The U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election. In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” Jeh Johnson, who was DHS secretary during the Russian intrusions, said, “2016 was a wake-up call and now it’s incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again.”
If anyone knows how easily voting can be disrupted, it’s a county election supervisor in the state of Florida. That’s one reason several dozen of them gathered in Orlando recently to discuss ways to protect against the most recent threat — cyberattacks by Russia or others intent on disrupting U.S. elections. Marion County elections supervisor Wesley Wilcox said he realizes the threat has evolved far beyond the butterfly ballots and hanging chads that upended the 2000 presidential race. And even beyond the lone hacker. “It’s no longer the teenager in his basement eating Cheetos that’s trying to get into my system,” said Wilcox. “There are now nation states that are, in a coordinated effort, trying to do something.” CIA Director Mike Pompeo is the latest intelligence official to warn the Russians will likely try to interfere in this year’s elections, as they did in 2016. And Florida was among at least 21 states that intelligence agencies say had their election systems probed by Russian hackers during the last election cycle.
This week, the U.S. government confirmed that Russian hackers infiltrated voting systems in several states, having targeted 21 of them. While there is currently no evidence suggesting any votes were changed, a hostile foreign power did gain access to voter registration databases — the vital foundation of election integrity. After all, if you control who can and cannot vote, you control a democracy. America’s foolish experiment with digital voting processes must end. The Kremlin — or other hostile foreign actors — will certainly strike again. It’s time for good old-fashioned paper to make a comeback. Researchers at Princeton University have shown that they can pick the lock on voting machines in seven seconds. In minutes, they could have replaced the machine’s chip with a malicious one, ensuring that voters who voted for candidate A were recorded as having voted for candidate B. Thankfully, their demonstrations were just for research. But they could have been real.
California: Sacramento Bee Leaks 19.5 Million California Voter Records, Promptly Compromised by Hackers | Gizmodo
Last month, a local California newspaper left more than 19 million voter records exposed online. Gizmodo confirmed this week that the records were compromised during an apparent ransomware attack. The Sacramento Bee said in a statement that a firewall protecting its database was not restored during routine maintenance last month, leaving the 19,501,258 voter files publicly accessible. Additionally, the names, home addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of 52,873 Sacramento Bee subscribers were compromised. “We take this incident seriously and have begun efforts to notify each of the individuals on the contact list and to provide them resources to help guard against potential misuse of their personal contact information,” the paper said in a statement. “We are also working with the Secretary of State’s office to share with them the details of this intrusion.”
Florida lawmakers want to expand the use of digital voting and tallying machines. Many of the state’s election managers are behind the plan. But critics don’t want to leave the paper ballot behind. … Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley supports the bill. He says digital recounts would be more effective and efficient. “We would’ve not only been able to find the paper very quickly because of the digital ballot sorting that is inherent in this audit system, the great power of it, it’s very visual and transparent. We could’ve seen the problem ballots, assessed the images. And if the county commission or canvasing board so desired, they could have immediately said, ‘Let’s go see these 60 ballots or these 38 ballots’ or whatever it was that were in dispute, and we could’ve pulled the paper very easily out of the box,”Earley said.
North Carolina: Supreme Court Issues Partial Stay in North Carolina Voting Case | The New York Times
The Supreme Court partly granted on Tuesday a request from North Carolina Republicans to block a voting map drawn by a federal court there. That court had interceded after finding that a map drawn by state lawmakers for the General Assembly had relied too heavily on race and had violated state laws. The Supreme Court’s order, which was brief and gave no reasons, partly blocked that decision while the justices consider whether to hear an appeal in the case. The justices seemed to split into three camps: Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they would have granted the entire request; Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have granted none of it; and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan and Neil M. Gorsuch appeared to take the middle position.
Ohio: Senate passes bipartisan congressional redistricting plan, sending it to the House | Cleveland Plain Dealer
The Ohio Senate on Monday passed a bipartisan proposal to change how Ohio draws its congressional districts, advancing the proposed constitutional amendment one step closer to appearing on the May ballot. Advocates for redistricting reform say the proposed changes will curb the legislature’s ability to gerrymander districts to favor a political party or incumbent. The Senate approved a revised Senate Joint Resolution 5 in a 31-0 vote. The House will vote on the resolution Tuesday, one day before the deadline to place a measure on the May ballot. “Hopefully this is an issue that will serve Ohioans for many decades to come,” Sen. Matt Huffman, the Lima Republican leading the effort, said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is ordering counties that plan to replace their electronic voting systems to buy machines that leave a paper trail. The Democrat’s administration says the move will increase the security of voting systems and make balloting easier to audit. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states where most voters use antiquated machines that store votes electronically without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the vote.
Joshua Wong and two other leading Hong Kong democracy activists won an appeal against their jail terms at the city’s highest court Tuesday in a case seen as a test for the independence of the city’s judiciary, which some fear is under pressure from Beijing. But the trio warned it was not a time for celebration because the city still faced threats to its freedoms. Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were jailed in August last year for their role in the mass pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests of 2014 after Hong Kong’s government pushed for more severe sentences. A lower court had originally given Wong and Law community service orders and Chow a suspended sentence. But after the government’s intervention they were jailed for between six and eight months by the Court of Appeal. All three activists were later bailed pending their appeal.
Egypt’s prosecutor-general has ordered an official investigation into a number of opposition politicians who are boycotting next month’s presidential election, as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi looks set to extend his term. Nabil Sadeq, Egypt’s prosecutor general, said in a statement on Monday that 13 individuals may be summoned to the Giza office for “incitement against the state” and attempting to “overthrow the regime”. This comes as opposition parties called for a boycott of the March vote last month. Among those to be investigated is Hamdeen Sabahi, Sisi’s only rival in the 2014 presidential elections.
Voting Blogs: Nation’s Voting Infrastructure Outdated, Vulnerable to Cyberattacks | Brennan Center for Justice
Election officials across the country say they are heading into the 2018 midterms with outdated voting machines and computer systems, and many of them do not have the resources to replace them. In response to a nationwide survey distributed by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, 229 officials in 33 states reported they need to replace their voting machines by 2020. Most of these officials do not currently have enough funds for those replacements. The Brennan Center says these old machines are more vulnerable to breakdown, malfunction, and hacking. “Too much of the nation’s election infrastructure is crumbling,” said Larry Norden, deputy director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center. “More than two-thirds of officials who told us they need to replace their machines before 2020 also said they have inadequate funds to do so. Continuing to use this equipment not only makes our elections more vulnerable to breakdown and malfunction, but to hacking as well. Election officials across the country are ringing the alarm. And so far, lawmakers have failed to listen.”
House Democrats on Thursday urged the Judiciary Committee to hold “immediate hearings” on the cyber threats facing America’s electoral system. The gatherings are necessary because the Justice Department “appears to have taken little — if any — action to secure our election systems” in the wake of a 2016 digital meddling campaign that intelligence officials have pinned on Russia, said Democrats on the panel in a letter sent to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). The request is the latest in a string of Democratic actions meant to pressure Republicans on Moscow’s election meddling.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to issue a report on vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system — the first such product of the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the intelligence committee is working on the report and hopes to complete it by March. Even after it’s completed, however, the report will still need to be vetted to ensure that it does not put classified information at risk. Still, the committee hopes to release the document ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Journal that the report will “hopefully” be released before the primaries begin.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sounded an alarm this week: The Russians are already meddling in the 2018 midterm elections. “The point is that if their intention is to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that,” Tillerson told Fox News. “I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia, look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it, and you need to stop.” A new poll shows that a clear majority of Americans believe Russia will try to meddle in the next U.S. election. But Tillerson also noted that Russia’s tactics for interfering in U.S. politics are constantly changing. A bipartisan effort is shedding new light on how Russian methods evolve.
The polls have opened for Illinois’ primary election, as voters were allowed to start casting early ballots Thursday. But the state’s election technology needs to be overhauled, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Sarah Brune is the group’s executive director. She says voting machines in some of the state’s election jurisdictions are as much as 15 years old. “Think about the computer you use every day; it’s not 15 years old, because it wouldn’t work if it was,” she said.
Early voting for the primary election is supposed to start Thursday across Illinois, but millions of voters won’t have the option because of pending candidate challenges. The state’s four most-populous counties have delayed the start of in-person early voting, with Cook and DuPage waiting until as late as Feb. 21 in order to get final decisions on several candidate challenges. Lake County plans to start Feb. 16 and Will County election officials say they’ll keep voters updated on their website and hope to be ready within days of a decision. But elsewhere, particularly in smaller counties downstate, clerks proceeded Thursday, offering caveats to voters who want to cast ballots. The result could be confusion for voters.
Sen. John Murante told the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday that a plan requiring Nebraskans to show identification before they vote would not exclude any legally entitled voters from casting a ballot. As part of Murante’s latest proposal (LB1066) to secure the state’s elections, as he put it, Nebraskans would also be entitled to receive a free government ID they could show to poll workers. LB1066 would work toward two goals Murante, of Gretna, said he wants to see accomplished in the state: preventing illegal votes from being cast while not turning anyone away from the polls who is eligible to vote.
Nevada: State Senate recall battle makes first stop in court; initial decision could come mid-February | The Nevada Independent
Arguments over the high stakes effort to recall two Democratic state Senators — and possibly flip control of Carson City’s upper house — came to court for the first time on Wednesday, but a decision is unlikely to emerge until later this month. The four-hour hearing ended with no clear indication on how District Court Judge Jerry Wiese — who asked only a handful of questions during the hearing — would rule on the case. But it provided a preview from attorney Marc Elias (a prominent national Democratic attorney) and Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, arguing the case through his private law practice, of the first of many legal arguments set to play out before any special recall election can be called.
Pennsylvania: As deadline looms, Republicans consider new strategy for congressional maps | Philadelphia Inquirer
It’s official: The state legislature will not pass a new congressional map before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Friday deadline. But the Republican leaders who control both chambers weren’t ready Thursday to cede the redrawing of districts to the state’s highest court, which has a Democratic majority. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) were considering submitting a draft map to the governor Friday, staffers said. Then they could call lawmakers back in the coming days to vote on that map, or a different one. “We’re blazing new ground here, and we’re trying to meet as many markers as we possibly can,” said Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Scarnati and the Senate’s top lawyer. “I don’t sit here and say this is the perfect solution, but we’re trying to do the best we can.”
The House Government Operations Committee approved two bills Wednesday that may drastically affect voting in Utah. HB35, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem, would create a pilot program that will make it an option to implement rank-choice and approval forms of voting in certain nonpartisan municipal elections. In rank-choice voting, the voter ranks multiple candidates for one seat from most favorable to least favorable with a numbering system. Approval voting differs from rank-choice voting in that voters mark the candidates they approve and leave the others blank.
Virginia: Voters quietly drop lawsuit requesting new 28th District election | Fredericksburg Free Lance Star
The legal fight over an error-tainted House of Delegates election in Fredericksburg came to an official end this week. Nearly a month after the General Assembly convened, a Democratic-aligned law firm dropped its federal appeal challenging the outcome of the 28th District race between Republican Del. Bob Thomas and Democrat Joshua Cole. At least 147 voters in Fredericksburg and Stafford County had been assigned to the wrong House district in a contest Thomas won by just 73 votes, according to state elections officials. Katie Baker, a spokeswoman for House Democrats, said in an email that they look forward to winning the 28th District seat in 2019, when Cole plans to challenge Thomas again.
China: Why Joshua, Nathan, Alex and the Umbrella Movement would be an excellent choice for the Nobel Peace Prize | Hong Kong Free Press
It is very heartening that twelve United States lawmakers nominated Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and the Umbrella Movement for the Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination comes at a time when the pro-democracy movement is under sustained attack by the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong government. Their primary means of attack are criminal prosecutions of pro-democracy leaders and activists and disqualifications from candidacy and elected office. Through these means, they have barred all groups which grew out of the Umbrella Movement from participating in the formal political system and are attempting to destroy the groups they find the most threatening. They intend especially to intimidate young people against getting involved in politics, in the classic Communist ploy of “killing the chicken to scare the monkeys.”
Nepal’s Communist parties have secured a majority of seats in the upper house of parliament, the election commission said Thursday, paving the way for the leftist alliance to form the next government two months after historic general elections. The alliance of the main Communist party and former Maoist rebels won a strong majority in the indirectly elected upper house, according to results announced Thursday. The results of the national vote held late last year have not yet been confirmed, but an incomplete tally suggests the alliance also secured a majority in the directly elected lower house.
South Africa: Democracy and violence – the threat to South Africa’s elections | Martin Plaut/Daily Maverick
The ruptures of the apartheid era have been carried over into post-apartheid society, leaving the country with a tragic reputation for beatings, murder and the abuse of women and children. Police record some 650,000 victims of violence a year. As a recent headline put it: “South Africa is one of the most violent and unsafe countries in the world.” There is little trust in the police and more than 500,000 private security guards are employed by firms and individuals at a cost of $3.7-billion a year – more than twice the number of police officers. This climate of violence is carried over into political life, yet outside of South Africa this is little understood. Most international observers assume the miracle of the reconciliation ushered in by Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the Rainbow Nation still prevails. Yet the evidence is that political murders and intimidation now disfigure South African politics. Violence and intimidation threaten the legitimacy of the 2019 general election. Unless these issues are recognised and confronted there is a risk that the democracy for which so much was sacrificed will be undermined.
Venezuela: Few Challengers in Sight, Venezuela Sets April 22 for Presidential Vote | The New York Times
The Venezuelan government said Wednesday that it would hold a snap presidential election on April 22, putting the unpopular administration of President Nicolás Maduro in the hands of voters at a time when most top challengers have been barred from running. The announcement was made by Tibisay Lucena, the president of the country’s electoral commission, who said the date had been chosen after negotiations with opposition politicians had failed to reach an agreement about how to conduct the election fairly. The election will allow Venezuelans to “freely decide their fate,” she said. “We are committed, as always, to our constitutional task, to guarantee the right conditions so that democratic differences are settled through an efficient, transparent and balanced vote.”