A U.S. cybersecurity official said Wednesday that Russia “successfully penetrated” the voter rolls in a small number of states in 2016. Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told NBC News that Russia targeted 21 states and “an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” DHS previously notified the 21 states that Russia had attempted to hack their elections systems before the 2016 election. It was Manfra who first revealed to the Senate Intelligence Committee last June that the states had their systems targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the election.
Lee Goodman, a Republican appointee to the Federal Election Commission, announced his resignation Wednesday, leaving the deeply divided panel with a bare quorum to conduct business. Goodman, who has pushed for less regulation of money in politics during his four years on the panel, will rejoin the Washington-based law firm Wiley Rein, which specializes in election law and government ethics. His last day at the FEC will be Feb. 16. With Goodman’s departure, the FEC has a bare-minimum quorum of four members — two Republicans, one Democrat and one independent — whose unanimous votes are now required to take official action.
If there was any doubt that state Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, redistricting czars Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Ralph Hise and others in the North Carolina legislature’s Republican leadership are marching to the beat of a drummer only they can hear, the U.S. Supreme Court offered loud and clear evidence Monday. We can only hope the message made it through to Berger and his gang. Justice Samuel Alito turned down a request from the state’s Republicans to delay redrawing congressional district lines. He said GOP legislative leaders in Pennsylvania violated the state constitution by unfairly favoring Republicans.
A national group is focusing on Alaska in a bid to get the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit a 2010 decision that upended how campaigns are run in this country. The court decision paved the way for corporations and unions to make unlimited independent expenditures, and in Alaska, was viewed by state officials as likely rendering several provisions of law prohibiting or limiting certain contributions unconstitutional. Washington, D.C.-based Equal Citizens wants to put that interpretation to the test but it could face an uphill battle. Equal Citizens is supporting complaints that have been filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission over contributions made in the 2016 election to independent groups that backed candidates to the Alaska Legislature. One group supported a Republican and the other leaned toward Democrats during the general election.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday claims the state’s new voter-identification law is just as flawed as the one the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional almost four years ago. The 23-page petition asks Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray to similarly rule that Act 633 of 2017 is illegal. The law requires voters, in order to guarantee that their ballots are counted, prove to election officials by use of government-issued photo identification that they are registered to vote. The statute the high court struck down in 2014 required people to use photo IDs to prove their identity before voting.
Missouri: To limit initiative petitions in Missouri, some want to charge fees | The Kansas City Star
Ten years ago, 15 initiative petitions were filed with the secretary of state’s office in the hopes of making it on the statewide ballot. This year, that number has skyrocketed to 330 and counting. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a first-term Republican and the state’s top election official, says the initiative petition process is getting out of hand. The time and resources spent on ballot summaries, signature verification, fiscal analysis and publication in the media go up every year along with the number of petitions. So he’s asking lawmakers to overhaul a process he says is being dominated by special interests, most notably by charging fees for filing initiative petitions and verifying signatures once they are collected. “Right now, we have individuals who are spending millions of dollars because they can’t get the laws that they want and they want to bypass the legislature,” Ashcroft said. “I think that’s inappropriate. We shouldn’t be subsidizing that with taxpayer dollars.”
North Carolina: After Supreme Court ruling, gerrymander challengers turn to state court for relief | News & Observer
Democrats and voters who filed the first lawsuit this decade challenging North Carolina lawmakers’ redistricting plans went back to state court on Wednesday, seven years after challenging the 2011 election maps, seeking relief from districts they contend still weaken the overall influence of black voters. The request comes the day after the U.S. Supreme Court partially granted a request from Republican lawmakers to block election lines drawn by a Stanford University law professor for four state House districts in Wake County and one House district in Mecklenburg County while they appealed a three-judge panel’s ruling. Republicans contended in the federal case that some of the legal questions should have been settled in state court because they involved questions about violations to the state constitution, but now they are speaking out against further proceedings there.
On Monday night, the Ohio state Senate did something truly unprecedented: With near-unanimous support from both Republicans and Democrats, the chamber approved Senate Resolution 5, a measure that would for the first time require bipartisan input and approval for federal congressional maps. The measure is expected to pass the state House today, and it will appear on the ballot in the May primary elections to get final approval from voters. As it stands, there are few state guidelines on federal redistricting in Ohio. As in most states, the power to create maps rests with the state legislature, which usually means that the party in power—right now, it’s the GOP—ends up calling the shots. There are also few requirements for community disclosure or involvement. The only real constraints that exist are those under federal court rulings and the Voting Rights Act, which prohibit racial gerrymandering and ensure districts have roughly the same populations. So far, the result of those limited rules has been a congressional map that, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, has consistently led to Republican partisan bias.
Pennsylvania: State Supreme Court releases gerrymandering opinion: 2011 map violates ‘free and equal’ elections | Philadelphia Inquirer
Pennsylvania’s congressional map, as adopted in 2011, violates the state constitution’s guarantee that “elections shall be free and equal,” the state Supreme Court said Wednesday in an opinion explaining its gerrymandering order overturning the map more than two weeks ago. “An election corrupted by extensive, sophisticated gerrymandering and partisan dilution of votes is not ‘free and equal,’ ” Justice Debra McCloskey Todd wrote for the majority. In such circumstances, a “power, civil or military,” to wit, the General Assembly, has in fact “interfere[d] to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” The opinion came just two days before the deadline for lawmakers to pass a new congressional district map and send it to Gov. Wolf for approval, after the high court declared Pennsylvania’s congressional map an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, drawn to benefit Republicans at Democrats’ expense.
South Dakota: House passes election reform bill opponents call ‘onslaught’ against initiative process | Argus Leader
South Dakota lawmakers advanced a set of proposals Wednesday aimed at blocking out-of-state influence over the process voters use to bring policy questions to the ballot. On the House floor and in committee, legislators approved bills that would restrict funding to ballot measure committees from outside the state, and require circulators to give up more information on petition forms and on the ballot. The bill’s sponsors said the proposals could block foreign groups that would aim to test policy in South Dakota, while opponents said the measures went too far and could inhibit South Dakotans’ abilities to bring issues to the ballot.
A Washington House committee is considering a bill that would allow people to register to vote and then cast ballots on the same day. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue). “If you look at the five other states that have same-day voter registration, you’ll see that they have increased their voter participation, in some cases, as much as 10%, which is significant by any measure.”
South America: E-voting firm Smartmatic could miss out on Brazilian and Venezuelan election | BNamericas
The printers developed by Venezuelan-owned e-voting firm Smartmatic have been rejected this week in a vote-casting compliance test carried out by Brazil’s top electoral court TSE. The test concluded that Smartmatic’s “engineering model” did not comply with the bidding requirements. While the QR codes printed by the Smartmatic model were read correctly by electronic devices, the proportions of the codes did not meet the requirements, TSE said. Smartmatic had won with a 67.3mn real-bid (US$20.7mn) a public tender held in January by TSE to provide 30,000 printers for Brazil’s general elections in October. Those printers are expected to be integrated to the same number of voting machines to give voters a paper copy of their vote. … Meanwhile, Smartmatic is also most certainly out of the April elections in the country where it began its operations: Venezuela.
The State Government has approved the use of VoteAssist, a computer-based application developed by the Western Australian Electoral Commission for its 2013 state election. The software uses specially designed computer terminals, headphones and a numeric keypad to provide audio prompts to guide the elector through the voting process. The Government passed legislation last year to…
Germany: Merkel passes major hurdle after party leaders agree on new coalition | The Washington Post
After a grueling all-night negotiating session, Germany’s two leading parties reached agreement Wednesday to once again form a governing coalition, after inconclusive elections in September left the country mired in political gridlock. The four months of wrangling and repeated failures to come up with a coalition have weakened Germany, and particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel, at a time when Europe is seeking a strong leader. The talks between Merkel’s bloc — an alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union — and the Social Democrats (SPD) extended past a self-imposed Sunday deadline and a two-day grace period into Wednesday morning, when party leaders finally overcame differences on key issues such as health care and labor policy.
Malaysia’s electoral authorities are rushing through new maps that critics say will further tilt the bias in favour of the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) at a general election expected within the next few months. Despite 16 months of protests and a record number of objections and court cases to declare the Election Commission’s (EC) proposals illegal, Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to table new maps in Parliament next month, the last session scheduled before polls must be held. The EC’s redelineation exercise came under fire when a first proposal was unveiled in September 2016 for worsening malapportionment – the difference in the number of voters between wards – and shifting voters to ensure more victories for BN, which surveys say is at its most unpopular since Datuk Seri Najib took over nine years ago.
Mexico: Tillerson and Democrats agree that Russia will try to influence Mexico’s elections with fake news | Miami Herald
Trump administration officials and Democrats in Congress cannot agree on almost anything, but they are increasingly voicing the same concern when it comes to Latin America: Russia will try to influence the upcoming elections in Mexico, Colombia and other countries in the region. After returning from a five-country Latin American tour, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday: “We see some of Russia’s fingerprints around elections that have occurred in Europe. … We are seeing similar activity in this hemisphere.” He added, “There are a number of important elections in this hemisphere this year.” Tillerson did not cite any specific Latin American country, but Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland — a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — told me in an interview Wednesday that he has no doubt Russian President Vladimir Putin will try to interfere in this year’s elections in Mexico and Colombia.
The Diaspora Voting Right Movement, a Nigerian Group based in the United Kingdom, on Wednesday called on the Federal Government to legalise Diaspora voting. Dr Philip Idaewor, the Convener of the group, said on the telephone from London that the clamour for Diaspora voting had been on for more than a decade. “ As women celebrate 100 years of voting rights in the United Kingdom, Nigerians in the Diaspora renew call for the right to vote in elections in Nigeria,” he said.
Editorials: As Vladimir Putin steals the Russian election, our leaders are shamefully silent | Simon Tisdall/The Guardian
Russia will vote in presidential elections next month that Vladimir Putin is certain to win. Consider that statement for a moment. An election implies a contest. So how can the current president, who has already served three terms and wielded power in the Kremlin continuously since 1999, be assured of victory in advance? The answer is that Russia’s is an election in name only. In truth it is a sham and a smokescreen, designed to confer democratic respectability on to a corrupt oligarchy. For Russians accustomed to unaccountable rule from on high, this is nothing new. More surprising is the supine acquiescence, bordering on complicity, of western democracies. Putin will win on 18 March because the system he created, politely known as “managed democracy”, removes all elements of surprise. His most credible challenger, Alexei Navalny (who in any case did not expect to win), has been banned from participation on specious legal grounds. Last month Navalny was arrested while urging an election boycott.