A pair of senators from each party is introducing legislation meant to deter foreign governments from interfering in future American elections. The bill represents the latest push on Capitol Hill to address Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and counter potential threats ahead of the 2018 midterms. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Tuesday introduced the “Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act,” which lays out specific foreign actions against U.S. elections that would warrant penalties from the federal government.
National: DHS won’t do voter-fraud investigation after Trump commission shut down | Washington Times
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tamped down on claims her department is going to pursue an investigation into voter fraud, saying Tuesday that her role will be limited to assisting states looking to weed out their own voter lists. President Trump earlier this month canceled his voter fraud commission and asked Homeland Security to pick up some of the work. Republican commissioners had said they expected Ms. Nielsen to take on the work they started of using government data to figure out how many non-citizens are registered and, in some cases, actually casting ballots. But the new secretary told Congress on Tuesday that’s not her goal.
Today is the day the nation celebrates the birth of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who is regarded as the leader of the Civil Rights movement. Yet, were he alive, he might be at a loss as to why some key initiatives for which he and his contemporaries had marched and even died are still being debated. Both black and white supporters fought for change, placing their lives in harm’s way. King, himself, ultimately paid the highest price for his advocacy. For example: Voting rights are still under attack. They were severely weakened in an infamous 2013 Supreme Court decision that allowed several states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The Supreme Court is currently torn over whether to allow Ohio to purge people from the voting rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from state officials. Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a convincing argument about disenfranchising minorities and the homeless, not to mention being part of a broader effort to effectively suppress voting.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp said Saturday the elections server mishap at Kennesaw State University was caused by bad management at the school. Kemp, a candidate for governor making a campaign stop in Gainesville to talk to the Hall County Republican Party, said the decision to wipe a server critical to an elections-related lawsuit against the secretary of state and his office was made by the school and was “really incompetence on their part that we had no knowledge of.” Election reform advocates filed a suit against the secretary of state last July 3. Four days later, server managers at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University wiped the server holding information critical to the lawsuit, which was filed over the state’s aging elections equipment.
A panel of federal judges has ordered North Carolina lawmakers to use maps created by a Stanford University law professor in the coming elections – in the second ruling this week on a state redistricting case. The ruling, released on Friday, comes less than a month before the filing period opens on Feb. 12 for candidates seeking office in the state Senate and House of Representatives. The ruling has an impact on districts in eight counties – Senate districts in Cumberland, Guilford and Hoke, and House districts in Bladen, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Sampson, Wake and Wayne counties. All other districts remain as adopted by lawmakers in late August.
Pennsylvania: Plaintiffs appeal gerrymandering case to Supreme Court after losing at trial | Philadelphia Inquirer
After federal judges rejected their contention that Pennsylvania’s congressional map was the product of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit have filed a direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 2-1 decision last week, a panel of federal judges sided with Republican lawmakers who drew Pennsylvania’s map in 2011. D. Brooks Smith, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, said that reform “must come from the political process itself, not the courts.”
Texas: U.S. Supreme Court dismisses Texas Democrats’ partisan gerrymandering appeal | The Texas Tribune
Texas, for now, will not join the list of states fighting in court over the limits of partisan gerrymandering. As it considers cases out of other states over whether extreme practices of partisan gerrymandering can be deemed unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the efforts of Texas Democrats and other plaintiffs to revive a related legal claim in the ongoing litigation over the state’s political boundaries. The high court’s dismissal comes just days after it agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color. In that case, the state appealed a three-judge panel’s ruling against the state that included findings of intentional discrimination by state lawmakers, unconstitutional racial gerrymandering and violations of the Voting Rights Act.
U.S. Territories: Seventh Circuit Rejects Bid to Extend Voting Rights to Territories | Courthouse News
Residents of Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have no right to vote absentee in their former state of residence, the Seventh Circuit ruled Thursday, even though residents of the Northern Mariana Islands and some in American Samoa are granted that privilege. “Absent a constitutional amendment, only residents of the 50 states have the right to vote in federal elections,” U.S. Circuit Judge Daniel Manion wrote for a three-judge panel. “The plaintiffs have no special right simply because they used to live in a state.” American astronauts in space have a special procedure allowing them to vote, and American citizens living abroad can vote absentee, but 5 million residents of U.S. territories currently cannot vote for president and have no voting representation in Congress.
Honduran soldiers and police clashed with protesters blocking roads across the Central American country on Saturday, as discontent continues to fester nearly two months after a disputed presidential election. At least one person died as security forces launched tear gas against rock-throwing supporters of the center-left Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship and tried to clear impromptu roadblocks of burning tires they had set across the capital Tegucigalpa and around the country, according to police sources and TV images. Honduras, a poor, violent country that has long sent vulnerable migrants north to the United States, has been embroiled in a political crisis since the Nov. 26 election, which the opposition says was stolen by center-right President Juan Orlando Hernandez. At least 31 people have died in violent protests.
Russia’s only major independent pollster, the Levada Center, said on Tuesday it had stopped publishing polls about the forthcoming presidential election because it feared the authorities might shut it down for perceived meddling. The move, which the Kremlin later endorsed as a necessary step to comply with the law, will reduce open source information about public sentiment ahead of the March 18 election which polls suggest incumbent Vladimir Putin, who is backed by state TV and the ruling party, will comfortably win. Levada is regarded as one of Russia’s three main pollsters and the only one not to be close to the authorities. But it was officially designated ‘a foreign agent’ in 2016 because of its funding, a move it and others said was designed to hobble it.
Democratic members of the House Science Committee have called on the panel’s Republican leadership to hold another hearing on security issues related to the nation’s election infrastructure. Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Virginia Rep. Donald Beyer requested the hearing in a letter sent Wednesday to Texas Rep. Lamar Smith and Illinois Rep. Darin LaHood —the Republican chairs of the House panel and its oversight subcommittee, respectively — citing lingering concerns raised in the wake of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. “We believe it is our obligation as Members of the Science Committee to examine concerns regarding the cybersecurity of our election infrastructure as well as efforts to identify foreign covert influence operations against U.S. citizens and our democratic institutions that are likely to reemerge as a major issue in the 2018 and 2020 elections,” the Democrats wrote.
The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy. FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections. It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up. All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because Mueller’s investigation is confidential and mostly involves classified information. A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined comment.
National: The Russia scandal just got bigger. And Republicans are trying to prevent an accounting. | The Washington Post
Aside from the president of the United States, almost no one denies that Russia mounted a serious and concerted effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential campaign. The Russians hacked into Democratic Party emails and gave what they obtained to WikiLeaks so that it could be released publicly to maximize the political damage to Hillary Clinton. They used social media to spread fictional stories meant to do the same. They made repeated attempts to engage the Trump campaign in a cooperative effort to undermine Clinton and help then-candidate Donald Trump. They attempted to hack into state voting systems.
Some states fear that a Kansas voter record system could fall prey to hackers, prompting a delay in the annual collection of nearly 100 million people’s records into a database scoured for double-registrations. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach touts the program, called Crosscheck, as a tool in combating voter fraud. Last year, 28 states submitted voters’ names, birth dates, and sometimes partial social security numbers, to Kobach’s office. But last fall, the news outlets ProPublica and Gizmodo reported a raft of cybersecurity weaknesses. For instance, Crosscheck relied on an unencrypted server for transmitting all that data.
A proposal to allow the automatic restoration of non-violent ex-felons’ voting rights cleared a Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) committee on Thursday. The CRC’s Ethics and Elections Committee OK’d the measure (P7) by a 6-2 vote. “If successful, Smith and Joyner’s proposal would bring Florida in line with most of the states in the nation that already allow for automatic restoration of rights following completion of felons’ sentences and repayments of any outstanding fines,” a press release from the Florida Senate Democratic Office said. The proposal is backed by commission members Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, both former Senate Democratic Leaders.
Illinois: Kane County clerk says his office can handle Aurora elections for less money | Daily Herald
Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham told officials Thursday he can run Aurora elections for less than half the cost per vote than residents pay now. But at least one county board member — an Aurora Democrat — still has concerns about the county’s ability to take on Aurora’s voting needs without sacrificing quality or busting the county’s budget. Aurora voters will see a question on the March ballot asking if they want to abolish the Aurora Election Commission. Aurora residents who live in Kane County pay taxes to the commission as well as taxes to the county to fund elections. They use the election commission only on voting day.
A Kansas law requiring disabled voters to sign their advanced ballots must go after Sedgwick County officials threw out 23 votes last fall, state officials said Thursday. Current state law requires voters to sign their advance ballots even if they are elderly or disabled and need help filling out the ballot. Sedgwick County officials reluctantly threw out 23 such ballots this fall, according to the Wichita Eagle. Critics say that law discriminates against disabled people, and senators debated a bill to fix it. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office also vowed to change its rules and regulations to solve the issue.
Maryland: Hogan to sign Supreme Court brief siding with challengers to Maryland redistricting | Baltimore Sun
Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday that he will sign a friend-of-the-court brief in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court — joining the side of Republican voters who say Maryland’s congressional district map violated their First Amendment rights. Hogan, a Republican, and former California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, are jointly filing the brief and calling on other current and former governors to join them and oppose what Hogan called “shameful gerrymandering.” “This kind of arrogant behavior and political subterfuge is exactly why the people of Maryland are fed up with politics as usual,” Hogan said.
North Carolina: Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks North Carolina Gerrymandering Ruling | The New York Times
The Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily blocked a trial court’s order requiring North Carolina lawmakers to produce a revised congressional voting map, making it likely that the midterm elections this year will be conducted using districts favorable to Republican candidates. The trial court had found that Republican legislators in the state had violated the Constitution by drawing congressional voting districts to hurt the electoral chances of Democratic candidates. The Supreme Court’s move was expected and not particularly telling. The court, which is considering two other major tests of partisan gerrymandering, has granted stays in similar settings. Its decisions in the pending cases, from Wisconsin and Maryland, are likely to effectively decide the North Carolina case, too. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor noted dissents from Thursday’s order, which was brief and unsigned.
When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed reforms to make voting easier in New York state, including allowing early voting before Election Day, he left something out: the cost. His proposed 2018-2019 state budget released earlier this week doesn’t include any money for launching the initiative, but an estimated $6.4 million in costs are to be paid collectively by county Boards of Elections, which administer the local election systems. It is exactly what county officials had feared. Counties say that isn’t fair to them, and voting rights advocates who had been hopeful there would be money for the initiative were disappointed.
Voting advocate Sean Jacobson has grown accustomed to hearing about the many barriers that young adults face in becoming politically engaged. As an organizer with the youth mobilization nonprofit the Washington Bus, Jacobson says that many of the students he meets during registration drives on college campuses are unsure if they’re registered to vote. Students often move from their hometowns to another jurisdiction for school and fail to update their registrations. Frequent mobility is just one challenge that prevents youth from turning out to vote. A lack of transportation and unfamiliarity with the issues can also preclude young adults from civic engagement.
The embattled leaders of the Wisconsin agencies that run elections and enforce ethics laws are engaging in a public relations campaign to save their jobs, with a torrent of tweets, media interviews and personal letters to lawmakers offering examples of their nonpartisan credentials. The push comes before an expected state Senate vote Tuesday to reject the confirmations of Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas and Ethics Commission leader Brian Bell. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says Republicans have lost confidence in their ability to act fairly because they both worked for the now-disbanded Government Accountability Board.
Former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has thanked members of the National Congress for protesting the reelection of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) of the National Party, who is due to be sworn in on January 27. “I appreciate that the people are firm on protesting; we want reconciliation and justice, contrary to what our friends (from the National Party) say,” he said Thursday. Members were also protesting the seating of the newest assembly members elected November 26, which continues the president’s congressional majority.
The Russian Constitutional Court on Friday refused to review a complaint by opposition leader Alexei Navalny over his ban from running in this year’s presidential election, Russian news agency RIA reported. The complaint “does not meet the requirements of the federal constitutional law,” said Valery Zorkin, the chairman of the court, according to RIA. Zorkin said disqualifying people from becoming elected public officials due to past convictions upholds the “legitimacy” of elected office.
Catalonia’s new parliament on Wednesday elected a pro-secession speaker, virtually guaranteeing that the push for independence for Spain’s northeastern region will continue as its lawmakers prepare to elect a new government. The opening session of the new Catalan assembly came amid looming questions about the role that fugitive and jailed politicians will play within the chamber’s separatist majority and the future regional government. Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in October dodging a Spanish judicial probe over a foiled secession attempt, wants to be reinstated to his old job. But he faces arrest if he returns to Spain and legal hurdles if he wants to be voted in from abroad by the regional assembly.
Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Wednesday it would conduct a new, comprehensive search of its records for possible propaganda that Russian operatives may have spread during the run-up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership. Some British lawmakers had complained that the world’s largest social media network had done only a limited search for evidence that Russians manipulated the network and interfered with the referendum debate. Russia denies meddling in Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, known as Brexit, or in the 2016 U.S. elections.