National: 5 Ways Election Interference Could (And Probably Will) Worsen In 2018 And Beyond | NPR

If you thought 2016 was bad, just wait for the sequel. Russian election interference seeped into nearly every aspect of the political landscape two years ago, but many experts are wondering whether upcoming U.S. elections could be worse. “If we do nothing, if we let the mechanics of voting continue to deteriorate, then I am 100 percent sure that we are going to be attacked again in the fullness of time,” said J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan. “And it’s going to make 2016 look quaint by comparison.” … The actual nuts and bolts of how Americans vote are vulnerable for a number of reasons. Older computerized voting machines run older software, which makes them more exposed to potential vulnerabilities. In the case of many states that either use a completely digital or partially digital voting system, they’re ripe for hacking.

National: Can election security be fixed in time for the 2018 vote? | FCW

With cybersecurity, disinformation and foreign interference all having played a part in the 2016 elections, the clock is ticking for government to shore up security by Election Day 2018. But there are some efforts to better secure the digital aspects of elections underway from the Federal Election Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and on Capitol Hill, even as primary election dates draw near. … Katie Harbath, Facebook’s U.S. politics and government outreach manager, said that “regardless of legislation,” the social media site would be taking some “small steps” to make advertising more transparent, including making advertiser verify their identities, as well as labeling political ads and archiving them for four years. Meanwhile, Candice Hoke, who co-directs the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law’s Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection, said that election systems themselves are at risk of digital interference.

California: Old Voting Machines Are ‘Biggest Threat’ To California Elections | KPBS

Since the 2016 election, U.S. election officials have been focused on ensuring the integrity of the nation’s election system due to cyber security concerns. But California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said the biggest threat to the state’s election system is actually old voting equipment. “Not only is it based on outdated technology, the bottom line is the machines are old,” Padilla said. “When they have to find replacement parts that are no longer made and they have to hunt for them on Ebay, that’s not a good thing… We’re kind of living on borrowed time.”

Florida: Judge overturns ex-felon voting rights process in Florida | The Hill

A U.S. District Court on Thursday ruled as unconstitutional Florida’s current system for restoring voting rights to ex-felons, potentially heralding major changes for disenfranchised voters. Judge Mark Walker ruled that the current system violates both the First and 14th Amendments. Walker noted in his ruling that “elected, partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards.” “Florida strips the right to vote from every man and woman who commits a felony,” Walker wrote. “To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.” 

North Carolina: In power struggle with GOP lawmakers, Cooper wins election board revamp lawsuit | News & Observer

For the second time since Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling striking down an attempt by the Republican-led General Assembly to revamp the state elections board. In a 4-3 ruling that breaks down along the court’s partisan lines, the justices found that a law passed in 2017 that merged the state Board of Elections with the state Ethics Commission and limited Cooper’s power to appoint a majority of its members violated the state Constitution’s separation of powers clause. The ruling, in a case that has attracted national attention, means that the governor’s party will control elections boards at the state and county levels, as has been the case for decades before Cooper defeated one-term Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. That could have implications for voting hours and poll locations in this year’s elections.

Voting Blogs: Passing Your Vote Through Security: The Rise of Risk Limiting Audits in Rhode Island | State of Elections

In the 2016 election’s aftermath, United States intelligence agencies speculated that the Russian government hacked various government entities and the major political parties in order to influence the election’s results. It was recently confirmed that twenty-one  states were subject to that foreign attack. Experts cautioned states to take responsive measures since many states take little to no precaution at all.   Rhode Island, like sixteen other states, does not presently have a statutory requirement to conduct post-election audits. But on September 19, 2017, Rhode Island’s State Legislature responded to the 2016 election cycle by passing a new bill through both chambers (Senate Bill 413A and House Bill 5704A) which would begin post-election audits in 2018 and mandate them in every county by 2020. The bill received bipartisan and unanimous support, passing 36-0 in the State Senate, and 70-0 in the House of Representatives. Governor Gina Raimondo is expected to sign the legislation. The proposed legislation allows the Board of Elections to decide which elections (i.e., primary, state, multijurisdictional) are subject to a risk limiting audit or partial recount in order to verify voting results. This audit would be conducted by hand, in public view, and completed within seven days after an election.  

Wisconsin: State Elections panel edges closer to showdown with GOP Senate | Wisconsin State Journal

State Elections commissioners Wednesday edged closer to a showdown with Republican state senators over whether Elections Administrator Michael Haas should continue to lead the agency. Elections commissioners voted 4-2 Wednesday not to take immediate action on the issue and revisit it at a March 2 meeting. As was the case last week, Republican commissioner Beverly Gill voted with the three Democratic commissioners. Commissioners voted last week to retain Haas, who has led the commission’s staff since the agency’s 2016 inception, until at least April 30. That came in spite of a state Senate vote earlier in January to oust Haas and the state Ethics Administrator, Brian Bell.

China: Hong Kong pro-democracy activists honoured by Nobel nomination | AFP

Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow Friday said they were honoured to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a group of US lawmakers at a time when the city’s freedoms are “under serious attack by China”. A bipartisan group of four senators and eight members of the House announced Thursday that they had nominated the activists “in recognition of their peaceful efforts to bring political reform and self-determination to Hong Kong.” Wong, Law and Chow — who shot to prominence as leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement — said they were honoured by the nomination, but warned that Beijing was targeting the freedoms enjoyed by residents of Hong Kong as a semi-autonomous part of China.

Philippines: Elections vulnerable to hacking – US expert | The Manila Times

The Philippine electoral system is vulnerable to cyberattack and the government may not be prepared for it, an American cybersecurity expert has warned. Marc Goodman, founder of the Future Crimes Institute and chairman of policy, law and ethics at Silicon Valley’s Singularity University, said governments around the world, particularly the Philippines, were woefully unprepared for threats brought by the automation. The capability of the government to protect its cyber assets was placed in doubt after the “biggest data breach in history” in March 2016, when the database of voters was hacked by the Anonymous group more than a month before the May 2016 national elections.

National: How Voters With Disabilities Are Blocked From the Ballot Box | Stateline

For decades, Kathy Hoell has struggled to vote. Poll workers have told the 62-year-old Nebraskan, who uses a powered wheelchair and has a brain injury that causes her to speak in a strained and raspy voice, that she isn’t smart enough to cast a ballot. They have led her to stairs she couldn’t climb and prevented her from using an accessible voting machine because they hadn’t powered it on. “Basically,” Hoell said, “I’m a second-class citizen.” The barriers Hoell has faced are not unusual for the more than 35 million voting-age Americans with disabilities. As many jurisdictions return to paper ballots to address cybersecurity concerns — nearly half of Americans now vote on paper ballots, counted digitally or by optical scanners — such obstacles are likely to get worse.

National: U.S. ‘taking steps’ to prevent future Russian election interference, Haley says | The Washington Post

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, renewed her attacks on Russia in a speech delivered Thursday to Republican lawmakers as the investigation into President Trump’s campaign reached a new level of intensity. Haley directly acknowledged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, calling it “outrageous” and saying the Trump administration is “taking steps” to prevent a repetition. She also said the Trump administration has been “tougher on Russia than any American administration since Ronald Reagan,” even after the White House took a pass this week on imposing additional sanctions that Congress had requested. “I have no idea what Russia expected from the American elections, but I gotta tell you, they are not happy with what they ended up with,” she said. “And that’s the way it should be, until Russia starts to act like a responsible country.”

National: Redistricting Cases Won’t Dictate Outcome of Midterms | Bloomberg

Groups wanting to flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives—or keep it in Republican hands—largely won’t benefit immediately from redistricting court decisions ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, election law scholars told Bloomberg Law. Partisan gerrymandering challenges—that is, challenges over how much a state can consider politics in drawing districts—have had historic success recently. Still, it will take several months or longer to sort out the flurry of cases moving through the courts, including the Supreme Court, and even longer to implement any changes. One big exception could be Pennsylvania following a surprise state-court ruling there that could benefit Democrats handsomely next fall if allowed to stand. But time is drawing short for states to redraw districts in other redistricting challenges.

National: About 25% of Trump’s Re-election Spending Continues to Go to Lawyers | The New York Times

President Trump’s re-election campaign raised $15.2 million in the last three months of last year, and spent $1.2 million on legal fees — with much of the cash going to law firms responding to investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election — according to campaign finance reports. The reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday evening, indicate that Mr. Trump’s campaign and two fund-raising committees it formed with the Republican National Committee — Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again — entered this year with $32.3 million in the bank. That is an unusually large nest egg for a president at this point in a first term, reflecting an earlier and more aggressive start to re-election fund-raising that began almost immediately after Mr. Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in a campaign in which she drastically outspent him. Mr. Trump and his team seem determined not to repeat that.

Maine: Ranked-choice supporters say they have enough signatures to force a new vote | Bangor Daily News

A group trying to force a new statewide vote on ranked-choice voting said it has collected enough signatures to force a people’s veto referendum in June. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting will submit signatures Friday to the Maine secretary of state in an effort to revive the voting system after the Legislature essentially blocked it last year. The committee has been collecting signatures from registered voters all over Maine in an effort to let Maine voters decide on a people’s veto of a bill enacted last year that delays implementation of ranked-choice voting until the Maine Constitution is amended to resolve conflicts between the law approved by voters in November 2016 and constitutional wording. A provision in the Maine Constitution requires a plurality vote — which simply means a candidate wins by receiving more votes than anyone else — in general elections for state offices.

Kansas: Kobach Backs Citizenship Question, Targeting ‘One Person, One Vote’ | TPM

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has shed light on what may be driving the Trump administration’s push to ask about citizenship in the 2020 Census. In an op-ed written for Breitbart, Kobach endorses an approach to drawing voting districts in a way that would undermine the political power of immigrant-heavy communities. That approach, which culminated in a 2016 Supreme Court case, emerges from decades-old conservative opposition to the priniciple of “one person, one vote.” Kobach, a Republican who led President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, is known for pushing restrictive voting laws. In the op-ed, Kobach backs the idea of asking citizenship on the Census, something the Justice Department has also requested to be included on 2020 questionnaire.  Kobach suggests that doing so would encourage states to draw districts based on number of citizens or some similar metric. Currently, states draw districts based on total population.

Editorials: North Carolina has the worst gerrymander in US history. What else is new? | Gene Nichol/News & Observer

In mid-January, yet again, a three-judge federal court ruled the redistricting work of the North Carolina General Assembly to be a knowing, intentional and hugely impactful violation of the U.S. Constitution. This time the court struck down the apportionment of our federal congressional districts as an impermissible, extreme, partisan political gerrymander – designed, admittedly and successfully, to entrench Republicans in power and handicap their adversaries. The state yawned. We’re used to it. Rick Hasen, a professor at California-Irvine, is often said to be the nation’s leading election law expert. Hasen wrote that the decision could hardly be seen as a surprise, given what our legislature did. “If there is any case that could be invalidated as a partisan gerrymander, it is this one,” he indicated. It is “the most brazen and egregious” political electoral distortion yet seen in the United States. North Carolina leaders “admitted the practice, but argued it should be seen as perfectly legal.”

Texas: Hurricane Harvey victims shocked to find out voter registration was suspended | KTRK

Displaced Hurricane Harvey victims still struggling to recover are now having to worry about one more thing: whether they can vote in next month’s primary. The problem of suspended voter registrations began bubbling up this week. Nikki Thomason, one of hundreds of people displaced when her Thornwood neighborhood filled with water, never thought her right to vote could be swept away too. “Angry, angry, you know it’s kind of funny the people who are angriest with the government right now, are the people whose votes have been suspended,” she said.

Virginia: House approves election changes in wake of 2017 drama | WTOP

Virginia’s House of Delegates on Thursday approved a series of election law changes, some of which are specifically tied to the drama and mistakes during the Nov. 7 elections. The House unanimously approved a bill that would clearly state only one recount is permitted in each election. While that appeared to be the intent of previous laws, questions were raised about unclear portions of the code after a recount led to a tie in Virginia’s 94th District. Those questions centered on whether the loser of the random drawing should be permitted to ask for a second recount. The bill would also specify that a random drawing is the proper way to resolve a tie after a recount, and allow the loser of a random drawing to contest the election.

International: As Strongmen Steamroll Their Opponents, U.S. Is Silent | The New York Times

When it comes to securing a second term in power, Egypt’s president is leaving little to chance. Potential rivals in the March election have been sidelined, jailed or threatened with prosecution. The news media is largely in his pocket. On polling day, Egyptians will have a choice between President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and one of his most ardent supporters — an obscure politician drafted at the 11th hour to avoid the embarrassment of a one-horse race. As he cruises toward victory, Mr. Sisi need not worry either about foreign censure: President Trump has hailed the Egyptian leader as a “fantastic guy,” and most other Western leaders have been largely silent. Across the world, autocratic leaders are engaging in increasingly brazen behavior — rigging votes, muzzling the press and persecuting opponents — as they dispense with even a fig leaf of democratic practice once offered to placate the United States or gain international legitimacy. The global tide is driven by a bewildering range of factors, including the surge of populism in Europe, waves of migration, and economic inequality. And leaders of countries like Egypt, which had long been sensitive to Washington’s influence, know they run little risk of rebuke from an American president who has largely abandoned the promotion of human rights and democracy in favor of his narrow “America First” agenda.

Costa Rica: Gay-Marriage Clash Throws Costa Rica Presidential Race Wide Open | Bloomberg

Costa Rica’s debt and deficit have risen to the highest on record, and its credit rating has been cut repeatedly in recent years. But, forget all that: It is the prospect of legalizing gay marriage that dominated the debate and threatens to turn the Feb. 4 presidential election on its head. Many religious Costa Ricans were incensed by a Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling this month in favor of gay marriage, which the government said it would implement. Support for Fabricio Alvarado, an little-known evangelical candidate opposed to the notion, leaped sixfold, propelling him into first place in some polls and spooking investors. Alvarado’s “aggressive stance” on the issue “seems to have resonated with voters,”’ Eurasia Group analyst Risa Grais-Targow said.

Grenada: High Stakes for Grenada Election on Revolution’s Anniversary | teleSUR

Grenadians are getting ready to head to the polls in just six weeks. Voters have been registering to cast their ballots and a host of political parties have nominated candidates for the 2018 poll after the Government set the next General Elections for March 13, 2018, to coincide with the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution. The much-anticipated announcement was finally made on Sunday, January 28 by Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell while addressing a huge rally of his ruling New National Party (NNP) in the capital city, St. George’s. The election date had remained a national mystery while the NNP and its main rival, the National Democratic Congress, NDC, had been campaigning feverishly since the closing months of 2017, largely leaving Grenadians in political suspense as the government’s current five-year term inched towards its constitutional end.

Sri Lanka: China’s shadow looms large in Sri Lanka local election | Nikkei Asian Review

On Feb.10, Sri Lankans will go to the polls to vote for their local representatives. But the outcome of these village elections will have much wider repercussions as they will ultimately determine if China will play a bigger role in Sri Lanka’s development. The battle for Sri Lanka’s heartlands is being fought out by the country’s twice defeated pro-China former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and the incumbent pro-India coalition government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.