The same Russian government-aligned hackers who penetrated the Democratic Party have spent the past few months laying the groundwork for an espionage campaign against the U.S. Senate, a cybersecurity firm said Friday. The revelation suggests the group often nicknamed Fancy Bear, whose hacking campaign scrambled the 2016 U.S. electoral contest, is still busy trying to gather the emails of America’s political elite. “They’re still very active — in making preparations at least — to influence public opinion again,” said Feike Hacquebord, a security researcher at Trend Micro Inc., which published the report . “They are looking for information they might leak later.” The Senate Sergeant at Arms office, which is responsible for the upper house’s security, declined to comment.
As hackers become more sophisticated, state and local election officials must ramp up their IT expertise to protect registration data and elections results. “Elections offices have become IT offices that happen to run elections,” Jeremy Epstein, deputy division director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Computer and Network Systems said at the Jan. 10 Election Assistance Summit. “We need to be focused on detection and recovery.” When Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea was appointed in January 2015, she made election security a priority by growing her IT department by 40 percent to deal with increasing threats. She also worked with legislative leadership to get more funding to replace old election equipment.
In a case that could directly affect the ongoing fight over access to the polls, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether Ohio and 17 other states can remove tens of thousands of legally registered voters from eligible-voter databases in Ohio, a perennial political battleground that President Donald Trump won by eight points in 2016. Yet the outcome of the case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, could not only encourage other states to follow suit but also bolster conservatives’ ongoing hunt to prove voter fraud – a disproven yet persistent belief that unregistered voters and non-U.S. citizens are illegally gaining access to the ballot box. “The stakes are high in this case,” Beth Taggart, spokeswoman for the Ohio chapter of the League of Women Voters, writes in an email interview. The League’s national and local chapters are among several organizations, including the ACLU and Brennan Center for Justice, who have joined the Randolph Institute, a civil- and voting-rights advocacy group, in fighting the law.
On Tuesday, a panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map, ruling it an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. State Republicans had drawn district lines with such ruthlessness that they had won ten out of thirteen seats in the 2016 election—77 percent—even though they got only 53 percent of the vote. GOP lawmakers, wrote Judge James Wynn Jr., had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent.” Republicans had openly admitted as much. “Nothing wrong with political gerrymandering,” declared one of the lawmakers leading the process at a 2016 hearing. “It is not illegal.” The GOP is likely to appeal Tuesday’s ruling to the Supreme Court on those grounds. Whether courts are empowered to block partisan gerrymanders—as opposed to gerrymanders involving racial discrimination, which just about everyone agrees are unconstitutional—is a question the justices considered in October when they heard Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s state assembly map. The fate of North Carolina’s map likely hangs on how the court decides Gill. A ruling is expected before the end of June.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a statement today about the U.S. District Court’s decision to dismiss a federal lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of Alabama’s voter ID law. Today, U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler ordered the lawsuit filed by Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama NAACP and individual plaintiffs against the State of Alabama be dismissed. The lawsuit specifically targeted House Bill 19 of 2011, which requires absentee and in-person voters to show a photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot.
A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, condemning it as unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage. The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections. Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
Pennsylvania can keep its congressional map, a judicial panel in Philadelphia ruled Wednesday, rejecting an argument from a group of Democratic voters who contended it should be thrown out because the state lawmakers who created the map in 2011 gerrymandered it to help Republicans. The court cast aside the argument that districts should not consider politics, saying partisanship is part of the system. “The task of prescribing election regulations was given, in the first instance, to political actors who make decisions for political reasons,” Circuit Court Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote in the majority opinion in the case. “Plaintiffs ignore this reality.” The ruling came a day after a court threw out North Carolina’s congressional map, finding it went too far to help Republicans.
Hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Wednesday launched a new drive to become the 51st US state, with the island’s governor demanding an end to “second-class” treatment of its citizens. Puerto Rico’s more than three million residents are US citizens, with no obstacles to living and working on the mainland. Yet the US commonwealth in the Caribbean has just a non-voting delegation in the US Congress in Washington, and Puerto Rico residents cannot vote for US president. “It is time to end Puerto Ricans’ second-class citizenship, and statehood is the only guarantee for that to happen,” Governor Ricardo Rossello told a press conference in Washington.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will review lower-court rulings that ordered Texas to redraw 11 political districts found to be discriminatory. Texas officials appealed the rulings, which conluded that two congressional districts and nine Texas House districts were improperly drawn along racial lines in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Acting on the Texas appeal, a divided court blocked efforts to redraw the maps in September to allow time to consider whether to grant Texas’ request to overturn the rulings. On Friday, the court announced that it combined the two appeals and will hear oral arguments this spring.
Czech Republic: Miloš Zeman to face run-off after topping Czech presidential elections | The Guardian
The Russia-friendly Czech president, Miloš Zeman, has won the first round of voting to retain his job, according to nearly complete results from Saturday’s poll. However, he will face a formidable challenge from the pro-western runner-up, Jiří Drahoš, in the second round of voting in two weeks. The vote was seen as a referendum on the…
Chancellor Angela Merkel struck a deal with Social Democrat (SPD) rivals on Friday to open government coalition talks, easing months of uncertainty that has undermined Germany’s global role and raised questions about her political future. But the deal to revive a “grand coalition” that has governed since 2013 must be approved by an SPD congress planned for January 21. Some members fear further association with Merkel’s chancellorship could erode the influence of the party which suffered the worst result in September’s election since the modern Federal Republic was founded in 1949. “We have felt since the elections that the world will not wait for us, and in particular…we are convinced we need a new call for Europe,” Merkel, who has played a central role tackling crises over the euro and refugees, said after exploratory talks that had run through the night.
President Trump has shown little interest in fighting the threat of Russians hacking U.S. elections. He’s shown a lot of interest in fighting voter fraud, something he insists — without evidence — is widespread. Parts of his administration are doing just the opposite. Bob Kolasky, an acting deputy undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told a group of election officials gathered in Washington, D.C., this week that the threat of Russian hacking in future elections is “a national security issue.” “We have seen no evidence that the Russian government has changed its intent or changed its capability to cause duress to our election system. That may not be the only concern we have in the future,” Kolasky said, adding that another nation-state or bad actor could also attempt to interfere in U.S. voting.
A Department of Homeland Security official said the federal government is substantially more prepared to deal with a nation-state attack on election systems today than it was in the lead-up to the 2016 election. In a Jan. 10 speech to the Election Assistance Commission in Washington D.C., Bob Kolasky, acting deputy under secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, said the department has worked to expand its communication and outreach to state and local governments, which are primarily responsible for administering elections. “The Department of Homeland Security is in a much better position to work with our interagency partners and the election community to respond to any lingering threats that emerge going forward,” he said.
Gerrymandering was once only the concern of map drawers and politics nerds. Most people didn’t know who their congressional representatives were, let alone the contours of their districts. But gerrymandering is having a moment. People don’t like it, and they want it fixed. It’s easy to understand why. As we’ve mentioned before, gerrymandering takes the blame for partisan polarization, uncompetitive elections, marginalizing minorities and rigging elections in favor of one party or the other. If you could solve those things by ending gerrymandering, why wouldn’t you?
On March 14, 2017, municipalities in the state of New Hampshire were set to have their annual town elections. However, a powerful nor’easter was approaching New England, bringing with it near blizzard conditions, and many were concerned that the inclement weather would hinder the democratic process. Almost eighty towns decided to postpone their elections despite Governor Chris Sununu (R)’s warning that they would be exposed to potential lawsuits. The issue that arose and, as of November 1, 2017, remains in question is a conflict between state laws governing town elections. Section 669:1 of the state code requires that towns hold their elections on the second Tuesday in March, but Section 40:4 allows town moderators to reschedule the “voting day of a meeting” during weather emergencies.
If there has been any benefit from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, it’s that it has raised awareness about President Vladimir Putin’s broader threat to democracies in Europe and elsewhere. In the face of complacency from Republicans fearful of what attention to these intrigues might reveal about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have issued a report that appears to be the most comprehensive public accounting of Russia’s war on the West. It drives home the point that the 2016 election, which every American intelligence agency has said involved Russian interference to help elect Donald Trump, is part of a pattern in which Mr. Putin has worked to erode Western institutions and undermine faith in democratic practices.
A proposed constitutional amendment to move elections of Kentucky officials to even-number years cleared a Senate committee on Wednesday. SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, would take effect, if approved, following the 2019 elections for Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer and Agriculture Commissioner, giving each of them a one-time, five-year term until the 2024 general election.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a redistricting measure passed last year could be the subject of an override vote Friday in the state Senate. The legislation would set up a commission to redraw congressional district lines after the federal census is conducted — but only if New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia also adopt similar legislation. Hogan, who has made redistricting reform a priority of his administration, called the measure “a phony bill masquerading as redistricting reform” when he vetoed it last year. “It was nothing more than a political ploy designed with one purpose — to ensure that real redistricting reform would never actually happen in Maryland,” he said.
The potentially landmark ruling that struck down North Carolina congressional districts adds more uncertainty for candidates – and voters – barely a month before the official start of election season. The ruling Tuesday from a federal three-judge panel also carries national implications and continues more than a decade of court intervention in the drawing of North Carolina election districts. It leaves the boundaries for the state’s 13 congressional districts uncertain ahead of the Feb. 12 start of candidate filing. “Since the 2010 (U.S.) Census we’ve had seven, now eight years of perpetual redistricting,” said Andy Yates, a Republican political consultant. “This constant flux is not good for anybody.”
The Supreme Court appeared sympathetic Wednesday to states that seek to prune their voting rolls by targeting people who haven’t voted in a while. In a case from Ohio, opponents of the practice called it a violation of a federal law that was intended to increase the ranks of registered voters. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said minorities and homeless people appear to be disproportionately kicked off the rolls. But the court’s conservatives and possibly also Justice Stephen Breyer indicated that they would uphold the state’s effort. Ohio is among a handful of states that use voters’ inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from voter rolls. A ruling for Ohio could prompt other states to adopt the practice, which generally pits Democrats against Republicans.
U.S. Supreme Court justices suggested they may give states broader latitude to purge their voting databases of people who might have moved, as the court heard arguments Wednesday in an Ohio case that could shape who gets to cast ballots in the November election. Justice Stephen Breyer hinted he might join his more conservative colleagues in voting to uphold an Ohio system that uses non-voting as a factor in deciding which people to remove from the rolls. Breyer questioned whether states have enough other tools to purge people who have moved away or died in far-away places. “What are they supposed to do?” he asked. “Is Rhode Island supposed to look at the Tasmanian voting records or hospital records?”
State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democratic candidate for Ohio secretary of state, said Wednesday she’s preparing to introduce a pair of bills designed to safeguard the state’s elections against cyberattacks. Clyde spoke about the bills at the Ohio Association of Elections Officials annual conference in Columbus. She was motivated to draft the legislation after it was reported that Russia attempted to interfere in the presidential election in 2016. “Many believe that this problem will only continue and we need to make sure that we are preparing for any attempts to hack our voting systems,” Clyde said in a phone interview prior to the conference. Unless Clyde is able to get Republican sponsors, her bill is unlikely to get through the GOP-dominated Ohio state legislature.
As the potential for cyberattacks to undermine the democratic process becomes alarmingly clear, Canadians can take some comfort in the fact that national elections in this country are still conducted the old-fashioned way. Canada is not immune to cybermischief aimed at suppressing the number of people who vote or manipulating how they vote. But once ballots are cast, not even the most sophisticated cyberattack could tamper with the results. That’s because Canada still relies on paper ballots, hand-marked by voters and hand-counted by officials in some 25,000 different polling stations across the country, under the watchful eye of scrutineers from each of the major political parties. “It’s highly decentralized and it’s paper-based so documents can be verified easily afterwards,” says Marc Mayrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer until his retirement just over a year ago.
Texas: Plaintiffs still fear exposure of voter data even with Trump’s fraud commission dissolved | Dallas Morning News
President Donald Trump’s controversial voter fraud commission was disbanded last week, but plaintiffs in a Texas lawsuit want more assurances about the safety of voter information. The question of what voter data Texas can release to such commissions and what safeguards they must ensure stems from a lawsuit filed in July by the Texas NAACP and the Texas League of Women Voters seeking to block the state from handing over its voter rolls to the federal commission. Texas election law includes provisions that prohibit the information from being used for commercial purposes. If the information was given to the commission, plaintiffs argued, it would be open to public review under a federal law, allowing businesses to sidestep the state law banning its use for commercial purposes. It would also put the data at risk of a breach, plaintiffs said.
Voting rights legislation proposed by Democratic lawmakers aims to boost election turnout for young and low-income voters and enhance representation in communities often left out in political affairs. One bill would allow local governments to change their local election processes without going through court; the other would extend the voter registration period and allow same-day in-person registration. Both bills have versions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two bills in the House were heard on Tuesday, Jan. 9 and the two bills in the Senate were heard on Wednesday, Jan. 10. Officials and student group leaders from Yakima showed strong support for two bills at the Senate version of the proposal’s hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 10 in Olympia.
Canada: Democracy Watch pushes Elections Ontario to give voters more info on refusing ballots | Toronto Star
With more Ontarians than ever flexing their non-voting rights, a national democracy watchdog is fighting to get those choosing “none of the above” to the polls this spring. In a letter penned to Elections Ontario this week, Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher threatened to launch a court challenge over allegations that information about declining a ballot was buried on the provincial agency’s website. Citizens who aren’t inspired by any of the choices on the ticket in the June 7 election have the right to formally forfeit their vote, and Elections Ontario will count it separately in the final voter turnout tally.
Three months after the election of the populist Eurosceptic and billionaire Andrej Babis as prime minister, Czechs will once again head to the polls on Friday and Saturday to elect a new president. The favourite in the field of nine candidates vying for a spot in the election runoff later this month is the outspoken incumbent, President Milos Zeman, who at 73 has watched his country become more politically divided during his five-year tenure. As a member of an increasingly right-wing regional alliance of Central European nations, named the Visegrad Group, that includes Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, the Czech Republic stands at an ideological crossroads with the rise of the country’s xenophobic far right, which rose to parliament in October’s legislative elections.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who calls her country the West’s “eyes and ears” on Russia’s northern border, said Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has put European democracies on alert for future meddling. “The discussion you’ve had in the United States has, of course, lifted this issue in all European countries,” Solberg said Wednesday in an interview with The Washington Post. “Every country has to deal with it their own way. It’s also about making your political system resilient enough against these types of threats.”
Poland’s lawmakers have approved a controversial electoral law that critics say will give the ruling party influence over the voting procedure and will allow more room for vote rigging. The lower house voted late Wednesday to approve the legislation that will govern elections, beginning with local elections this fall. It was proposed by the ruling conservative Law and Justice party and is seen as favoring it. The party took power after winning elections in 2015 and immediately set about changing much of Poland’s laws, including those governing the justice system. The changes in the judiciary have drawn strong criticism from European Union leaders who say they threaten Poland’s rule of law, and have opened a procedure that could strip the nation of its EU voting rights. The new electoral law is expected to add to Poland’s conflict with its EU partners.