House Democrats will likely push new election security legislation in 2019 when they take over the majority, but obstacles remain in the Senate and the White House. On the administrative side, the Department of Homeland Security and state governments will look to build on cooperative efforts that resulted in the apparently successful 2018 mid-term elections. In the wake of the 2016 elections, state governments, experts and members of Congress have beat the drum for federal legislation to comprehensively address critical cybersecurity flaws in the nation’s election systems. Even after an infusion of $380 million in leftover Help America Vote Act grant funding earlier this year, many states say they continue to face major funding challenges. Earlier this year, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), incoming chair for the House Homeland Security Committee, called the grants “a drop in the bucket” compared to what is needed to secure election systems nationwide. Thompson filed legislation in February that would establish an ongoing pot of money for states to draw from through 2025, phase out reliance on paperless voting machines and boost the number of states who use risk limiting audits to ensure the integrity of election results.
National: Federal law allows nearly anyone to translate for voters. At polls, it can be a different story. | NBC
Dona Kim Murphey volunteered for the first time this year as a Korean-language interpreter, helping out at an early voting day in late October in Harris County, Texas. But Murphey said she and others were told to remain beyond a 100-foot line outside the polling center after assisting some voters with their ballots. An election worker, she said, had grown concerned that a group of Korean-American high school students greeting voters may have been electioneering. “She was worried that we were and couldn’t confirm that we weren’t, other than to go by our word,” Murphey said. While some experienced issues on Election Day like broken machines, voter confusion and long lines, others faced obstacles in getting language assistance.
National: Treasury sanctions Russians over alleged election interference, nerve-agent attack | The Hill
The Trump administration on Wednesday sanctioned nine Russian nationals for allegedly attempting to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The Treasury Department announced that the nine GRU officers, who had been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), are now facing penalties for “their direct involvement in efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election by targeting election systems and political parties, as well as releasing stolen election-related documents.” The department also sanctioned two GRU officers over the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a military-grade nerve agent in March.
It’s even worse than you think. One of the biggest revelations in Monday’s bombshell reports on Russia’s social media propaganda campaign was that Instagram played a much bigger role than previously known—resulting in 187 million engagements versus 76.5 million engagements on Facebook—at a scale far larger than parent company Facebook has acknowledged. And though the Russian Instagram accounts have since been deleted, they actually have had a greater impact than the new batch of Facebook data suggests: A search of Instagram reveals that at least hundreds of Internet Research Agency (IRA)-linked posts are still alive across the platform through legitimate U.S.-owned Instagram accounts, where they have racked up thousands of likes. Sen. Mark Warner, the Democrat Vice Chair of the Senate committee that commissioned the reports, told Fast Company that the lingering posts were a sign that more investigation is needed. “This is exactly why we thought it was important to release this information to the public—so that we can continue to identify what’s out there, and uncover additional IRA accounts that are still operational,” he said.
Editorials: Russia and Republicans attempt to suppress black vote, but Russians are slicker | Joe Davidson/The Washington Post
One difference between Russian and Republican efforts to quash the black vote: The Russians are more sophisticated, insidious and slick. Documents released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, first reported by my colleagues Craig Timberg and Tony Romm, show in previously unknown detail a complex, high-tech, surreptitious strike on American democracy, targeting African Americans. Unlike the Republican sledgehammers used to suppress votes and thwart electorates’ decisions in various states, the Russians are sneaky, using social media come-ons that ostensibly had little to do with the 2016 vote. In fact, the Russians were devoted to supporting the Republican presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, undermining Democrat Hillary Clinton and using black voters as the main vehicle. “Messaging to African Americans sought to divert their political energy away from established political institutions by preying on anger with structural inequalities faced by African Americans, including police violence, poverty, and disproportionate levels of incarceration,” said the report by the Computational Propaganda Research Project. “These campaigns pushed a message that the best way to advance the cause of the African American community was to boycott the election and focus on other issues instead. This often happened through the use of repetitive slogans.”
What hope there might be for democracy in America is ill-served by a United States Senate that is, by design and in practice, strikingly unrepresentative. Voters got a reminder of that in November. They cast 52,539,754 ballots for Democratic Senate candidates versus just 34,787,898 for Republican contenders, yet Mitch McConnell’s GOP caucus actually expanded its majority. But that’s not the worst of it. The Senate is so antidemocratic that candidates who are rejected by the voters can still end up taking seats in the chamber. Case in point: Martha McSally. McSally was the Republican nominee for an Arizona US Senate seat this year, and she got beat. The voters chose Democrat Kyrsten Sinema by 55,900 votes. Yet, come January, McSally and Sinema will both be senators. That’s because, on Tuesday, Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, appointed McSally to fill the state’s other Senate seat. She’ll replace another unelected Republican senator, Jon Kyl, whom Ducey appointed to serve a portion of the Senate term to which the late John McCain was actually elected in 2016.
The Sentencing Commission Wednesday voted to once again get behind any bill that would restore voting rights to parolees, who are still serving their sentences. The commission also backed the measure last year — but it never came up for a vote in either the House or Senate. Outgoing Department of Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple, who is also a Sentencing Commission member, said allowing parolees to vote is an “important step in their return to a normal and productive life.” The bill didn’t receive much attention last year in the midst of the budget crisis that dominated most of the session, but it was a priority for the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
When Florida voters approved a sweeping ballot initiative last month to restore the voting rights of some felons, advocates rejoiced in the expectation that more than a million people would soon have the chance to add their names to the voter rolls. Now, a fight is brewing between the broad coalition of civil and voting rights groups that backed the measure and some state and local officials who argue that lawmakers must shape its implementation given the wide-ranging nature of the initiative. That has raised concerns among some of the measure’s supporters that any action by opponents could lead to legislation that lingers in the state Capitol, months after they expected it to begin. The growing uncertainty over how — and when — the measure, known as Amendment 4, will take effect has stirred confusion among county election officials and raised the prospect of a bitter legal dispute over the voting rights of roughly 1.4 million people convicted of felonies.
Georgia’s outdated and unverifiable electronic voting machines will likely be replaced next year with paper ballots. But lawmakers and voters are debating what kind of paper-based voting system will deliver the most accurate and trustworthy results. Once considered cutting-edge, the state’s 16-year-old electronic voting machines have come under fire because there’s no way to ensure they’re producing accurate outcomes. They lack an independent paper record that could check results stored on computers. The machines, put into service after contentious recounts in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, pose a “concrete risk” to the state’s elections, a federal judge ruled in September. Election results could be hacked if someone gained access to voting machines or government election computers, according to testimony from computing experts. Some voters reported that the machines flipped their votes from one candidate to another in November’s election for governor. And there were low vote totals in the lieutenant governor’s race, which a lawsuit blames on the voting machines.
Nearly 187,000 people were registered to vote since July 1 through the state’s automatic voter registration system, the state Board of Elections said in a recent report to the Illinois General Assembly. Despite that, a group of voting rights advocates said Secretary of State Jesse White has been slow in implementing the law and that it is violating both state and federal voter registration laws. … “Automatic voter registration is up and running and it’s going very well,” said White spokesman Henry Haupt. Not so, says Just Democracy, a coalition of organizations that advocate for voting rights, including Common Cause, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and CHANGE Illinois.
Maine: LePage, calling ranked-choice voting ‘repugnant,’ hasn’t certified Golden’s win. But it may not matter. | Portland Press Herald
Gov. Paul LePage declined to get involved in Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s latest legal request, but not without getting in another dig at a ranked-choice voting process he views as “repugnant.” Meanwhile, attorneys for Poliquin and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap sparred over whether Dunlap exceeded his authority by certifying Democrat Jared Golden as the winner of Maine’s 2nd District race without LePage’s signature. “Under the U.S. Constitution, it is now up to the United States House of Representatives to determine, when it convenes on January 3, 2019, whether to seat Jared Golden, who is the undisputed winner of the ranked-choice voting tabulation under the RCV Act and thus the Representative-elect for Maine’s Second Congressional District,” Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner wrote on Dunlap’s behalf.
he North Carolina law detailing a new voter photo identification requirement got challenged in court Wednesday mere moments after the Republican-led General Assembly completed the override of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the measure. Six voters filed the lawsuit in Wake County court less than 15 minutes after the state House finished the override in a mostly party-line 72-40 vote. The Senate already voted to override Tuesday. The photo ID law implements a constitutional amendment approved in a referendum last month that mandates photo identification to vote in person, with exceptions allowed. Still, the plaintiffs contend the law violates the state constitution and should be blocked, saying it retains requirements within a 2013 photo ID law that federal judges struck down.
The number of people registering to vote at Oklahoma’s public service agencies has spiked in recent years, and voting rights advocates are crediting a settlement with the state Election Board. The Oklahoman reports that the 2015 settlement was reached after state and national organization threatened to sue unless the board did more to help register potential voters at public offices, as required under federal law. Those offices included the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Since then, the average number of monthly voter registrations from the agencies has tripled, from less than 500 per month to almost 1,500 per month, according to state election data.
Pennsylvania: National experts collaborate at Penn State to address election security | Penn State University
On Dec. 3, dozens of experts from across the country met at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center for the first Penn State Symposium on Election Security. The event was co-hosted by the College of Engineering, Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, as well as the Penn State Institute for Networking and Security Research and the Institute for CyberScience. The symposium allowed for experts from disciplines as diverse as public policy and cybersecurity to collaborate on solutions to election security threats. “This event brought together some of the thought leaders in elections security from around the nation, and highlighted the problems and importance of vigilance in protecting our democracy,” said Patrick McDaniel, director, Institute for Network and Security Research, and one of the event’s organizers. “It also led to concrete plans for taking action in the future, in which Penn State will play a central role.”
Texas: Russian Trolls Successfully Peddled Texas Pride in 2016, Senate Reports Say | Dallas Observer
If you thought Texas’ Facebook fever swamp got especially weird as the 2016 election approached, you were right. According to a couple of new, third-party reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm behind the country’s fake news campaign to interfere in the 2016 election, specifically targeted Texas with one of its most successful pages. According to one of the reports — from Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project — a page managed by the Russian agency called “Heart of Texas” racked up the third-most likes of any page managed by the group, with 5.5 million. Users shared posts from the page nearly 5 million times and made more than 400,000 comments before Facebook shut it down in September 2017.
Facebook is shutting down a series of fake news sites spreading false information about the Bangladesh opposition days before national elections, an official from the social media platform told The Associated Press. The sites — nine Facebook pages designed to mimic legitimate news outlets, as well as six fake personal accounts spreading anti-opposition propaganda — were created by Bangladeshis with government ties, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in an exclusive interview. The sites would be shut down “for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior” by Thursday evening at the latest, he said by telephone from California. A threat intelligence company that Facebook worked with determined that the people who created and managed the sites are “associated with the government,” he said, declining to provide further details.
A presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to take place on Sunday has been delayed until 30 December, the country’s electoral commission has announced, citing problems caused by a recent fire that destroyed 80% of the voting machines in the capital, Kinshasa. The delay to the election, already postponed repeatedly since 2016, will anger supporters of the DRC’s fractured opposition and dismay observers who hoped it would bring a measure of security to the country. It is also likely to raise tensions and could prompt significant protests. Corneille Nangaa, the head of the electoral commission, said officials have found enough voting machines for Kinshasa but had to get 5 million new ballots printed. Nangaa called on the country of some 40 million voters for calm.
When India votes in a general election next year, it will be the world’s largest democratic exercise, and the biggest ever test of the role of social media in an election. As the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) readies for battle with the newly energized Congress party-led opposition in the election that must be held by May, the role of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp could be crucial in deciding who wins. India already has close to 900 million eligible voters, and an estimated half-a-billion have access to the Internet. The country has 300 million Facebook (FB.O) users and 200 million on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service – more than any other democracy. Millions use Twitter. “Social media and data analytics will be the main actors in the upcoming India elections. Their use would be unprecedented as both parties now use social media,” said Usha M. Rodrigues, a communications professor at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, whose research has focused on social media and Indian politics.
Ireland: 50,000 British living here set to lose vote in Euro election, says Mitchell | The Independent
Former MEP Gay Mitchell has warned that more than 50,000 British citizens living in Ireland are set to lose the right to vote in the European elections here following Brexit. Reciprocal voting arrangements for Irish and British citizens allow them to vote in general, local and European elections in each other’s countries. However, the former Fine Gael MEP has warned British citizens living here will lose the right to vote for MEPs after the UK leaves the EU. The next European Parliament election will be in May, less than two months after Brexit is due to happen at the end of March.
Both candidates in Madagascar’s presidential election have claimed victory in the fierce battle for power in the Indian Ocean island. Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana — who have each held the top job in the impoverished country before — declared themselves winners in the run-off which analysts warned was likely to draw claims of fraud. “Change is coming tomorrow, and today you can say that ‘Papa’ is elected,” Ravalomanana told supporters on Wednesday night at his headquarters, using his nickname. “Whatever happens, only one thing counts, we will win.” However, his rival Rajoelina said: “I am sure I’m going to win but we’ll wait for the official results.” The contenders, who came a close first and second in November’s first-round election, were both banned from running in the 2013 ballot as part of an agreement to end recurring crises that have rocked Madagascar since independence from France in 1960.
Lawmakers in a volatile region of Somalia elected the federal government’s preferred candidate as its leader on Wednesday after a popular former al Shabaab leader was barred from running in the vote seen as test of the country’s political progress. As part of an internationally backed attempt to end decades of lawlessness by spreading power more widely among the multiple clans, states are meant to be more independent of central government, with the authority to select their own leaders. But any sign that that is being subverted in practice or a sense that a leader is being imposed by stealth by the central government could further stoke instability and violence.
National: Congress Now Has a Very Full, Very Ugly Picture of How Russia Targeted Black Americans | Slate
It should be well-known by now that Russian operatives made memes and fake activist pages to try to sway the 2016 presidential campaign for Donald Trump. But what most people don’t know is that they were also selling sex toys, recruiting Americans to work with them through job listings, offering free self-defense classes, soliciting photos for a calendar, and even offering counseling to followers of page called Army of Jesus who were struggling with porn addiction. Two new reports delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee—one from the cybersecurity group New Knowledge and the other from Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and the social networking–analysis firm Graphika—expand what the public knows about how a Kremlin-linked troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, widened divides in American political life during and after the 2016 election. Together, the reports comprise the most extensive research yet into exactly how Russian agents instrumentalized U.S. technology companies to launch what may be largest state-sponsored effort to manipulate voters and derail an election in U.S. history.
Two reports prepared for the Senate on Russian disinformation unfold a now-indisputable narrative: The Kremlin engaged in a coordinated campaign to elevate Donald Trump to the presidency, and this country’s technology companies were central to its strategy. The Russia operation is staggering in its scale, precision and deceptiveness. Pages generated by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency elicited nearly 40 million likes and more than 30 million shares on Facebook alone, reeling in susceptible users with provocative advertisements and then giving them propaganda to spread far and wide. The aim was not to toss the country into tumult, but to put the preferred candidate of a foreign adversary in the Oval Office. All the while, Americans were entirely unaware of what was happening: What seemed like local Black Lives Matter activists were actually Russian trolls well-versed in the buzzwords of social justice. Ostensible patriots for Second Amendment rights were broadcasting from St. Petersburg. Republicans have protested over the past year that election interference is neither unusual nor important. This week’s reports comprehensively put both arguments to rest. Russia waged an unprecedented campaign, targeting Americans across all segments of society, on platforms large and small. The studies do not even cover the entirety of Russia’s online tampering: The hack-and-leak operation that led to the release of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private emails, orchestrated by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, was another crucial salvo in a pro-Trump onslaught.
Reading a new report on Russian online interference in the 2016 Presidential election is a cognitively disturbing experience. The report, prepared by the cybersecurity company New Knowledge, was the more detailed of two commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee and released on Monday—it is illustrated with screenshots of memes apparently used as part of the Russian campaign of disinformation. The text of the report describes a sophisticated, wide-ranging, sustained, strategic operation by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, one that played out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and elsewhere: “The Internet Research Agency exploited divisions in our society by leveraging vulnerabilities in our information ecosystem. They exploited social unrest and human cognitive biases.” But the illustrations accompanying the New Knowledge report seem transposed from a wholly different narrative.
National: Russian propagandists targeted African Americans to influence 2016 US election | The Guardian
Russian online propagandists aggressively targeted African Americans during the 2016 US election campaign to suppress votes for Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, according to new research. Analysts found that Russian operatives used social media to “confuse, distract, and ultimately discourage” black people and other pro-Clinton blocs from voting, using bogus claims such as Clinton receiving money from the Ku Klux Klan. Black turnout declined in 2016 for the first presidential election in 20 years, according to the US census bureau, falling to less than 60% from a record high of 66.6% in 2012. Exit polls indicated that black voters strongly favoured Clinton over Trump. The new findings on the secret activities of the Internet Research Agency(IRA), known as the Russian government’s “troll factory”, were revealed on Monday in a pair of reports to the US Senate’s intelligence committee. One was led by experts from Oxford University and the other by New Knowledge, an American cybersecurity firm.
Former Broward County election chief Brenda Snipes is suing outgoing Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) over his decision last month to suspend her, arguing that it was “malicious and politically motivated.” Snipes, who filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, is seeking to be reinstated to her position. “The suspension by Governor Scott, operating in concert with the public airing of the allegations against Snipes, deprived her of liberty and property rights without constitutionally adequate procedures,” her lawsuit reads. In addition to Scott, the lawsuit also lists Florida Senate President Bill Galvano as a defendant.
Georgia: Brian Kemp had “no evidence” when he falsely accused Democrats of hacking voter database | Salon
Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor-elect, pushed a baseless claim alleging that Democrats hacked the state’s voter database days before the election he won by fewer than 60,000 votes, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has discovered. Three days before the November election, then-Secretary of State Kemp was tied with Democrat Stacey Abrams in the polls amid criticism that he had improperly purged hundreds of thousands of voters from the state’s rolls. With just 72 hours before the vote, it was discovered that Kemp’s office had left the state’s voter registration system exposed on the internet. Kemp responded by accusing the Georgia Democratic Party of trying to hack into the voter database to try to affect the election. The Journal-Constitution has now discovered, weeks after Kemp’s narrow electoral victory, that there was “no evidence” backing any of Kemp’s allegations at the time and “none has emerged in the six weeks since.” It “appears unlikely that any crime occurred,” the newspaper concluded.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature approved a new law last spring restoring voting rights to former felons still under supervision, it was expected to give around 2,200 people the right to vote starting next March. Now, advocates and elected officials are saying the number could be as many as 36,000. Officials were aware the new law would restore voting rights to people living in the community on parole with no problems for five years after they have been released from prison. It was also acknowledged that it would benefit people who are on probation for five years. Those groups combined are fairly small, only a couple thousand people, according to the Louisiana Department of Corrections. But legislators, advocates and prison officials are now saying the law might also apply to the vast majority of people on probation — including those under supervision for fewer than five years — who have had their voting rights suspended. Natalie LaBorde, deputy commissioner with the Department of Corrections, confirmed the revised estimates.
A Senate Republican power play proposal to shift campaign oversight from Democratic Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson to a new political commission is poised to die in the Michigan House. The House Elections Committee will not take up the controversial legislation when it meets Wednesday morning for the last time of the year, said Rep. Aaron Miller, who chairs the panel. With two days left in the lame-duck session, the proposal is “dead” in committee, Miller, R-Sturgis, said late Tuesday. “No games are going to be played tomorrow. Full disclosure, those bills are not coming up tomorrow.” While it’s possible the GOP-led House still could discharge the legislation from committee for floor action, a caucus source told The Detroit News that is not expected to happen.
New Jersey: Democratic lawmakers pull controversial redistricting proposal in face of widespread opposition | Philadelphia Inquirer
In another sign that gerrymandering has become a potent political issue, top Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey were forced over the weekend to spike a proposed constitutional amendment that was sold as redistricting reform but would have entrenched their party’s power in Trenton. The plan faced nearly unanimous opposition across the political spectrum, and from good-government lobbies, national Democratic figures, and other interests. It had been scheduled for a vote Monday afternoon in both chambers of the state Legislature. By the time Democratic leaders announced Saturday night that they were pulling the measure, the chorus of detractors had grown to include a number of rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers. Even the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County, expressed some hesitation. “There’s something in this bill to affront almost everybody,” she told WNYC hours before the bill was buried. “That’s not always easy to do. But, apparently, that’s what we managed to do.”