The U.S. intelligence community developed substantial evidence that state websites or voter registration systems in seven states were compromised by Russian-backed covert operatives prior to the 2016 election — but never told the states involved, according to multiple U.S. officials. Top-secret intelligence requested by President Barack Obama in his last weeks in office identified seven states where analysts — synthesizing months of work — had reason to believe Russian operatives had compromised state websites or databases. Three senior intelligence officials told NBC News that the intelligence community believed the states as of January 2017 were Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin.
Voter purges — the often controversial practice of removing voters from registration lists in order to keep them up to date — are poised to be one of the biggest threats to the ballot in 2018. Activist groups and some state officials have mounted alarming campaigns to purge voters without adequate safeguards. If successful, these efforts could lead to a massive number of eligible, registered voters losing their right to cast a ballot this fall. Properly done, efforts to clean up voter rolls are important for election integrity and efficiency. Done carelessly or hastily, such efforts are prone to error, the effects of which are borne by voters who may show up to vote only to find their names missing from the list.
The Midterm Elections are about more than just which party will control Congress and state governments around the country. In many states, voters will also get to participate in direct democracy by voting on ballot measures to change state policies. Florida voters will be asked to decide on one major policy change in 2018 through a ballot measure that would automatically restore the voting rights of most of the formerly incarcerated. In 48 states across the country, individuals convicted of a felony lose their right to vote when they are incarcerated. In the vast majority of these states, those citizens will regain the right to vote at the completion of either their prison term, parole or probation. But a select few permanently disenfranchise all people with felony convictions, even after they have paid their debt to society. The worst state in terms of the sheer number of people impacted is Florida.
A bill that attempts to ramp up Hawaii’s voter turnout by mandating all-mail elections is now headed to the full House of Representatives. House Bill 2541 cleared the Finance Committee after a hearing Tuesday. The bill calls for eventually mailing out all ballots and closing traditional polling places. The Aloha State has had the worst voter turnout in the country for the last five presidential elections. And just 35 percent of voters participated in the 2014 primary election, a record low. Oregon switched to all-mail ballots 20 years ago and has seen increased voter participation ever since. Washington and Colorado also vote exclusively by mail.
Idaho lawmakers on Monday proposed a measure with strong Republican support that would dramatically change the state’s independent commission in charge of re-drawing congressional and legislative maps every decade. Redistricting is important because it can decide which party gets the majority of congressional and state legislative seats. It is a contentious issue nationwide. The Senate State Affairs Committee introduced a proposal that would amend Idaho’s Constitution to change the state’s redistricting commission from six to nine members, with the state’s legislative council deciding the ninth commissioner. The proposal will go to Idaho voters in November if it passes by a two-thirds majority in the GOP-dominant Senate and House.
A Baton Rouge-based state appeals court wrestled Tuesday with the thorny legal question of whether felons on probation and parole should be allowed to vote in Louisiana. Attorneys for the state and a group of felons challenging current Louisiana law debated the phrase “under an order of imprisonment” before a three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal at the LSU Law Center. The 1974 Louisiana Constitution bars people “under an order of imprisonment” for a felony conviction from voting. A 1976 state law that is under attack expanded the definition of that phrase, saying felons on probation and parole cannot vote. Bill Quigley, who represents a group of felons who challenged the 1976 law, argued Tuesday that the plain language and meaning of “under an order of imprisonment” should control the outcome of the case.
Nebraska: Bill that would subtract noncitizens in redistricting count raises constitutional questions | Lincoln Journal Star
The new plan for drawing election boundaries looks a lot like the original plan settled on during a 1920 Nebraska Constitutional Convention, Sen. John Murante told the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The problem is the old plan requiring the state to count “the population excluding aliens,” or noncitizens, for the purposes of setting legislative district boundaries had been forgotten — or ignored — by the Legislature in recent memory. Murante’s solution (LB1115) hearkened back to Article III, Section 5 of the Nebraska Constitution. It removes the estimated number of non-U.S. citizens living in the state, according to the Census Bureau, from being counted for redistricting purposes.
Editorials: North Carolina needs fair elections and a balanced legislature | Colin Campbell/News & Observer
Gov. Roy Cooper wants to take politics out of the redistricting process, but he also thinks he should control elections administration in North Carolina. Legislative Republicans, meanwhile, want to take partisanship out of the elections board, but they’re determined to keep it in the process of drawing legislative and congressional districts. None of this is surprising: The old adage, “to the victor go the spoils,” has always applied to partisan politics. Efforts to end gerrymandering have been going on in this state for decades – Republicans filed bills to create an independent redistricting process when they were in the minority. But those bills die a quick death now that the GOP is in power. Democrats like Cooper have vowed to change that if they regain the majority, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court turned away a request to halt the implementation of the congressional district map it produced after declaring the previous map an unconstitutional gerrymander. The court issued the order Tuesday afternoon, simply stating that the request for a stay, led by House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, is denied. The decision was not unexpected. Following the same fault lines as in other rulings in the case, Democratic justices Debra Todd, Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty and David Wecht had the majority, while Democratic Justice Max Baer and Republicans Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Sallie Mundy dissented. Legal challenges to the map remain a live issue in the federal 3rd Circuit in Harrisburg and in the U.S. Supreme Court, however.
Utah: San Juan County asks courts to pause redistricting that would give more political power to Navajo voters | The Salt Lake Tribune
San Juan County officials are trying to halt a federal judge’s decision to redraw voting district boundaries that would give Navajos more political power in the county. Lawyers for the county made their case in an emergency motion filed Tuesday in the United States’ 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. They objected to special elections being held this year and requested that the elections continue under the previous redistricting plan until the appeal has been decided. In his Dec. 21 ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby gave Navajo voters a majority in two of three commission districts and three of five school board districts. Shelby had ordered that all seats be vacated and that special elections be held in November.
Depending on how things shape up in the state House of Representatives, Washington could soon allow automatic voter registration. Senate BIll 6353, introduced by Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, passed out of the Senate earlier this month on a 34-13 vote and is now awaiting review and action in the House. “Voting is a right, not a privilege,” Hunt said in a press release. “We need to make voting as easy as possible for every citizen in Washington and that starts with registration. We now have the technology to make it seamless, so why wouldn’t we? Automatic voter registration will increase the opportunity to register and vote without endangering the security of the election process.”
Australia: Electoral Commission ‘satisfied’ with security risks absorbed ahead of the 2016 election | ZDNet
A report from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) last month called out the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) for ditching compliance with Australian government IT security frameworks. In particular, the ANAO said insufficient attention was paid to assuring the security and integrity of the data generated both during and after operation, as the focus was on delivering a Senate scanning system by polling day. Facing Senate Estimates on Tuesday night, Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said he was satisfied with the risks that the AEC accepted ahead of its go-live. “They were not untreated risks — we were aware of them,” Rogers clarified.
The basics of what actually happens when Canadians go to vote hasn’t changed in many decades. A human clerk finds the voter on a paper list, crosses her name off with a pen, then gives her a paper ballot to mark by hand. When the polls close, officials count the ballots one by one, tallying them on a sheet of paper, and phone the results in to a returning officer. Voters’ great-great-grandparents would be confused by many aspects of modern life, but not this one. Very little has changed since secret ballots were introduced in 1874. It’s a low-tech 19th-century system that isn’t likely to change anytime soon, in part for 21st-century reasons. The more complex, and electronic, a voting system is, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the simpler and more paper-based it is, the more secure it is.
In a rare public expression of dissent in China, a well-known political commentator and a prominent businesswoman have penned open letters urging lawmakers to reject a plan that would allow President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely. Their impassioned statements on a popular messaging app were circulated widely after the ruling Communist Party announced a proposal Sunday to amend the constitution to scrap term limits on the president and vice president. In a statement Monday on WeChat to Beijing’s members of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Li Datong, a former editor for the state-run China Youth Daily, wrote that lifting term limits would “sow the seeds of chaos.”
Egypt’s National Election Authority (NEA) has approved dozens of NGOs to observe and monitor the upcoming presidential election due to take place in late March. Mahmoud Lasheen, NEA’s official spokesperson, told Egypt Today that 53 local civil organizations and nine international and Arab organizations have been accredited to observe and monitor the 2018 presidential election in which two presidential candidates have been officially announced for the presidential bid. “The nine international organizations approved by the NEA are as follows: Ma’ona Association for Human Rights and Immigration, Yemen, America, Arab Organization for Human Rights, Libyan Academic Organization, Sweden Center for Human Rights, Global Council for Tolerance and Peace, Volunteers Association without Borders, the Ecumenical Alliance for Human Rights and Development, Assyrian Monitor For Human Rights and the International Center for Research and Human Rights in Brussels,” Lasheen added.
Hungary’s ruling right-wing nationalist party Fidesz suffered an unexpected setback at the weekend when its candidate for mayor in the southern city of Hodmezovasarhely was defeated in a closely watched contest. The liberal opposition-backed independent candidate, Peter Marki-Zay, had 57.5% of the vote over Fidesz’ Zoltan Hegedus, who captured 41.6% of the electorate. Election officials said turnout was significantly higher than last round of parliamentary elections in 2014, with 62.4% of eligible voters in Hodmezovasarhely having cast a ballot.
few weeks ago, an Italian magazine asked me to illustrate graphically how I see Italy from abroad. I am incompetent at drawing, but an image instantly popped in my mind: the Costa Concordia shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea in 2012. Italy, too, is a beautiful ship slowly sinking because of the ineptitude of its captain — or captains, as it were. Surprisingly, this is not the view most Italians have of their own country. Most recognize the Italian ship is taking water on board, and that in theory it could sink by defaulting on its public debt. But Italians have faith that the Stellone Italiano (the Italian lucky star) will save them at the last minute, just as it has historically bailed out the Italian soccer team in World Cup matches.
United Kingdom: Long-term British expats could soon win right to vote in UK general elections | The Parliament Magazine
Campaigners have welcomed plans to abolish the rule which bans UK voters overseas from voting in British general elections after they have been abroad for period of 15 years or more. They were commenting to news that the overseas electors bill had passed the second reading stage in the UK House of Commons. Speaking on Tuesday, Roger Casale, the founder of citizens’ rights group New Europeans, said, “This is great news.” He told this website, “The goal of abolishing the 15-year rule does at last seem to be in sight. I am happy above all for all Britons abroad who do not want to lose their democratic voice and the right to vote.”
In a setback to President Nicolas Maduro, the CNE announced it would not be able to organize all the elections on one day. The OAS and the US have criticized the vote, set to take place in April. The National Electoral Council (CNE) of Venezuela has ruled out the possibility of carrying out legislative, state and municipal elections, in conjunction with the scheduled presidential elections on April 22, as President Maduro had proposed. Tibisay Lucena, the president of the CNE, announced the decision on Friday, saying that the electoral authority would not be capable of preparing such a range of elections so soon. “We are now not prepared to make a presidential election coincide with other elections that are technically more complex,” Lucena said.
Thomas Hicks has been tapped to chair the Election Assistance Commission, an agency that is considered central to protecting the U.S. election infrastructure from cyberthreats, the commission announced on Friday. Reuters reported on Thursday that Republican House Speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, decided not to recommend former chairman Matthew Masterson for a second term as one of the EAC’s four commissioners. Commissioners are recommended by congressional leadership, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. According to Reuters, some state officials were surprised that Masterson was not considered for a second term as commissioner, given that he has focused much of his tenure on cybersecurity.
The State Department is launching a $40 million initiative to crack down on foreign propaganda and disinformation amid widespread concerns about future Russian efforts to interfere in elections. The department announced Monday that it signed a deal with the Pentagon to transfer $40 million from the Defense Department’s coffers to bolster the Global Engagement Center, an office set up at State during the Obama years to expose and counter foreign propaganda and disinformation. The new influx of funds will bolster the center’s operations in the current fiscal year.
National: Senate intelligence panel may miss target for election security recommendations | Politico
The Senate Intelligence Committee may miss its target for making election security recommendations to states facing potential Russian disruption during the midterms — but its GOP chairman is eyeing a contingency plan. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and the panel’s Democratic vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, have long eyed next week’s first congressional primaries as their ideal date to release election-protection recommendations. The intelligence committee’s counsel to states would amount to the first formal fruits of their yearlong bipartisan investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
National: Most states disenfranchise felons. Maine and Vermont allow inmates to vote from prison. | NBC
Joseph Jackson was one of the millions of Americans inspired by Barack Obama’s 2008 White House bid. A black man in the nation’s whitest state, he coordinated voter registration drives and cast his first-ever ballot for the candidate who would become the nation’s first African-American president. And he did it all while incarcerated in a maximum-security prison, serving 19 years for manslaughter. That’s because Jackson, 52, was convicted in Maine, one of just two states that allow felons to vote from behind bars. In the U.S., nearly all convicted felons are disenfranchised during their prison sentences and, often, barred from the ballot for years after release. Sometimes, offenders lose the right to vote for life.
How to keep voter files safe from identity theft and other threats is the focus of two bills under consideration by the Government Administration and Elections Committee. The bills, which received a public hearing Monday at the Capitol, would limit who can obtain copies of voter rolls, what information they could access and what they can do with that information. They would also allow people with safety concerns or municipal police to opt out of having their information available on public voter rolls.
Sedgwick County leaders are optimistic a law will be passed this year that makes sure voters with disabilities can vote by mail. County commissioners have backed two bills in the Kansas Legislature clarifying that voters who can’t sign their mail-in ballot envelopes will still have their votes counted. State law already allows voters to receive assistance filling out their mail-in ballots if needed. One of those bills — sponsored by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wichita — passed unanimously through the Senate last week. Sedgwick County Commission Chairman David Dennis says he thinks there’s a good chance it’ll pass through the House just as easily.
Maine: U.S. too passive, vulnerable to elections cyberthreat, Sen. King says | Portland Press Herald
U.S. Sen. Angus King is warning that not enough has been done to secure electoral systems across the country from cyberattacks by Russia or other foreign adversaries, and he says President Trump has been making the situation worse by dismissing the threat rather than marshaling a coordinated federal response. “This is such a major threat, and it takes presidential leadership to coordinate an all-of-government response,” said King, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and beyond. “The CIA, the director of national intelligence, the secretaries of state – these are all pieces, and it takes executive leadership to pull the pieces together and do it. He hasn’t done that.”
New Hampshire: New Hampshire Not Among States Seeking Cybersecurity Help Ahead of 2018 Elections | NHPR
With its paper ballots and in-person registration requirements, New Hampshire’s voting system is less digitally wired — and therefore somewhat less susceptible to cyberattacks — than many of its peers. But this state, like all others, also maintains an online database with personal information on all of its registered voters. Federal security officials have offered to scan these systems for possible vulnerabilities as part of a broader package of “cyber-hygiene” efforts ahead of the 2018 elections, but New Hampshire election officials have said no thanks. More than 30 states have reportedly partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to safeguard their systems against hacking in advance of this year’s midterm elections. At this point, New Hampshire isn’t one of them — and the state’s elections officials remain wary of allowing the federal government to in any way encroach on their autonomy when it comes to voting procedures.
New Jersey lawmakers are proposing a bill that would make the state the third in the country to allow prisoners the right to vote. The bill would let people who are incarcerated, on parole and under probation supervision vote, a change supporters say is critical to addressing racial disparities in New Jersey’s criminal justice system. Under current law, New Jersey residents can’t vote if they are incarcerated or on parole or probation. About 94,000 people currently fall into these categories, according to state officials. Shavonda Sumter, a state assemblywoman from Paterson, N.J., said black residents make up a disproportionate share of the state’s prison population—and stripping them of their voting rights violates constitutional protections that that say people can’t be prevented from voting based on their race.
Across Ohio, counties are coming up with innovative ways to repair the state’s aging voting machines, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to replace. In Darke County, an elections worker bought small springs from a farm supply store that he used to hold together a flap on voting machines. In Montgomery County, spare parts are cannibalized from dead machines and pirated from other counties to keep units limping along. And in Clark County, maintenance costs keep climbing on machines built long before anyone held an iPhone. “It’s time for a replacement,” said state Sen. Frank LaRose, a Hudson Republican who is sponsoring a bill that will spend somewhere between $90 million and $118 million on new voting machines for all 88 Ohio counties.
Wisconsin: For state officials, election security a concern heading into 2018 elections | Wisconsin State Journal
Amid warnings that Russia will again try to meddle in U.S. elections in 2018, state officials are sizing up Wisconsin’s defenses — and saying past missteps must be avoided in working with national-security officials who can spot such threats. The state Elections Commission also hopes lawmakers will act on a request for more funding to hire three more staffers, including at least one position dedicated to election security. Russian government cyberactors unsuccessfully targeted Wisconsin election systems in July 2016 as part of a broader effort to interfere in U.S. elections, federal intelligence officials have concluded. The commission said Homeland Security didn’t notify it until September 2017, about 14 months later, that it believed the attempted cyberattacks came from hackers tied to the Russian government.