National: Bipartisan group of lawmakers backs new election security bill | The Hill

A bipartisan coalition of Senate lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday meant to strengthen U.S. election cybersecurity following Russian election interference. The bill would authorize block grants for states to upgrade outdated voting technology. It would also create a program for an independent panel of experts to develop cybersecurity guidelines for election systems that states can implement if they choose, and offer states resources to implement the recommendations. In addition, the legislation aims to expedite the process by which state officials receive security clearances necessary to review sensitive threat information and instructs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal entities to more quickly share this information with relevant state officials. The “Secure Elections Act” was introduced Thursday morning by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

National: In Tied U.S. Elections, Chance, Not Voters, Often Decides Final Outcome | Reuters

After months of campaigning, Melissa Trenary’s election last month to the city council in Colorado’s historic mining town of Cripple Creek came down to the luck of the draw – literally. Trenary and her opponent, Jeff Regester, were deadlocked at 63 votes apiece after a recount, leaving officials to determine the race randomly “by lot” under state law. Each candidate drew one playing card from a freshly shuffled deck, with Trenary pulling the 10 of diamonds and Regester the seven of clubs – giving Trenary the high card and the victory. “I just about fainted,” said Trenary, 50, who works at a local casino. “I started shaking and I started crying – I was just so happy.”

National: Court: Trump fraud commission must give Democrat member more access | Politico

President Donald Trump’s commission investigating voter fraud must give one of its Democratic members access to more of the panel’s records, a federal judge ruled Friday night. U.S. District Court Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap appeared to have been denied documents needed to be an active player in the deliberations of what is formally known as the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. “Plaintiff has a right, as a commissioner, to ‘fully participate’ in the proceedings of the Commission. In the Court’s view, his assertion that he will be unable to fully participate without the information contained in relevant documents that the Commission has not shared with the public has merit,” wrote Kollar-Kotelly, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.

National: New hope, new problem: Will Federal Election Commission shut down? | Center for Public Integrity

Caroline Hunter and Ellen Weintraub share a relationship that’s sometimes icy, occasionally testy and rarely dull. Their public disagreements as Federal Election Commission commissioners have spanned a decade across myriad matters material and trivial — political ads, memory skills, breakfast food. But the dynastic duo, who on Thursday became FEC chairwoman and vice chairwoman for 2018 — both have served years in these capacities before — are forging a detente. Hunter, a Republican, recently sought out Weintraub, a Democrat, to privately discuss FEC issues, from improving agency efficiency to more tightly regulating internet-based political communications, on which they might actually agree. In separate interviews, both commissioners said they’re focusing not on their differences, but commonalities — a marked change of tone from two strong personalities who’ve gone stretches without speaking to one another.

Media Release: Election Security Experts Urge Congress to Pass the Security Elections Act; Bipartisan Legislation Empowers States to Protect Themselves

Marian K. Schneider: “Passing the bipartisan Security Elections Act will advance our nation’s efforts to protect and ensure trustworthy elections.” The following is a statement from Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting, on the Secure Elections Act, which was introduced by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Lindsey…

Alabama: Roy Moore still won’t concede the Alabama Senate race. And those write-in votes? Mickey Mouse got a few | Los Angeles Times

It’s been 10 days and Republican Roy Moore has yet to concede in Alabama’s special Senate race, even as election officials move toward certifying Democrat Doug Jones’ victory in the days ahead. As vote tallies from 100% of the state’s precincts show Alabamians have clearly selected Jones, Moore has offered no indication that he plans to concede the race. On Friday, all of Alabama’s 67 counties were required to officially file their election results to the secretary of state’s office. In a statement, Secretary of State John H. Merrill said his office plans to officially certify the election on Dec. 28. Also Friday, some of the names left on thousands of write-in ballots began to emerge. Some names are surprising. Who knew SpongeBob SquarePants had a constituency?

Alabama: Secretary of State finds no voter fraud after probe of TV interview | Associated Press

Defeated U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore on Thursday pleaded for donations to help him investigate potential election fraud, the same day Alabama officials said they investigated but found nothing improper regarding a TV interview that had raised suspicions. Democrat Doug Jones defeated Moore, a Republican, on Dec. 12 to become the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in a quarter-century. Moore was beset by accusations of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls. He has denied the allegations. During the live, election-night TV broadcast, a man supporting Jones made a comment that some of Moore’s supporters pointed to as evidence of out-of-state voters taking part in Alabama’s election.

Indiana: State senator proposing redistricting plan for Indiana | Tristate

What if you could have a direct hand in how Indiana’s legislative districts are drawn? One state senator claims he wants to tear the current map up with a redistricting reform bill. State Senator John Ruckelshaus said his plan tries to make the process as transparent as possible and creates and independent commission that will draw the maps. Traditionally, Ruckelshaus said the legislature draws up and votes on the district maps after the Federal Census. “The way this would be different is, the public can apply through their public universities to be a member of this Commission. Then, nine members would be chosen, as well as four members as appointed by the Legislature,” said Ruckelshaus.

Maine: Ranked choice voting backers push for a veto | The Ellsworth American

If a citizens’ veto effort is successful, Maine voters could be deciding at the June primaries whether to repeal a bill that delays until 2021 implementation of ranked choice voting (RCV). The catch: Voters would use RCV to cast votes in all of the primary races in that June primary. If the people’s veto is successful, it will allow Maine voters to use the ranking system for federal elections — U.S. House and Senate — but not state-level races during the general elections. Supporters of RCV turned to a people’s veto after lawmakers approved the delay bill in October. A people’s veto is when Maine voters overturn a law passed by the legislature. If campaigners can gather 61,123 signatures by Feb. 2, the issue of whether to repeal the delay bill will go to Maine voters.

New Mexico: Council approves ranked-choice voting details for March election | Albuquerque Journal

Final details regarding how ranked-choice voting will work in Santa Fe’s 2018 municipal election were hammered out late Wednesday, with the mayor and City Council adopting crucial definitions and what one councilor called the nation’s most “liberal” rules for handling improperly marked ballots. Only about a dozen jurisdictions in the country use RCV. The March 6 election in Santa Fe, in which voters will select a new mayor and four city councilors, will be the first RCV election in New Mexico. “I’m tired, but I feel really good about what we’ve done,” said City Councilor Joseph Maestas, whose name will be on the ballot as a candidate for mayor, near the end of a more than five-hour special meeting that followed a 90-minute study session on the same issue.

New York: Cuomo Introduces Comprehensive Election Reform Proposal | Spectrum News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, is introducing a comprehensive election reform package as part of his 2018 State of the State agenda. The “Democracy Agenda” calls for significant changes regarding transparency for online political advertising as well as measures the governor said will eliminate unnecessary voting barriers. The first proposal would add paid internet and digital advertisements to the state’s definition of political communication, which currently encompasses television, print and radio. The updated definition would require all online advertisers to include disclosures about who is responsible for the communication.

North Dakota: New complaint challenges latest North Dakota voter ID law | West Fargo Pioneer

Attorneys representing several members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa have filed a new complaint challenging North Dakota’s latest voter ID law. The amended complaint, filed Dec. 13, asks a federal judge to declare House Bill 1369 unconstitutional and prevent it from being implemented, arguing that it violates the national Voting Rights Act. The bill, sponsored by Republican lawmakers, was signed into law by Gov. Doug Burgum in late April. The plaintiffs already scored a legal victory in August 2016, when U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state from implementing its voter ID law without some kind of “fail-safe” option that was eliminated by the Legislature in 2013. Voters who didn’t bring a valid identification to the polls in November 2016 were offered affidavits to swear that he or she was a qualified elector.

Ohio: ‘Gerrymandering Is Really Bullying’: Inside Ohio’s Attempts To Reform Redistricting | WOSU

On election night two years ago, Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio couldn’t have been more thrilled. “It’s like Christmas,” Turcer said. “I got the best present, and the thing that’s exciting is that this is for all of us.”  “This” was an Ohio constitutional amendment to create a seven-member bipartisan redistricting commission. Previously, Ohio saw citizen-backed ballot issues on redistricting that were rejected by voters. But finally, in 2015, this one passed with more than 70 percent of the vote – likely because both Democratic and Republican lawmakers also supported it. One problem: The amendment applied only to state House and state Senate districts. Advocates said Congressional redistricting was next: The current Ohio map has been called one of the most gerrymandered in the country.

Editorials: Ohio redistricting reform can work – if the rules are tight | Cleveland Plain Dealer

The General Assembly appears poised to propose bipartisan changes in how Ohio draws congressional districts. Good. Ohioans are fed up with the toxic congressional gridlock that results in part from U.S. House districts drawn to protect incumbents, a process that also can yield extreme partisan representation. The determination by Ohio legislators to reshape redistricting is a sign of progress, but, to be adequate, a legislative plan must have genuine safeguards. These include ironclad requirements for districts that are compact and fair, keeping communities as intact as possible. And to win support, a legislative plan must have full bipartisan buy-in, including over federally required protections for Ohio’s African-American voters.

US Virgin Islands: As Election Year Dawns, Board Of Elections Offices Remain Closed ‘Until Further Notice’ | Virgin Islands Consortium

With another big election year just days away and voter registration drives looking to start early next year, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said in a release issued Wednesday that the St. Croix and St. John Elections offices will remain closed “until further notice.” “The St. Croix District Office located at Sunny Isle Annex Unit 4, remains closed until further notice as we deal with major renovations after Hurricane Maria,” Mrs. Fawkes said. “We do not have the capability to provide any voter’s identification cards, we can only register voters. The St. John Elections Office has no internet service; therefore, we also cannot provide any voter identification cards. The St. John residents can register at the St. Thomas Elections Office. Presently, the only functional Elections Office is the St. Thomas Office, which is 90 percent operational.”

Virginia: Recounts end with Bob Thomas win and Republican majority left to chance | The Washington Post

The last of four recounts in Virginia House of Delegates races ended Thursday with the status quo confirmed – Republican Bob Thomas appeared to win against Democrat Joshua Cole by a margin of 75 votes. But whether Thomas ultimately retains that seat in the 28th District remains unclear, as the race is the subject of a pending federal court challenge. Democrats are seeking a new election because more than 100 voters were given the wrong ballot on Election Day. A hearing on the case has been scheduled for Jan. 5, five days before the General Assembly is set to reconvene. The recount held Thursday reduced Thomas’ margin of victory over Cole from 82 votes to 75 votes. A three-judge recount court is scheduled to resolve a dispute over a single challenged ballot and certify the revised results in the afternoon.

Virginia: Officials will randomly pick winner of tied House of Delegates race | The Virginian-Pilot

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, Dec. 27. That’s the day the Virginia Board of Elections will randomly pick the winner of the high-stakes and tied 94th House District race. The impact? Control of the House of Delegates – and major policy decisions. After a recount and a court battle over one irregular, uncounted ballot, Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds each have 11,608 votes. The winner will be determined by “drawing lots.”

Germany: Conservatives, SPD start talks Jan. 7 on another ‘grand coalition’ | Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) have agreed to exploratory talks on forming a new government starting on Jan. 7, both parties said on Wednesday after informal discussions. The decision, 87 days after a national election that returned a fragmented parliament and complicated coalition arithmetic, brightens prospects for a renewal of the “grand coalition” that governed Germany over the past four years. A repeat coalition is Merkel’s best chance of securing a fourth term as chancellor after talks on forming a three-way alliance with two smaller parties broke down, leaving Europe’s largest economy in an unprecedented state of uncertainty. “It was a good discussion in a trusting atmosphere,” the parties said in a joint statement after leaders met on Wednesday. They agreed to hold four days of talks from Jan. 7, with the aim of deciding by Jan. 12 whether to open formal coalition negotiations.

Honduras: US recognizes re-election of Honduras president despite fraud allegations | The Guardian

The United States has recognized the re-election of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández, despite widespread allegations of fraud in last month’s election and calls from the Organization of American States (OAS) and US Congress to hold a new vote. The state department issued a statement on Friday congratulating Hernández on his victory, but also urged the country’s electoral commission to fully review any challenges to the results. “The close election results, irregularities identified by the OAS and the EU election observation missions, and strong reactions from Hondurans across the political spectrum underscore the need for a robust national dialogue. A significant long-term effort to heal the political divide in the country and enact much-needed electoral reforms should be undertaken,” said spokesperson Heather Nauert. Nauert also urged “all sides” to refrain from violence amid unrest that has claimed at least 17 lives – most of whom were protesters killed by security forces.

Liberia: Court denies ruling party’s vote delay request | AFP

Liberia’s ruling United Party said on Friday it would not appeal the top court’s rejection of its legal challenge to delay an upcoming presidential run-off vote, seen as a crucial test to the crisis-hit country’s stability. The party of Vice-President Joseph Boakai, one of the two contenders in the December 26 ballot, filed the request last week after calling into question the official election body’s integrity. But the Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed the party’s demand that parliament be given the power to set a new vote date. “The Supreme Court has decided, what can we say? Nothing. We have taken note, and we will go to the election,” Unity Party spokesman Mohammed Ali told AFP Friday.

Spain: Catalan separatists win election in rebuke to Spain and EU | Reuters

Catalonia’s separatists look set to regain power in the wealthy Spanish region after local elections on Thursday, deepening the nation’s political crisis in a sharp rebuke to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and European Union leaders who backed him. With nearly all votes counted, separatist parties won a slim majority in Catalan parliament, a result that promises to prolong political tensions which have damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a business exodus from the region. Rajoy, who called the elections after sacking the previous secessionist government, had hoped Catalonia’s “silent majority” would deal separatism a decisive blow in what was a de facto independence referendum, but his hard line backfired.

Spain: How Catalonia’s election was biased in favor of the separatists | The Washington Post

Catalonia’s pro-independence parties won a major victory Thursday: Together, they secured a five-seat majority over all other parties in the Catalan Parliament. Separatists were triumphant about their victory. But here’s the problem: The separatist victory is a manufactured product of Catalonia’s electoral system, in which voters cast their ballots for a single party list and seats are awarded to parties proportionally using the d’Hondt formula within each of Catalonia’s four provinces. As I’ve explained before, this system is stacked in favor of the separatists — which is how the three pro-independence parties won a parliamentary majority while receiving just 47.7 percent of the vote. Three factors skewed the results. First, Catalonia gives the three more rural provinces, where separatist parties do well, 15 more of the 135 total deputies than they merit based on population. Conversely, Barcelona, the most unionist province, is underrepresented. This is known as “malapportionment.” Had Catalonia allotted seats fairly among the provinces, pro-independence parties would have fallen one seat short of a majority.