Russia’s cyber operations against the United States are showing signs of accelerating even as lawmakers grapple with how to deter and respond to the threat. Moscow-linked hackers have expanded to new political targets, including the U.S. Senate, in the wake of the hacking and disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential race. The hackers, said to have links to Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit, are part of the same group that was implicated in the 2016 hacks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Was President Donald Trump’s controversial “election integrity” commission shut down because its secret inner workings and true purpose were about to be exposed? In an exclusive interview with WhoWhatWhy, Matt Dunlap, one of the few Democrats on the commission and the man who successfully sued for internal documents to be released, says he believes the answer is “yes.” Though Dunlap, Maine’s Secretary of State, was appointed to the commission, he was denied access to documents and kept in the dark about its work after he criticized the tactics of its vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach is an architect of many voter suppression measures and has perpetuated the myth that there is a “voter fraud epidemic.” Shortly after Dunlap won a lawsuit on the issue, and a court ruled that he has a right to the information, Trump pulled the plug on the commission. The Department of Justice then notified Dunlap that, as a result, it would no longer provide him with access to the documents. Undeterred, Dunlap says he’ll continue fighting on behalf of the public’s right to this information, even if it means heading back to court.
Starting this April, the more than 1 million Californians who renew their driver’s licenses by mail each year will be able to register to vote using one form under the terms of a new settlement agreement. The settlement reached Jan. 10 ends eight months of litigation over California’s alleged violations of the National Voting Rights Act of 1993. The League of Women Voters and three other groups sued the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and Secretary of State’s Office in May 2017, claiming the state burdens would-be voters by making them fill out the same information on two separate forms to register to vote.
A measure that would allow the votes of certain dead people to count is a major step closer to becoming law in Indiana. The Senate on Tuesday passed the measure 45-2. It now heads to the House. Under the proposal by Senate Elections Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Walker, if someone casts an absentee ballot in Indiana but then dies before Election Day, the dead voter’s ballot would be counted.
Kansas: Kobach’s office will delay data uploads for Crosscheck voter system to accommodate security review | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office will postpone the initial uploading of voter registration data from other states to the Kansas-based Interstate Crosscheck System while it reviews the program’s cybersecurity, a state official said Wednesday. Bryan Caskey, director of elections in Kobach’s office, told members of the House Elections Committee the Kansas secretary of state’s office began reviewing security protocols for all its election processes in October 2016 due to national concerns over cybersecurity in voting systems. The Crosscheck program, which compares registrations across states to identify duplicate registrants and voters, has come under scrutiny for what critics claim are possible vulnerabilities of its data. Each year, states participating in Crosscheck upload data from their voter rolls for Kansas to compare with other member states and identify duplicates. Caskey said that process typically begins around Jan. 15 and takes a few weeks, but the window isn’t open yet.
Promising a “basket of options” for lawmakers to consider, Sen. John Murante on Wednesday introduced a trio of bills he said ensure future integrity in Nebraska’s elections without suppressing votes. As he promised in December, Murante once again introduced a voter ID bill (LB1066) that would require voters to present a current form of identification before they could vote. According to the bill, appropriate forms of ID include driver’s licenses, state, college or university-issued ID cards, passports or military IDs — which 97 percent of Nebraskans already carry, Murante said. Voters could apply to the Secretary of State’s office for a free photo ID that would comply with the state law, which would come at some cost to the state’s general fund, Murante said, particularly during a budget squeeze.
From the beginning of its brief, nonillustrious existence, Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission had a special connection to New Hampshire. Trump launched the commission to justify his claim that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election, many of them in the Granite State. He placed New Hampshire’s Democratic Secretary of State Bill Gardner on the panel to give the group a phony patina of bipartisanship. The commission also traveled to the state for its second and last meeting, an acrimonious affair during which co-chairman Kris Kobach defended his false allegation that thousands of illegal votes swung the vote in New Hampshire in 2016.
The idea of using mathematical algorithms to determine whether electoral districts are fair has gained notable traction in the past year, including a Jan. 9 federal court ruling that used math to call North Carolina congressional districts biased. Now a lawmaker wants to bring the process to New Hampshire. Under a proposed bill, House Bill 1666, a process known as efficiency gap analysis would be applied to statewide districts in New Hampshire after the next redistricting in 2021. If the analysis finds problems, “the redistricting for that elected body shall be deemed to be gerrymandered and therefore not valid” and the districts redrawn before the next election. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, who argues that the method would help all elected officials.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is backing up his plan to institute early voting in New York by including it in his budget proposal. The governor’s 2018-19 executive budget, which was released Tuesday, would allow early voting and same-day voter registration. Before same-day voter registration is adopted, a constitutional amendment is required. It’s the second time Cuomo’s budget included the early voting proposal. Early voting was in the 2017-18 executive budget, but was not included in the final state budget agreement.
North Carolina: Don’t ‘reward gamesmanship and obstinacy,’ North Carolina gerrymander challengers say | News & Observer
Attorneys representing voters who successfully challenged North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders are protesting lawmakers’ attempt to use the election maps again this year. U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts had given attorneys until noon Wednesday to offer response to a request last week from Republican legislative leaders for the country’s high court to get involved in another gerrymandering case in North Carolina. “In the 2016 election, Republican congressional candidates received slightly more than 50 percent of the statewide vote in North Carolina,” attorneys for the League of Women Voters wrote in opposition to lawmakers’ request for an emergency stay that would put a lower court’s ruling on hold. “With this slim majority, they won ten of North Carolina’s congressional seats. The resulting partisan asymmetry was the largest in the country in the 2016 election, and the fourth-largest, on net, of all congressional plans nationwide since 1972.”
North Dakota: Warning of ‘thousands of unverifiable votes,’ State asks judge to lift order on voter ID law | Bismarck Tribune
The state of North Dakota asked a federal judge this week to lift a 2016 order preventing it from implementing its voter identification law without a “fail-safe” option previously available to voters. The Republican-controlled Legislature in 2013 eliminated the affidavit option that allowed voters who didn’t provide an ID to swear their eligibility. That change, along with others made in 2015, were challenged in court by seven members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa who argued the laws were unconstitutional and discriminatory. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in August 2016, just a few months before the election, and later ordered North Dakota to offer the affidavits.
Several dozen people marched down the hall this week toward Ohio State Senator Matt Huffman’s office. One of them carried petitions signed by people who want a fair congressional district map free of political gerrymandering. As they poured into his office, only to find that he was not in, they shared their concerns over his current redistricting plan Senate Joint Resolution 5 with his legislative aide. They are not the only people to dislike what he is proposing. Janetta King, the president of Innovation Ohio says Ohioans want a process where there is bi-partisan drawing of congressional districts. “Quite frankly, this is not [that] process,” said King.
Pennsylvania: Supreme Court considers ordering new congressional map before 2018 elections | Philadelphia Inquirer
Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices on Wednesday interrogated lawyers defending the way the state’s congressional districts were drawn, a map opponents have challenged as illegally shaped to benefit Republicans, who hold a majority of its seats in the U.S. House. Based on the tenor of their questions, a majority of the court, which has five Democrats and two Republicans, appeared open to the argument that Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are illegally gerrymandered. A group of Democratic voters has asked the court to overturn the map and order a new one drawn before the 2018 elections, in one of several such lawsuits nationwide. The justices, while acknowledging that politics played a role in the boundary-drawing, must decide whether those political concerns crossed the line and deprived Democratic voters of their constitutional rights.
Democratic legislators are pushing for a package of bills to make it easier for Virginians to vote, including proposals to let people register on Election Day and to cast an absentee ballot for any reason. Del. Debra Rodman of Henrico County has introduced a bill to would repeal the deadline for registering to vote before an election. Instead, eligible voters could register at any time, including the day of the election. “I am critically proud for this opportunity, all of these opportunities, that will allow Virginians true access to the ballot,” Rodman said. “Knowledge and access are imperative to the evolution of our democracy.”
West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, established a subcommittee Wednesday to rework a bill that would create an independent commission to draw voter redistricting lines following the decennial census. In previous years, legislators have used updated information from the census to redraw their own district lines. House Bill 2383, sponsored by Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, puts together an independent redistricting commission, to bar politicians from picking and choosing their voters. However, the text of the bill does not spell out any specifics regarding who would serve on this commission, how they would be appointed or who — if anyone — would pay for it.
EU elections in 2019 are likely to be the next big target for Russian propaganda, MEPs have warned. “Next year the citizens of Europe will elect a new European Parliament. This raises an uncomfortable question: how many seats will Russia get?”, Danish centre-left MEP Jeppe Kofod said in Strasbourg on Wednesday (17 January). “Let’s not kid ourselves, Russian meddling in democratic elections is no longer the exception, it is becoming the norm,” he added. Kofod spoke at an EU parliament debate on what the assembly described in its press release as a “Kremlin-orchestrated” campaign of “leaks, fake news, disinformation campaigns, and cyberattacks” that stretched back to the UK referendum on leaving the EU in mid-2016 and which also targeted the French and German elections and Catalonia’s independence referendum last year.
Exiled Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Wednesday raised the prospect of violence if this year’s general election is not postponed, prompting a government accusation of a threat to the state. Cambodian politics has been in turmoil since the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last year, following the arrest of its leader, Kem Sokha, on treason charges he says were politically motivated. Sam Rainsy, a former CNRP leader now living in exile in France, called for a postponement of the July election, at which Prime Minister Hun Sen is now expected to easily extend his 33 years in power.
The Czech Republic’s minority government has resigned, plunging the country into deeper political turmoil, as its recently installed prime minister, Andrej Babiš, fights allegations that he abused an EU subsidy programme a decade ago. Wednesday’s resignation – a month after Babiš’ appointment – came a day after the government resoundingly lost a vote of confidence it had to win to stay in office. It will continue as a caretaker administration while the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, decides what to do. Zeman – a populist who has earned notoriety for xenophobic statements – had pledged to reappoint Babiš, a close ally, in the event of Tuesday’s confidence vote defeat, which had been widely anticipated.
The leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) cited progress on Wednesday in efforts to win support for formal talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, and some colleagues said rejecting a coalition would dent party ratings. SPD members, who will vote on Sunday on whether to back talks, last week agreed to a coalition blueprint, which some however say does not bear enough of the party’s hallmarks and they would be better off in opposition. SPD leader Martin Schulz is criss-crossing the country to persuade delegates to give him a mandate to pursue formal coalition negotiations in the face of a strong backlash from the party’s left and youth wings.