It’s been roughly two years since the first signs that Russia had launched an interference campaign aimed at the 2016 presidential race, and now the United States is hurtling toward a set of pivotal midterm elections in November. But while some states have made an earnest effort to secure the vote, the overall landscape looks troubling—and in some cases, it’s too late to fix it this year. While Russian meddling inspired many election officials to take cyberthreats seriously and double down on security, each state oversees its own elections process. In the limited window to make defense improvements before the midterms, regional officials can approach the risk in whatever way they see fit. As a result, some citizens will go to the polls in precincts and states that have audited their systems and plugged holes. Some will vote in places that have strong protections on digital election assets, like results-reporting websites and voter registration databases. Some will vote with paper ballots—that’s good—or on machines that automatically generate a paper backup. But election officials and security experts who have participated in or observed the scramble to improve defenses agree that most voters will encounter a mishmash, with some of these protections in place, and some still years away.
National: U.S. Spies, Seeking to Retrieve Cyberweapons, Paid Russian Peddling Trump Secrets | The New York Times
After months of secret negotiations, a shadowy Russian bilked American spies out of $100,000 last year, promising to deliver stolen National Security Agency cyberweapons in a deal that he insisted would also include compromising material on President Trump, according to American and European intelligence officials. The cash, delivered in a suitcase to a Berlin hotel room in September, was intended as the first installment of a $1 million payout, according to American officials, the Russian and communications reviewed by The New York Times. The theft of the secret hacking tools had been devastating to the N.S.A., and the agency was struggling to get a full inventory of what was missing. Several American intelligence officials said they made clear that they did not want the Trump material from the Russian, who was suspected of having murky ties to Russian intelligence and to Eastern European cybercriminals. He claimed the information would link the president and his associates to Russia. Instead of providing the hacking tools, the Russian produced unverified and possibly fabricated information involving Mr. Trump and others, including bank records, emails and purported Russian intelligence data.
Donald Trump is blocking the release of the Democrats’ rebuttal to a Republican memo that accused the FBI of a politically biased investigation into the president’s ties to Russia. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, released a letter Friday night arguing that disclosure of the Democrats’ memo would “create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests” and claiming that Trump was “inclined to declassify” the document, but could not at this time due to “classified and especially sensitive passages”. Democrats on the House intelligence committee, which is investigating Russian meddling into the US election, authored the new memo, which they said provided context for a four-page memo authored by Republican Devin Nunes, a close ally of Donald Trump.
Alabama lawmakers are pitching nearly two dozen pieces of legislation to retool the state’s elections process. The effort arrives ahead of a 2018 election that will see all of the state’s constitutional offices and legislative seats on the ballot. It also follows one of the major political upsets of modern era when Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in December’s special U.S. Senate contest. The most notable of the changes would eliminate future special U.S. Senate elections like the one that Jones won. Proponents say that this will save the state millions of dollars; opponents say it will subvert the democratic process. A floor fight could occur in the Alabama Senate next week.
The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office has begun revising its website and may also change its forms to make clear that first-time felons automatically get their voting rights restored when they complete their sentences, including paying any fines and restitution. The Campaign Legal Center found that the automatic process wasn’t clear on forms, which misleadingly…
Early voter season is in full swing and now some are raising the question about election equipment. Many counties are using systems more than a decade old. Some fear it could impact votes. It’s important to note, voter machines are only used twice a year. By law, they have to be checked and repaired constantly before use. Still, the non-profit Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is calling for a statewide assessment. They say outdated technology is a threat to election security, especially since cyberattacks are more common. There hasn’t been a statewide effort to update voter machines since the federal government granted the state $2 billion in 2002. Local governments are responsible for paying and updating their systems.
Legislation to ensure ballots are counted even if the voters who cast them die won’t advance in the House. The bill – which easily cleared the Senate – would require absentee ballots to be counted if the person who cast the ballot dies before Election Day. But Attorney General Curtis Hill contends the measure is unconstitutional. A non-binding opinionissued by his office says a person ceases to be a resident if they die – and the Indiana Constitution requires residency to vote.
Lyon County Clerk Tammy Vopat asked commissioners to consider investing in new voting equipment in the coming weeks during a meeting at the courthouse Thursday morning. The equipment which is currently being used in the county is reaching the end of its life. Vopat said the voting machines currently used by the county are 18 years old, and used in conjunction with a tabulating machine well over 30 years old. Vopat provided commissioners with information about equipment from two companies which have been certified by the State of Kansas and are used by other counties in the region. “We have been working very, very hard and for a long time researching election equipment,” Vopat said. “There have been some big counties that have done that and we’ve been watching and taking notes, and listening about what they did, how they did and what they liked and what they didn’t like. That’s been in the process now for probably three years.”
Six teenagers’ entrance into the race for Kansas governor has spurred action from lawmakers who would like to see only adults run for executive office. Current Kansas law doesn’t impose a minimum age requirement on candidates for statewide office. This past summer, Jack Bergeson, 16, of Wichita, discovered the lack of an age requirement. He decided to run for office — and he set a trend. Six teens are seeking the state’s top office, and another — Lucy Steyer, of Lenexa — is running for secretary of state. Consternation about the number of teens in already crowded 2018 races inspired a bill discussed Wednesday by the House Elections Committee that would set a minimum age of 18 for candidates running for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer and state commissioner of insurance. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor would also have to live in Kansas for four years before seeking office, but the bill wouldn’t take effect until after this fall’s election. The committee could vote Monday.
Editorials: Ohio’s redistricting fight suggests how principles and politics can mesh | Thomas Suddes/Cleveland Plain Dealer
Yes, the legislature’s approval of a proposed reform of congressional “redistricting” (Substitute Senate Joint Resolution 5) was a good thing. But make no mistake: Inside the General Assembly, good government takes a back seat to self-interest. Ohioans will vote SJR 5 up or down on May 8. SJR 5 is a good if not perfect plan. Every single state senator present for last week’s Senate vote on SJR 5, Republicans and Democrats alike, voted for SJR 5. The Senate tally was 31-0. The House’s count was 83-10. As Statehouse bystanders noted, the legislature likely wouldn’t have passed SJR 5 but for the extraordinary work of the non-partisan Fair Districts = Fair Elections coalition, paced by the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio. The coalition’s been gathering signatures to place its redistricting reform plan on November’s ballot – and aims to do just that if voters don’t ratify SJR 5 in May.
Pennsylvania: Governor wants a paper trail on all voting machines, but money is an issue | Digital Trends
The term “voter fraud” seemed to be as ubiquitous as the candidates’ names in the 2016 presidential race, and now Pennsylvania is hoping to do something about it. On Friday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered counties planning on replacing their electronic voting systems with machines that would maintain a paper trail, with hopes to guard against interference in a future election. According to the governor’s office, these new systems will improve the security of voting systems, and will also simplify the process of auditing votes. The addition of the paper backup is, in some ways, an antiquated yet effective solution to a decidedly modern problem.
Pennsylvania: Top Republicans in House, Senate submit congressional map to Gov. Wolf | Philadelphia Inquirer
Facing a deadline imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the legislature’s two top Republicans late Friday submitted to the governor a new statewide map of congressional districts to replace boundaries the justices ruled were unconstitutional. If approved, the map submitted by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) would result in significant changes for the areas surrounding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The proposed map “complies fully” with the court’s order, the pair said in a joint statement. But within roughly an hour of its public release, top Democrats in the House and the Senate were urging Democratic Gov. Wolf to “reject it outright.”
Verified Voting Blog: Pennsylvania Takes Critical Steps Toward Election Security by Purchasing Voter-Verifiable Paper Systems
Marian K. Schneider: “We applaud this decision today to increase the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections and its move to safeguard elections.” The following is a statement from Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting, formerly Deputy Secretary for Elections and Administration in the Pennsylvania Department of State, on Pennsylvania’s announcement that it will no longer…
The list of voting rights challenges Texas is fighting in court lengthens this week with the beginning of a federal trial in a case challenging the way the state elects judges to its highest courts. As part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of seven Latino voters and a civil rights organization, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi will consider whether the statewide method of electing judges on the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals dilutes the voting power of Texas Latinos and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates.
Editorials: Election audits should be the rule, not the exception in Wisconsin | Karen McKim/WiscNews
We use many computers in our daily business — ATMs, grocery scanners and more. Government uses computers to track our drivers’ licenses, calculate our property tax bills and more. But concerns about hacking focus only on the computers that count our votes. Ever wonder why that is? Voting machines are no riskier than any other computer. We insert a deposit into an ATM and expect the computer to credit the dollars to the right account. We insert a ballot into a voting machine and expect the computer to credit the votes to the right candidates. Before each election, Wisconsin’s clerks practice the same sort of safeguards that are routine elsewhere. Like bankers with their ATMs, they practice the best security they can. They test the equipment before putting it into use.
Wyoming: Secretary of State Ed Murray resigns; move caps dramatic fall for Cheyenne politician | Casper Star Tribune
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray announced his resignation late Friday afternoon, effective immediately. Murray said he has been “devastated” by two recent accusations of sexual misconduct and that he is now “unable to focus entirely on serving the good people of Wyoming.” … The resignation offers a dramatic conclusion to a two-month period during which the Cheyenne businessman went from the likely frontrunner to replace Gov. Matt Mead to a private citizen. Murray’s troubles began in mid-December when a woman named Tatiana Maxwell accused him in a public Facebook post of sexually assaulting her in the early 1980s when Murray and Maxwell were both working at a Cheyenne law firm. Murray strenuously denied the allegation.
The demobilised Colombian rebel group Farc says it is suspending political campaigning for upcoming elections following threats to its candidates. Farc signed a peace deal with the government in 2016 and announced last year it was forming a political party. However, protesters have disrupted its rallies, particularly those for leader Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, who is running for president. On Friday the party demanded “security guarantees” for its candidates.
Fabricio Alvarado and Carlos Alvarado are now competing to win Costa Rica’s presidency in the second round of voting. This past Sunday’s election showed a profound change in Costa Rica’s political map and the popular response to the country’s marginalized areas. The election also confirmed the huge impact of religion-driven voters, who represented half a million votes (24,9%) in representation of the growing and dynamic evangelic sector combined with the indispensable support of conservative forces within traditional Catholicism, the majority in Costa Rica. The former journalist, Pentecostal preacher and legislator Fabricio Alvarado now symbolizes something much bigger than just his small party, National Restoration, which was founded by the pastor Carlos Avendaño after political disagreements with former legislator Justo Orozco. He also represents the evangelical churches that work tirelessly through prayers and social work to promote a “pro-life and pro-family” political agenda, which the Catholic Church has boosted less and less with each election.
Since at least 2010, the Russian state-sponsored hacking group Cozy Bear has been implicated in cyber attacks around the world, penetrating networks belonging to the U.S. State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Democratic National Committee, and targeting other systems around the world from Norway to Brazil. Their targets have often seemingly struggled to keep up with the attacks–the Pentagon in 2015 reportedly took thousands of unclassified email accounts offline for at least 10 days to recover from a hack by the group, and Cozy Bear is said to have had access to DNC systems for about a year before being discovered. But recent reports reveal that the Russian group, believed to be tied to the Russian FSB–an intelligence bureau seen as today’s successor to the Soviet-era KGB–was itself the victim of a startlingly successful hack, carried out by a much smaller nation.
Sri Lanka: Election Losses Test Sri Lanka’s Leader, and the Country’s Direction | The New York Times
Local elections across Sri Lanka on Saturday were supposed to be about small issues, like installing street lighting for some neighborhoods and improving garbage sweeping in others. But the country’s first post-war national government has stagnated, with the governing coalition partners at each other’s throats. Suddenly, the local vote has become a referendum on the national government’s performance. And, to an extent, the results of the elections may signal what direction the island nation takes in its still-fragile transition from decades of a civil war that killed as many as 100,000 people before it ended in 2009.
The Venezuelan government’s decision to plow ahead with early presidential elections over the objections of the opposition risks spurring more international sanctions and exacerbating an economic and social crisis driving increasing numbers of Venezuelans into exile, analysts said Thursday. Opposition politicians were meeting the day after officials announced the April 22 vote, deciding whether to challenge socialist President Nicolas Maduro in an election that several foreign nations have already vowed not to recognize — or to boycott it. They accuse Maduro’s government of rigging recent elections and making a fair race impossible, in part by barring the most popular opposition parties and candidates. International condemnation of the snap election has begun pouring in.