National: New bill could finally get rid of paperless voting machines | Ars Technica

A bipartisan group of six senators has introduced legislation that would take a huge step toward securing elections in the United States. Called the Secure Elections Act, the bill aims to eliminate insecure paperless voting machines from American elections while promoting routine audits that would dramatically reduce the danger of interference from foreign governments. The legislation comes on the heels of the contentious 2016 election. Post-election investigation hasn’t turned up any evidence that foreign governments actually altered any votes. However, we do know that Russians were probing American voting systems ahead of the 2016 election, laying groundwork for what could have become a direct attack on American democracy. “With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again,” said co-sponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). So a group of senators led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) wants to shore up the security of American voting systems ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. And the senators have focused on two major changes that have broad support from voting security experts.

National: Trump Disbands Commission on Voter Fraud | The New York Times

President Trump on Wednesday abruptly shut down a White House commission he had charged with investigating voter fraud, ending a brief quest for evidence of election theft that generated lawsuits, outrage and some scholarly testimony, but no real evidence that American elections are corrupt. On Thursday, Mr. Trump called for requiring voter identification in a pair of Twitter posts because the voting system “is rigged.” “Push hard for Voter Identification!” Mr. Trump wrote. Mr. Trump did not acknowledge the commission’s inability to find evidence of fraud, but cast the closing as a result of continuing legal challenges. … In fact, no state has uncovered significant evidence to support the president’s claim, and election officials, including many Republicans, have strongly rejected it.

Editorials: Long wait for federal help to secure the 2018 election | San Francisco Chronicle

One of the most pressing questions ahead of the 2018 elections is whether the states will be able to guard their voting infrastructure from computer hackers, foreign espionage and other security breaches. Unfortunately, many states may not have enough time to get the assistance they need. State officials and some congressional lawmakers are deeply concerned about long wait times for the Department of Homeland Security’s most thorough security screening. Some states are reporting estimated wait times of up to nine months. The service is an intensive, multiweek probe of the entire system required to run an election. If some of the states that have requested it won’t be able to get it until just weeks before this November’s elections, they won’t be able to fix flaws that could allow cybervandals to hijack everything from election offices’ computer systems to voter registration databases.

Missouri: ACLU to appeal judge’s dismissal of Missouri voter ID lawsuit | Missourinet

Cole County Judge Jon Beetum has granted a motion by Republican Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to dismiss a lawsuit about requiring Missourians to show their ID to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters claiming the state hasn’t adequately provided education, poll worker training or funding for ID’s the law calls for. ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert tells Missourinet the fight isn’t over. “Try as it may, the state cannot undermine voting rights by forcing onerous changes to election law and then compounding those burdens by failing to provide funding for proper implementation. We will appeal,” says Rothert.

North Carolina: Redistricting hearing signals coming end to map-making saga | WRAL

A long legal saga over North Carolina’s state legislative maps drew near an end Friday as a panel of federal judges heard closing arguments over which version of those maps to use during this year’s statehouse elections. The panel’s decision should come soon. Filing in state legislative races begins Feb. 12, and without finished maps, a number of incumbents and potential challengers, including some in Wake County, won’t know in which districts they’re running. There’s also the prospect of another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could come quickly following the lower court’s decision.

Ohio: Voter Challenges Election Roll Purge in Supreme Court Clash | Bloomberg

Larry Harmon got a surprise when he went to his Kent, Ohio, polling place for a 2015 local election: He was no longer registered and couldn’t vote. Election officials removed him from the rolls because he hadn’t voted since 2008 and didn’t respond to the notice they say they sent in 2011. The lawsuit he and two interest groups filed against Ohio is now part of a U.S. Supreme Court case that will shape the rights of thousands of people as the 2018 elections approach. The justices will decide how far states can go in purging their election databases of people who might have moved away. The case, set for argument Jan. 10, has become a proxy for the highly partisan fight over the country’s election rules. Republicans are calling for stepped-up efforts to prevent voter fraud, while Democrats say those moves are a thinly veiled campaign to stop liberals and minorities from casting ballots.

Utah: For Native Americans, a ‘Historic Moment’ on the Path to Power at the Ballot Box | The New York Times

In this county of desert and sagebrush, Wilfred Jones has spent a lifetime angered by what his people are missing. Running water, for one. Electricity, for another. But worst of all, in his view, is that the Navajo people here lack adequate political representation. So Mr. Jones sued, and in late December, after a federal judge ruled that San Juan County’s longtime practice of packing Navajo voters into one voting district violated the United States Constitution, the county was ordered to draw new district lines for local elections. The move could allow Navajo people to win two of three county commission seats for the first time, overturning more than a century of political domination by white residents. And the shift here is part of an escalating battle over Native American enfranchisement, one that comes amid a larger wave of voting rights movements spreading across the country.

Virginia: Republican Wins Election After His Name Is Drawn From a Bowl | Bloomberg

By luck of the draw, incumbent Republican David Yancey won a Virginia state House of Delegates race so close that its outcome was determined Thursday when an elections official pulled his name out of a ceramic bowl. The drawing of lots happened after the race between Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelley Simonds ended in tie. The win allows Republicans to maintain a slim majority in the House, though a final tally is still uncertain because Simonds could ask for another recount. Adding another wrinkle: Another close legislative race is in doubt because it’s locked in a court battle. The drawing drew a large, if lopsided, crowd to the Virginia elections board meeting. Many of the people packed into the room were either reporters or Simonds’ supporters. Yancey did not attend but did have a few GOP staffers there to watch.

Czech Republic: Cyber security office to assist in presidential election | Prague Monitor

The Czech cyber and information security office (NUKIB) seated in Brno will operate in an emergency mode during the January 12-13 presidential election, with up to 25 experts ready to ward off any cyber attack, which may happen, NUKIB spokesman Radek Holy told CTK on Thursday. A hacker attack in the wake of the October general election caused drop-outs of the election websites of the Czech Statistical Office (CSU). It is being investigated by the police. NUKIB has been operating since the summer of 2017 with the aim of providing support in case of cyber attacks.

Russia: High court reaffirms Navalny ban from presidential race | Deutsche Welle

Russia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal on Saturday from opposition leader Alexei Navalny to run for president. One week after a lower court upheld a ruling by the Central Election Commission, which rejected his application to stand, the country’s high court backed the decision, citing a criminal conviction against the opposition leader. Navalny insists the embezzlement conviction against him is nothing more than a politically-motivated frame-up to keep him from running. Russia’s constitution prohibits anyone with a criminal conviction from seeking high office. President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win the March election but, without Navalny, he faces only token opposition. Putin has been in office — as either president or prime minister — for nearly 20 years. Should he win re-election, Putin will become Russia’s longest-serving leader since dictator Josef Stalin.

National: Bipartisan Senate Bill Would Help States Beef Up Election Cybersecurity | Stateline

Six U.S. senators have filed a bipartisan bill that would provide grants to states to help them move from paperless voting machines to paper ballots in an effort to make voting systems less vulnerable to hackers. In September, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified election officials in nearly two dozen states that their voter registration systems had been targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential election. While the hackers failed to breach most of the systems, in Illinois, they succeeded in accessing the voter database, and nearly 90,000 records were compromised. And in Arizona, hackers stole an election employee’s username and password, but the system wasn’t compromised, according to the Arizona secretary of state.

National: Trump fraud investigation’s fate unclear after move to DHS | The Hill

The work of investigating President Trump’s claim that millions of people voted illegally in the last presidential election and cost him the popular vote — an idea he’s presented without providing any evidence — now lies in the hands of officials at the Department of Homeland Security, after Trump disbanded the commission originally charged with the investigation. Trump dissolved the controversial Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity late Wednesday and turned its work over to DHS “rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. Trump’s decision comes after the commission grappled with data security concerns and widespread opposition from state governments, including both Democrats and Republicans, who refused to fulfill the commission’s wide-ranging requests for voter data. 

National: Should voters who don’t vote stay on voter rolls? | The Economist

Political apathy worried Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In a healthy republic, he wrote in “The Social Contract” in 1762, citizens “fly to the assemblies” and take an active role in public affairs. He would frown on America’s voter turnout, which hovers at 40% for mid-term elections and seldom goes much higher than 55% for a presidential race. But he might have been even more alarmed by laws that sideline infrequent voters from politics. On January 10th a rule that has disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Ohioans comes under the Supreme Court’s microscope. Husted v Philip Randolph Institute concerns what the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Centre for Justice calls the most restrictive approach to winnowing voter rolls found anywhere in America. Since 1994, in addition to nixing people who have died or moved—which all states do—Ohio has sent a postcard to voters who have not voted for two years. If they fail to return the address confirmation and then miss two more federal elections, they are taken off the rolls.

National: A Dead Simple Algorithm Reveals the True Toll of Voter ID Laws | WIRED

After announcing the closure of his short-lived commission to end voter fraud, President Trump made it clear Thursday that he wants more states to require identification at the ballot box to prevent what he believes is rampant—but still unproven—election rigging. Ever since the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, laws requiring voters to show identification when they vote have speckled the nation, popping up in states from Rhode Island to Arizona. Almost as quickly, voting rights advocates have taken states like Texas and Alabama to court, arguing that these laws intentionally discriminate against minority voters. Just last summer, a federal judge tossed out Texas’s voter ID law, in a case that’s now being revisited by an appeals court. But proving exactly how discriminatory these laws are requires far more complexity than it might seem.

Editorials: Trump will still yell about voter fraud, but at least his clownish election commission can’t do any lasting damage | Richard Hasen/Los Angeles Times

President Trump’s precipitous decision Wednesday to shutter his “election integrity” commission — buried amid a slew of revelations from Michael Wolff’s new tell-all book about the Trump campaign and presidency — is good news for Americans who care about fair elections in the United States. Though Trump’s tweets Thursday about voter fraud and his announcement that he will shift the commission’s investigation to the Department of Homeland Security means he won’t let go of the issue, the greatest immediate danger to voting rights seems to have passed. Trump has long made irresponsible and wildly unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud. Before the election, he suggested that there was a great deal of voter impersonation fraud occurring in areas full of poor and minority voters, despite incontrovertible evidence that voter impersonation fraud almost never happens.

Editorials: Trump’s explanation for shutting down his voter fraud commission is just as untrue and partisan | Philip Bump/The Washington Post

President Trump’s efforts to root out voter fraud in the 2016 election were always a charade. Before Election Day, he offered dire warnings in his campaign speeches about voters near Philadelphia (winkwinkwinkwink) and in other places who were voting illegally. His campaign put together a halfhearted poll-watching system, encouraging supporters to blow the whistle on apparent fraudulent activity at the polls. Then, unexpectedly, Trump won Pennsylvania, and his claims of fraud in the Keystone State vanished from his portfolio faster than an Atlantic City casino. Instead, he found new targets: California — a state which, by itself, made up the vote margin by which Trump lost the popular vote — and New Hampshire, a state he narrowly lost. In Michigan, the closest state of the cycle, Trump wasn’t worried about fraud having been a factor; his lawyers declared in a court filing in that state opposing a recount that “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

Editorials: Two Ways of Looking at Gerrymandering | Linda Greenhouse/The New York Times

Even though Doug Jones won a famous statewide victory in last month’s Alabama Senate race, he actually lost — less famously — to Roy Moore in six of the state’s seven congressional districts. That’s right: He carried only the heavily black Seventh Congressional District, into which the Alabama Legislature has jammed almost a third of the state’s African-American population while making sure that the rest of the districts remain safely white and Republican. That’s gerrymandering in the raw. Something equally raw, although less overtly racial, happened in Maryland back in 2011, when the overwhelmingly Democratic State Legislature decided that two Republicans out of Maryland’s eight-member congressional delegation was at least one Republican too many. The 2010 census required the state to shrink the majority-Republican Sixth District by 10,000 people in order to restore one-person, one-vote equality among the districts. Seeing its opportunity for some major new line-drawing, the Legislature conducted a population transfer. It moved 66,417 Republican voters out of the district while moving into it 24,460 Democratic voters from safely Democratic adjoining districts, a swing of more than 90,000 votes. And guess what? The 20-year Republican incumbent, Roscoe Bartlett, lost the 2012 election to the Democratic candidate, John Delaney, who has won re-election ever since.

Illinois: Judge hears arguments about Aurora Election Commission referendum | Aurora Beacon-News

Proponents and opponents of a referendum seeking to eliminate the AuroraElection Commission were able to agree on one thing during a court hearing Thursday — the situation is unique. The hearing of objections to the referendum is being heard in 16th Circuit Court in Geneva, before Judge David Akemann, because it cannot be heard by the body that would normally hear nominating petition objections, the Aurora Election Commission. State election law set up a hearing before a circuit court judge on the idea that the Election Commission might be biased toward a referendum seeking its elimination. A citizens group submitted about 1,500 signatures — it needed only 1,000 — asking that the referendum be put on the March 20 primary election ballot.

Kansas: Kobach charges two with voting in Kansas, Colorado | The Kansas City Star

Less than a day after President Donald Trump dismantled his voter fraud commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has filed criminal charges against two people he says voted illegally in the 2016 election. Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor who had served as the commission’s vice chair, obtained prosecutorial power in 2015 and is the only secretary of state in the nation with such authority. He has filed charges against 15 people since then for a variety of election crimes, resulting in nine convictions or plea deals and one dismissal. The remaining five cases, including the charges announced Thursday, remain pending. Most of those cases have involved U.S. citizens who have allegedly voted in more than one jurisdiction rather than non-citizens, despite Kobach’s claims that hundreds of non-citizens are on the voter rolls.

North Carolina: Altered Legislative Districts Back in Court | Associated Press

North Carolina legislative districts drawn up by Republicans are back in court as federal judges decide whether to accept proposed boundary changes from the third-party expert they appointed. The three-judge panel scheduled a hearing Friday in Greensboro to listen to why a Stanford University law professor they hired as a special master redrew boundaries the way he did. The judges appointed Nathaniel Persily because they were concerned new state House and Senate maps approved by the GOP-controlled legislature last summer failed to remove unlawful racial bias from four districts. House and Senate districts drawn by Republican legislators have been challenged in courts since 2011.

Editorials: Husted voting rights case: The Supreme Court has a chance to redeem itself | Karen Hobert Flynn/The Washington Post

Nearly 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and nearly 66 million cast ballots for Hillary Clinton. But the votes for Trump and Clinton fell well short of the number cast for no one at all; more than 95 million eligible Americans just didn’t vote. Some of those nonvoters probably just didn’t like Trump or Clinton or any of their minor-party challengers. Some were ill or disabled or out of the country or couldn’t get away from work to vote. Some had no way to get to the registrar’s office before the registration deadline or to the polls on Election Day. And, sad to say, some didn’t vote because they’ve given up on politics and government. Whatever their reasons, the nonvoters had the same right to vote — guaranteed by our Constitution — as the people who voted. But because they didn’t vote, millions of Americans now face the loss of that right at the hands of state officials who ought to be protecting it.

Virginia: Citing registration concerns, attorney warns of false voter fraud prosecutions | WTOP

A Virginia commonwealth’s attorney has warned prosecutors statewide Wednesday against prosecuting certain voter registration fraud cases, due to concerns raised by Virginia registrars. In an email obtained by WTOP through a Freedom of Information Act request, Chuck Slemp, commonwealth’s attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton, said he has dropped prosecutions in “several cases” where it initially appeared that felons were trying to register to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles, because he cannot be completely sure any data in the system is accurate. “I believe that all Commonwealth’s Attorneys should be made aware of this issue because there may be a considerable risk of unfair prosecution of certain individuals statewide,” the email forwarded on Slemp’s behalf said.

Germany: Second time lucky? Merkel starts over with coalition talks | Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, weakened by an election setback in September, launches a second bid to build a coalition government on Sunday when she sits down with the Social Democrats (SPD) for exploratory talks. A re-run of her ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD, in power from 2013 to 2017, appears the best option for conservative Merkel is as it would provide stability in what would be her fourth term. But with success far from guaranteed, there are a range of other possible scenarios. After her conservatives bled support to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Sept. 24 national election, Merkel saw her authority undermined two months later by the collapse of three-way coalition talks with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens.

Honduras: NGOs, Governments Call For Dialogue To End Honduran Election Crisis | teleSUR

International organizations and governments are backing dialogue between former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla and president-elect of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez. The German Embassy in Honduras said it supports talks between the two parties and denounces any violence. In a release issued on Jan. 2, the Embassy stated “all responsible should be dedicated to finding a peaceful solution for the good of the entire country and to strengthen the people’s confidence of a stable democracy” in Honduras. The Coordinator of Spanish Non-Government Organizations in Honduras, or Congdeh, is also urging the Spanish government along with other European Union member states to help the Hondurans “find a legitimate (and) constitutional solution” to the current political crisis in the country.

Italy: Election Expected To Produce Hung Parliament | Eurasia Review

Italy will vote on March 4 in an election expected to produce a hung parliament, instability and possible market turbulence in the eurozone’s third largest economy. Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s cabinet set the date of the vote after the president dissolved parliament on 28 December, formally opening an election campaign which in practice has already been raging bitterly for weeks. With opinion polls suggesting no one will win a parliamentary majority, Gentiloni said he would remain in office and ensure continuity until a new administration was in place. As things stand, a centre-right alliance around Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy) looks set to take the largest number of seats – potentially catapulting the 81-year-old four-times premier back to centre stage, even though he cannot become prime minister due to a tax fraud conviction.

Russia: Opposition leader appeals ban on election run against Putin | ABC

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has submitted another appeal to the nation’s courts after he was banned from running against President Vladimir Putin, according to Russian media reports. On Wednesday, Navalny submitted an appeal to appellate body of the Russian Supreme Court after his previous challenge to the ruling by the country’s electoral commission, which banned him from running in this year’s presidential election, was denied. Russia’s Central Elections Commission blocked Navalny from running last month by preventing a group of his supporters from nominating him, on the grounds that Navalny had been convicted of fraud.