to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Gov. Paul LePage says he will allow a bill that delays implementation of ranked-choice voting to become law without his signature. “I encourage the people who want to have a people’s veto to bring it in. The Supreme Court has already said it is unconstitutional, so let the courts decide,” he said. Supporters of ranked-choice voting have vowed to use the people’s veto provision of the Maine Constitution to force a referendum vote on legislation approved by lawmakers last month. Lawmakers delayed implementation until 2021 to give them time to address constitutional problems raised by the Maine Supreme Court. If the law is not amended by the deadline, ranked-choice voting would be repealed.
When residents of Lowell, Massachusetts, vote Tuesday, they’ll be exercising their civic responsibility against the backdrop of a lawsuit that will pit the city against its minority citizens. In a city notable for its diversity — taken together, ethnic minorities almost form a majority — Tuesday’s contests for City Council and school committee are playing out against a voting rights lawsuit 13 Asian-American and Hispanic residents filed against the city in May, an action that echoes others elsewhere in the United States. On Oct. 17, at the first public hearing on Huot v. City of Lowell in U.S. District Court, Judge William Young denied the city’s motion to dismiss. The suit alleges the city’s at-large electoral “winner-take-all” system dilutes the minority vote and discriminates against candidates from minority communities.
Republicans who have dominated recent state and federal elections are mobilizing in opposition as a grassroots group nears its signature goal for a 2018 ballot proposal to create an independent commission that would redraw political maps. The Michigan Republican Party and local affiliates are warning supporters about the petition, alleging it is a veiled attempt by Democrats to change the rules of a game they are losing. Longtime GOP attorneys also are plotting a legal attempt to kill the measure before it makes the ballot. “As I’ve often told people, it’s a lot cheaper to keep a proposal off the ballot than it is to try to defeat it in a multimillion-dollar campaign,” said attorney Bob LaBrant, who helped form an opposition committee that could raise money for a potential court challenge.
Boardwalk “claw” machines. Laundry scales. Boiled linseed oil. All three are subject to more state regulation than voting machines in New Jersey. And with Tuesday’s election for governor — one of the first two statewide contests in the U.S. since last year’s presidential race — some voting-rights activists are expressing concern that New Jersey’s vote could be vulnerable. Despite consumer-protection laws that mandate testing of pharmacy scales, gas pumps, amusement park rides and hundreds of other types of equipment — and regulations governing everything from the size of peach baskets to the temperature at which commercial linseed oil must be boiled — the state has comparatively few regulations on voting machines. It does not require machines to leave a verifiable paper trail. Nor does it mandate audits of elections. New Jersey does limit the types of voting machines counties can choose from, but leaves it to counties to test the machines.
New Mexico credits its reliance on paper ballots in part for making the state less vulnerable to hackers and vote thieves.
The state was not among the 21 states where Russian hackers were accused of targeting voting systems last year, New Mexico election officials said. As concerns circulate about cybersecurity and the election process, more states are considering turning back to paper ballots, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Tuesday. All 33 New Mexico counties use paper ballots after the Legislature passed a law in 2006 requiring physical ballots for any election held under state law. The ballots are counted with electronic scanners, and a paper trail is created that’s stored for nearly two years after most elections. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said this process makes it more difficult for the outcome of an election to be altered.
New York: Ahead of Election Day, Comptroller Audit Highlights Board of Elections Dysfunction | Gotham Gazette
Just four days before voters head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a damning report highlighting the dysfunctional election operations of the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-city agency that administers elections in the city. Stringer’s audit was launched in response to the BOE’s purge of more than 117,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn last year, ahead of the April presidential primary. The purge prompted widespread outrage, triggering an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office and a lawsuit by Common Cause New York, a good government advocacy group. The BOE recently admitted to violating federal and state law in the case and agreed to implement reforms.
Voting software that’s been under a cloud for months can be used in elections next week. The State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement is appealing an administrative law judge’s decision Friday allowing counties to use software from a company called VR Systems that checks voters’ registration information. Durham was using VR software on Election Day last year when a malfunction forced the county to switch to paper poll books. The glitch halted voting in some areas, and eight precincts extended voting hours. The state elections board doesn’t want counties to use the software. The board hasn’t certified it, as required by law. In a court complaint, VR Systems said the elections board improperly revoked its license, and that some counties still want to use its product. The company’s court complaint said Mecklenburg County used VR software in the September primaries, and Nash County used it in October, without problems and despite the state prohibition.
Pennsylvania: U.S. Supreme Court: Lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s Congressional redistricting can proceed | Associated Press
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to put on ice a federal lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s congressional districts approved after the 2010 census. Justice Samuel Alito on Friday rejected the requested stay of the lawsuit by five Pennsylvania voters against the governor and elections officials, a court official said Saturday. Republican leaders in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly had said in the request that a trial in the case could occur in about a month, as the justices are considering a Wisconsin gerrymandering case with what they call “substantively identical claims.”
Congo’s electoral commission announced on Sunday that long-awaited presidential elections to replace President Joseph Kabila would take place on December 23, 2018. Around 43 million voters have been registered for the vote so far, Corneille Nangaa told a news conference in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. The election will be held on December 23, 2018, with the results to be published on January 9, 2019, and the president to be sworn in on January 13, another official from the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), Jean Pierre Kalamba, told the same news conference.
Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan have opened a criminal case against the runner-up in recent presidential elections, the multimillionaire businessman Omurbek Babanov. Officials are accusing Babanov of fomenting ethnic tension and attempting to incite the overthrow of the government during a campaign stump speech in a largely Uzbek community in the southern city of Osh. “With the intent of garnering votes from the Uzbek section of the population, Babanov talked about rights violations toward ethnic Uzbek, about supposed ethnic inequality in the country and about pressure on ethnic Uzbeks from government bodies, and then he proceeded to incite people to actively resist this situation,” the General Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement on November 4. In a statement, Babanov refuted the accusations made against him, calling them “a contrived, politicized criminal case.”
Liberians nervously awaited a Supreme Court ruling on Monday on the timing of a runoff presidential vote after the process was thrown into uncertainty by fraud allegations. The court is expected to rule at 10am (1000 GMT) whether to set a new date or to prolong the vote indefinitely while a legal complaint by the opposition Liberty Party is resolved. The runoff between former international footballer George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Vice President Joseph Boakai of the governing Unity Party was originally set for November 7. But Liberty Party candidate Charles Brumskine, who came third in the first round on October 10, claims fraud and irregularities tainted the results, leading the Supreme Court to put a temporary stay on preparations.
United Kingdom: Brexit, the ministers, the professor and the spy: how Russia pulls strings in UK | The Guardian
On “or about” 25 April 2016, a member of Donald Trump’s campaign team emailed his line manager with good news. His efforts to make contact with the highest levels of power in Moscow had borne fruit: “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr Trump to meet him when he is ready.” This was George Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign who was arrested by the FBI in July, it was revealed last week, after lying about a series of meetings with a man the FBI described as “a professor based in London”. The next sentence in his email added a line of explanation: “The advantage of being in London is that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral cities’.” The Papadopoulos indictment is a riveting read – a sober, tautly worded document whose contents may have exploded across the news cycle like a dirty bomb, but which sticks to the facts. In doing so, it could provide not just evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime, but also the first cold, hard evidence of Britain’s central role.