U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen have a message for Moscow: Any interference in future U.S. elections will be met with swift punishment if Congress acts. The Florida Republican who ran for president in 2016 and the Maryland Democrat will introduce a bill on Tuesday that sets explicit punishments for the Russian government — and other countries — if they meddle in future federal elections and directs the Director of National Intelligence to issue a report on potential election interference within one month of any federal election. Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill comes as President Donald Trump has characterized two congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election as Democrat-led “witch hunts” and cast doubt on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that has already indicted four former Trump campaign officials, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon declined on Tuesday to comply with a subpoena ordering him to answer questions from a U.S. House intelligence panel about his time at the White House as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election. After Bannon initially refused to answer questions about the matter, Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican party chairman, authorized a subpoena during the meeting to press Bannon to respond. Even then, Bannon refused to answer questions after his lawyer had conferred with the White House and was told again to refuse to answer questions about the transition period immediately after Trump was elected, or Bannon’s time in the administration, according to Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee.
Advocacy groups are appealing a federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging Alabama’ voter ID law. U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler on Wednesday ruled in favor of the state, saying the provision does not discriminate against minorities and is not an undue infringement on the right to vote since the state makes free IDs available for voting purposes. “In Alabama, the law has no discriminatory impact because it does not prevent anyone from voting, not when free IDs are issued in every county, or at home, under conditions that any registered voter can meet,” Coogler wrote.
Florida: Felon voter restoration initiative close to making 2018 ballot, supporters say | Florida Politics
The committee hoping to put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent Florida felons is inching closer to the signature quota required to place an amendment on the ballot. Floridians for a Fair Democracy says it submitted more than 1.1 million signatures to various supervisors of elections during the week between Christmas and New Years. The minimum number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot is 766,200. According to the Division of Elections website, 745,461 signatures have been verified. That means the state needs to verify just 21,000 more signatures over the next two weeks before the Feb. 1 deadline. Organizers are confident they will reach that objective.
Illinois will postpone submitting fresh voter information to a controversial multi-state voter registration database because the Kansas-based program has not offered updated security plans, election officials confirmed Tuesday. The move comes as several states debate ending their participation in the free and voluntary Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. It was designed in 2005 as a way to help four neighboring states share information and clean voter rolls by making sure voters weren’t registered in more than one state. The program has grown to include about two dozen states, including Illinois, which began submitting information in 2011.
New Hampshire: Senate Democrats push for New Hampshire withdrawal from voter database program | Concord Monitor
Senate Democrats are taking aim at New Hampshire’s participation in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, pressing for the state to pull out of a system they say is deeply flawed. At a Senate election law committee hearing Tuesday on a withdrawal bill, Democrats and voting advocacy groups argued that the program – in which about 30 states share voter information to prevent double-voting across state lines – is inaccurate and insecure. First initiated by the Kansas secretary of state in 2005, Crosscheck requires participating states to send voter registration data to the Kansas office, which then collates the names in a database. Any records sent to the office that match the first name, last name and birthday of a registered voter in another state are then sent back to both states, allowing them to examine the records and determine whether the voter is still a resident there.
The judges who struck down North Carolina’s congressional map for excessive partisanship that favored Republicans refused Tuesday to delay their order telling GOP state lawmakers to draw new lines by next week.
The denial by the three-judge federal panel was expected, given that the judges wrote 200-plus pages last week explaining why the boundaries approved two years ago were marked by “invidious partisanship” and are illegal political gerrymanders, violating several parts of the U.S. Constitution. Barring a delay by the U.S. Supreme Court – which Republican legislators also have sought and their request is pending – the legislature will be required to redraw its map for North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts by Jan. 24.
Pennsylvania: Supreme Court to decide if state congressional district map is a partisan gerrymander | WHYY
Pennsylvania’s congressional district map is often considered one of the most gerrymandered in the United States, but is it unconstitutional? And if so, how do you fix it? Those are the central questions the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will weigh when hearing oral arguments on Wednesday in a lawsuit that has the potential to change the state’s political landscape. The case was initiated by 18 voters, all Democrats, and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs claim Republican lawmakers, who drew the congressional map, violated their state constitutional rights, and are requesting the court to order the state legislature to draw a new map before the primary elections in May. Each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats are up for grabs in the 2018-midterm elections.
The Supreme Court rejects about 99% of the 7,000 to 8,000 petitions that reach it each year. But when it comes to cases involving reapportionment—challenges to how states draw lines for congressional or state legislative elections—the justices can’t be quite so choosy. Congress has chipped away at the cases subject to mandatory review by the Supreme Court, but it has kept it for redistricting cases where an election looms and time is of the essence. If skewed electoral maps may need to be redrawn, a special three-judge federal court is convened to hear the case; an appeal goes right to the Supreme Court, bypassing America’s 13 circuit courts.
Utah: Expanding the right to vote past heads of households was a ‘grave mistake,’ writes Davis County Republican precinct chairman | The Salt Lake Tribune
Expanding voting rights to those who aren’t heads of households was a “grave mistake,” a GOP precinct chairman from Davis County wrote in a Sunday morning Facebook post. “The more I study history the more I think giving voting rights to others not head of household has been a grave mistake!” Casey Fisher posted on Facebook Sunday morning. Fisher did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.
An assortment of bills to revise standards for drawing Virginia’s electoral districts could be the beginning of the end for gerrymandering in the commonwealth, according to redistricting reform proponents. Gerrymandering, the practice of politicians redrawing electoral districts to gain an advantage, has drawn attention and disdain in recent years. North Carolina’s congressional map was declared unconstitutional last week by a panel of federal judges, who ruled legislators had drawn it with “invidious partisan intent.” House Bill 276, proposed by Democratic Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke, would create a Virginia Redistricting Commission. The commission would determine the criteria for remedial redistricting plans if a court declares any congressional or legislative district unlawful. Under the current system, the legislators themselves determine the criteria for redrawing these lines.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has lost a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday. Originally scheduled for January 10, the vote was delayed after an eight-hour debate last week. Babis, the country’s second wealthiest man, is fighting corruption allegations related to suspicious EU subsidies that benefitted his business a decade ago. Since his ANO (Yes) party won last October’s election by a large margin, it will certainly stay in power. The only question is whether Babis will remain at the helm. Parliamentarians voted 117-78 against the prime minister. Although he and his cabinet will now be forced to resign, they will nevertheless remain during the transition until a new government can be formed.
Egypt: Elections authority sets cap of EGP 20 million for campaign financing in presidential elections | Ahram Online
Egypt’s National Elections Authority has set a cap of EGP 20 million (1.3 million) on campaign financing for each candidate running in the country’s upcoming presidential elections, which are set for 26-28 March. The ceiling for campaign financing during the run-off period – if one were to take place – is set at EGP 5 million ($282,000), the authority said on Tuesday. Candidates must mostly finance their campaigns with their own private funds, and are allowed to receive donations of no more that 2 percent of the funding limit.
A Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) employee has said that the director of the Organization of American States (OAS) observation team concluded that Salvador Nasralla was the legitimate winner days after voters went to the polls Nov. 26. Marco Ramiro Lobo, a magistrate within the TSE says that Jorge Quiroga – head of the OAS observation mission for the Honduran elections and former president of Bolivia – told TSE directors that Nasralla had won only days after the election was held. Lobo says the statement was made in the presence of Guatemala’s former president, Alvaro Colom, also an OAS election observer. “Ex-president Quiroga told the TSE that Salvador Nasralla had won the election” just days after polls closed. “Quiroga took a pencil and paper and calculated some numbers and concluded that Salvador Nasralla was the winner,” says Lobo.
The Election Commission (EC) in Nepal yesterday called a meeting of five political parties and apprised them of the preparations, programmes, and processes of the February 7 National Assembly (NA) elections. CPN (UML) leader Subash Chandra Nembang after the meeting confirmed that the EC briefed the political parties on the poll programmes and processes. “The incumbent government will temporarily name the capitals of the seven provinces as per the constitution and laws. I believe that a political consensus will be reached on the matter,” he said. A total of 2,056 local and provincial representatives will vote in the NA polls.
Russia: Russia’s only independent pollster, the Levada Center, has been blocked ahead of the election | Quartz
The Levada Center has long served as a crucial member of Russian civil society. The pollster has published the country’s only independent surveys, since it split from state-run VTsIOM in 2003, providing unique insights into Russians’ views about politics, economics, culture, and much else besides. Now, it has become another casualty of the country’s 2012 “foreign agents” law, which the Kremlin uses to crack down on organizations that get funding from outside Russia. Having been designated a “foreign agent” in 2016, Levada announced this week that it won’t publish political polls in the run-up to the presidential election on March 18 for fear that authorities might shut it down for falling foul of the law. That means that as the country enters an election cycle where president Vladimir Putin’s victory is certain, we won’t have any trustworthy data to give us a sense of how voters feel about the situation.