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National: Intensified Cyber Security Will Inevitably Lead to Greater Federal Involvement in US Electoral Process | Intelligencer Post

The last US presidential election brought the vulnerabilities of election grids to the fore. During the elections and after the race had ended, reports began to flood Western media revealing the attempts by Russian government-connected actors to influence the US electoral system. This included hacking suppliers of software used in digital voting machines, along with organizing the infamous troll armies that conducted social engineering operations in the hopes of swaying voters. Signs of threat actors targeting election-related assets has persisted. In mid-December, local US media reported that personal details of over 19 million California voters ended up in the hands of hackers after being stolen from an insecure cloud server. Hackers who had penetrated the cloud had deleted all of the content and left a message on the account demanding ransom money in Bitcoin for its return. The database contained personal details of these individuals, including contact and voting precinct information. The technology used in elections has also been shown to contain serious vulnerabilities. At a recent DEF CON hackers conference in Las Vegas, participants were able to pull off a number of hacks on several commonly used voting machines, including gaining remote access.

Full Article: Intensified Cyber Security Will Inevitably Lead to Greater Federal Involvement in US Electoral Process - Intelligencer Post.

National: States get policy help in securing the 2018 vote | GCN

Time is running out for state and local officials to secure their voting systems before the mid-term elections, but they may be getting some help from Capitol Hill, the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Homeland Security. FEC Vice Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said her agency unanimously voted to update the 2006 rules governing political ad disclosure in time for the 2018 elections. “I believe we are going to be able to move this rulemaking forward in this election cycle,” she said at the 2018 State of the Net conference on Jan. 29. “We should be able to move quickly enough to get the new rules in place to at least require the information available about where the …  ads are coming from.”

Full Article: States get policy help in securing the 2018 vote -- GCN.

National: Wanted: a firewall to protect U.S. elections | Harvard Gazette

As the FBI and Congress work to unravel Russia’s hacking of the 2016 presidential election and learn whether anyone in Donald Trump’s campaign supported the effort, one thing has become clear: U.S. elections are far more vulnerable to manipulation than was thought. A U.S. Department of Homeland Security warning and offer last year to help state election officials protect voter registration rolls, voting machines, and software from tampering was coolly received, perhaps out of skepticism or innate distrust of federal interference in a domain historically controlled by the states. Now, as federal and state officials are partnering to examine voting and election security, a new initiative at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) is working to shore up another at-risk component of the U.S. election system: political campaigns.

Full Article: Wanted: a firewall to protect U.S. elections – Harvard Gazette.

National: Lawmakers blast Trump decision to hold off on Russia sanctions | Reuters

Members of the U.S. Congress, who passed new sanctions on Russia nearly unanimously last summer, criticized President Donald Trump on Tuesday for not imposing them, accusing him of being soft on his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The Trump administration said on Monday it would not announce sanctions for now under the new law, intended to punish Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia denies interfering in the campaign. Democrats blasted the decision, accusing Trump of failing to do everything possible to deter any future foreign election interference. Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow, opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress and signed it reluctantly in August. Twenty Senate Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday saying the failure to impose sanctions was “unacceptable.”

Full Article: U.S. lawmakers blast Trump decision to hold off on Russia sanctions.

Editorials: No conspiracy in paper voting | The Covington News

As could be expected in an election year, a proposal to overhaul the state’s method of voting is getting bogged down in politics. But it shouldn’t, because this is too important. For background: Georgia uses 16-year-old touchscreen technology for its elections. The machines are powered by Windows 2000, which Microsoft doesn’t even support anymore. And there are always questions about the lack of a paper trail. Votes are recorded on data packs, which can be run through a machine again, but without seeing a voter’s actual ballot, there’s going to be a question of whether tampering might have happened.

Full Article: Our Thoughts: No conspiracy in paper voting - The Covington News.

Guam: Bill combines voter registration, driver’s license process | Guam News

A proposed law supported by Democrats and Republicans would implement a streamlined voter registration process for all eligible U.S. citizen residents of Guam with the choice to opt out, was introduced yesterday by Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee. Sens. Wil Castro, Fernando Esteves, Tommy Morrison, Joe San Agustin and Mary Torres co-sponsored Bill 234-34. The measure would register eligible citizens as voters upon their registration for an ID card or driver’s license with the Motor Vehicles Division at the Department of Revenue and Taxation. The registration will happen automatically unless the registrant checks a box to opt out.

Full Article: Bill combines voter registration, driver's license process | Guam News | postguam.com.

Nebraska: While Voter ID Law is Pushed in Legislature, County Election Officials Say Voter Fraud is Not an Issue | NCN

While state lawmakers argue over the need for photo ID’s to stop allegations of vote fraud, folks we talked with want to know more. “I haven’t really heard much about it,” says Nebraska resident Justice Chwebach. “I have not heard it (voter fraud) before since you brought it up,” says Nebraska resident Theresa Veit. Ten county election commissioners interviewed by News Channel Nebraska say that in their combined 150-plus years on the job, showing a photo ID at the ballot box would not have prevented voter fraud, not once.

Full Article: While Voter ID Law is Pushed in Legislature, County Election Officials Say Voter Fraud is Not an Issue | Beatrice News Channel.

North Carolina: Cooper Seeks Fast Movement Following Elections Board Ruling | Associated Press

Gov. Roy Cooper wants the legal wheels to spin faster after the North Carolina Supreme Court tossed out laws governing the makeup of a combined state elections and ethics board, hoping that will let him seat a new elections board quickly. Cooper’s private attorneys asked the justices Tuesday to hurry up formalizing last Friday’s split decision that favored Cooper. The court’s majority opinion said lawmakers had gone too far by requiring Cooper, a Democrat, to choose half of the members of the combined board from a list of candidates generated by the Republican Party. Under legal rules, the justices’ order doesn’t get sent to the panel of three trial judges who initially heard the case until Feb. 15. Then those judges will issue its own ruling on how the majority opinion affects the challenged laws.

Full Article: Cooper Seeks Fast Movement Following Elections Board Ruling | North Carolina News | US News.

Ohio: Redistricting ballot group, Democrats reject changes proposed by Republicans | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Republicans working on congressional redistricting reform announced several changes to their plan Monday night aimed at appeasing Democrats and advocates pushing their own reform measure. But both groups said the revised plan still does not eliminate partisan gerrymandering and allows politicians to slice and dice communities to their parties’ advantage. The Fair Districts = Fair Elections coalition plans to move forward getting its proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. “This is simply why no one trusts politicians,” Heather Taylor-Miesle, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council and one of the Fair Districts leaders said in a statement. “We have no choice to continue onward with our ballot initiative to ensure voters across Ohio aren’t gerrymandered into districts where their elected representatives aren’t beholden to voters.”

Full Article: Redistricting ballot group, Democrats reject changes proposed by Ohio Republicans | cleveland.com.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Elections Clause dilemma in Pennsylvania | Lyle Denniston/Constitution Daily

The Constitution has had an Elections Clause since it first went into effect in 1789, but the Supreme Court has rarely given an interpretation of its meaning. But what the Supreme Court has said creates a dilemma for the Justices as they decide soon what to do about the claim that Pennsylvania’s state legislature engaged in partisan gerrymandering when it drew up election districts for choosing the state’s 18 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican legislative leaders in the state have asked the Justices to put on hold, and then review, a decision earlier this month by the state Supreme Court that the 2011 congressional map was a partisan-driven effort and that it violates the state constitution. The voters and political organizations that won the case in the state’s highest court have been told to file by Friday a reply to the request for a postponement of the ruling at issue. The state GOP leaders’ first hurdle will be to persuade five of the nine Justices to grant a postponement. But an even bigger hurdle is to persuade the Justices that the Supreme Court should get involved in second-guessing the state court’s interpretation of its own constitution. 

Full Article: The Supreme Court’s Elections Clause dilemma in Pennsylvania - National Constitution Center.

South Carolina: Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant calls for voters to register by party affiliation | Greenville News

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant called Monday for changing voter-registration rules to protect the “integrity” of the state’s elections.

Bryant, a pharmacist from Anderson who is running for governor, wants South Carolina voters to register by party affiliation. Under his proposal, voters then would be restricted to casting ballots in their identified party’s primary.

Primaries in the state have been open to all voters for decades. The state’s voter-registration laws do not include any party-affiliation requirement.

Bryant said that 60,000 voters who cast ballots in South Carolina’s 2016 Democratic Party presidential primary took part months later in the Republican primary for state elections.

“I have no business voting in a Democratic primary. I am a Republican,” Bryant said during a speech to members of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

The change that he is seeking is part of a seven-point campaign platform that Bryant describes as a “Contract with South Carolina.” He discussed several of the ideas during his appearance Monday.

Full Article: South Carolina voters should register by party, Kevin Bryant says.

Full Article: South Carolina voters should register by party, Kevin Bryant says.

China: Hong Kong lawyers condemn ‘unlawful’ disqualification of candidate | Reuters

A group of Hong Kong lawyers yesterday condemned a ban on a democracy activist by the territory’s government to stop her from contesting a by-election, describing it as the suppression of free expression and a curb on voting. The weekend ban on Agnes Chow, a close ally of high-profile activist Joshua Wong, fuels wider fears of tightening political “red lines” by Beijing that could deny Hong Kong’s restive young people any political outlet beyond street protest. The 21-year-old Chow becomes the 13th politician barred from standing for office or disqualified from the legislature in recent years.

Full Article: Hong Kong lawyers condemn ‘unlawful’ disqualification of candidate | World | Malay Mail Online.

Cyprus: Party refuses to back candidate in presidential race | Associated Press

Leaders of a major Cyprus political party decided Tuesday that they won’t support either the incumbent or his left-wing challenger in the runoff of the country’s presidential election. The executive bureau of center-right DIKO said that endorsing either President Nicos Anastasiades or independent Stavros Malas would be a reversal of the party’s stance on reunification talks with the divided nation’s breakaway Turkish Cypriots. The party’s candidate in the election’s first round on Sunday advocated a tougher line in the peace talks, saying Anastasiades and Malas would concede too much to the Turkish side.

Full Article: Cyprus party refuses to back candidate in presidential race - ABC News.

Mexico: Rubio, Menendez express concern about Russian influence in Mexican election to Tillerson | CBS

President Trump may have declined to criticize Russia for interfering in the U.S. and other elections around the world — but now, amid reports that Russia may be meddling in Latin American elections, too, two bipartisan senators are asking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to raise this very issue when he travels to Mexico and Latin America later this week. “We write to urge you to raise the importance of strong, independent electoral systems in Mexico and Latin America more broadly,” write Senators Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, wrote in a letter to Tillerson. “We are increasingly concerned about growing efforts to undermine these hard-fought and widely supported advances, particularly those emanating from outside the region.”

Full Article: Rubio, Menendez express concern about Russian influence in Mexican election to Tillerson - CBS News.

Editorials: The real purpose of Russia’s presidential election | Stephen Blank/The Interpreter

Vladimir Putin’s election to a fourth term as President of Russia on 18 March is a foregone conclusion. Nobody can remotely consider Russia’s presidential election to be democratic, whatever Putin and his defenders might say. Seeing as it is obviously a sham and a travesty, one might ask why bother to hold an election at all? This is because in Putin’s Russia, the outcome of an election is not nearly as important as the conditions under which it occurs. Russian elections are really ritualised forms of political participation directed towards creating the illusion of a sustaining and legitimating mass basis of support for the regime. Thus Putin is very intent on not only winning 70% of the votes cast – since directives to regional bosses to arrange this figure were sent out long ago – but also on obtaining a turnout of more than 70% of eligible voters. By achieving this 70–70 formula, Putin and the regime can pretend to fulfil the electoral ritual and furnish it with the illusion of legitimacy.

Full Article: The real purpose of Russia’s presidential election.

South Africa: IEC is running out of time for up-to-date voters’ roll | Business Day

The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) is in a race against time to verify the particulars and addresses of 7.2-million people on the voters roll ahead of the 2019 general election. The credibility of the 2019 poll hinges on the IEC ensuring that the voters roll meets acceptable norms and standards, as prescribed by the Constitutional Court. In June 2016, the Constitutional Court ordered the electoral authority to verify, as well as add, voters’ residential addresses on the roll following a successful application to the court by independent candidates who contested the outcomes of by-elections in Tlokwe, North West, in 2013.

Full Article: IEC is running out of time for up-to-date voters’ roll.

United Kingdom: Welsh Assembly announces plans to introduce e-voting | Sky News

The Welsh Government has proposed pilots exploring the use of electronic voting in local elections and by-elections. Alongside providing 16 and 17-year-olds with the ability to vote on devolved matters for the first time in the UK, e-voting is aimed at boosting participation in the political process. … The security of ballot counting systems has never been a problem in the UK, where ballots are counted by hand. However, in countries such as the US and Germany, security researchers have warned that machines used to count votes could be hacked to manipulate the results – although there is no evidence of this having taken place.

Full Article: Welsh Assembly announces plans to introduce e-voting.

National: CIA director expects Russia will try to target U.S. mid-term elections | Reuters

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Russia will target U.S. mid-term elections later this year as part of the Kremlin’s attempt to influence domestic politics across the West, and warned the world had to do more to push back against Chinese meddling. Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the allegations, which Moscow denies, and whether there was any collusion involving President Donald Trump’s associates. In an interview with the BBC aired on Tuesday, U.S. intelligence chief Pompeo said Russia had a long history of information campaigns and said its threat would not go away.

Full Article: CIA director expects Russia will try to target U.S. mid-term elections.

National: Democrats press Gowdy to subpoena Homeland Security for election hacking documents | The Hill

Democratic lawmakers are pressing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to subpoena the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for documents related to Russia’s efforts to target state systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election. In a letter sent to Gowdy on Monday, the Democrats on the committee accused the Trump administration of withholding “critical information” from Congress on the targeting.  Homeland Security said last year that Russian hackers tried to probe election-related systems in 21 states. Most of the activity amounted to only preparations for hacking, such as scanning for vulnerabilities, though both Illinois and Arizona witnessed breaches of state voter registration databases. None of the systems targeted were involved in vote tallying, officials say.

Full Article: Dems press Gowdy to subpoena Homeland Security for election hacking documents | TheHill.

National: Like Abstract Expressionists, They Draw the Free-Form Political Maps Now Under Scrutiny | The New York Times

In a big partisan gerrymandering case that will come before the Supreme Court in March, lawyers, and judges have already devoted thousands of words to the question of why some of Maryland’s eight congressional districts are so, ah, creatively drawn. But the best answer by far comes from the man who drew them. In 2011, Eric Hawkins lugged a laptop loaded with demographic data and a program called Maptitude to Capitol Hill and the offices of the state’s six Democratic House members. Over a series of meetings of which there apparently are no written records, Mr. Hawkins not only crafted new districts for those members, but rerouted the district of 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett to make it substantially more challenging for a Republican. In the first election after the new maps were drawn, Mr. Bartlett failed to muster even 38 percent of the vote. And Maryland Democrats added another House seat to the six they already boasted. Asked in a deposition last year why the state’s Democratic House members met with him, Mr. Hawkins was refreshingly forthcoming. “They wanted to get re-elected,” he said.

Full Article: Like Abstract Expressionists, They Draw the Free-Form Political Maps Now Under Scrutiny - The New York Times.