Thirteen Russians have been criminally charged for interfering in the 2016 US election to help Donald Trump, the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, announced on Friday. Mueller’s office said 13 Russians and three Russian entities, including the notorious state-backed “troll farm” the Internet Research Agency, had been indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington DC. A 37-page indictment alleged that the Russians’ operations “included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” his Democratic opponent. Mueller alleged that Russian operatives “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign”, but the indictment did not address the question of whether anyone else in Trump’s team had knowingly colluded. … The Russians allegedly posed as Americans to operate bogus social media accounts, buy advertisements and stage political rallies. They stole the identities of real people in the US to post online and built computer systems in the US to hide the Russian origin of their activity, according prosecutors.
National: As foreign hackers plot next attack, Washington struggles to shore up vulnerable voting systems | Los Angeles Times
Even as it is consumed by political fallout from Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Washington is still struggling to respond to what many officials see as an imminent national security threat: a network of voting systems alarmingly vulnerable to foreign attack. As hackers abroad plot increasingly brazen and sophisticated assaults, the United States’ creaky polling stations and outdated voter registration technology are not up to the task of fighting them off, according to elections officials and independent experts. Senior national security officials have repeatedly said that the United States should prepare for more foreign efforts to interfere with elections. On Tuesday, President Trump’s top intelligence advisor warned a Senate committee that Russia is moving to build on its earlier efforts to interfere with U.S. elections, which included a sustained campaign of propaganda and the unleashing of cyberoperatives.
Editorials: We need to hack-proof our elections. An old technology can help. | Michael Chertoff and Grover Norquist/The Washington Post
The nation’s top intelligence officers warned Congress this week that Russia is continuing its efforts to target the 2018 elections. This should come as no surprise: A few months ago, the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that hackers had targeted their election systems in 2016. Yet Congress still has not passed legislation to meaningfully address election cybersecurity. Time is running out. Lawmakers need to act immediately if we are to protect the 2018 and 2020 elections. … We believe there is a framework to secure our elections that can win bipartisan support, minimize costs to taxpayers and respect the constitutional balance between state and federal authorities in managing elections. In September, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, introduced legislation that would help solve the problem with an elegantly simple fix: paper ballots.
Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing millions of dollars for an upgrade of old voting machines, long sought by counties. The money would come as counties transition to a much cheaper voting system, mostly based on mail-in ballots. In a large warehouse at the Sacramento County voting head office, staff are carting, unloading and scanning in 87 pallets of equipment, including new color printers and touch screens for voters with disabilities. In another aisle, county Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine lifts the leather cover off a hulking, gray hunk of metal, the current equipment.
Voting Blogs: Keeping Things Straight: Michigan’s Fight Over Straight-Ticket Voting | State of Elections
For over 125 years, Michigan residents had the option of killing many birds with one stone, at least at the ballot box. This option is called straight-ticket voting, and it allows voters to fill in one bubble on a ballot for Democrats or Republicans, instead of filling in individual bubbles for every race. Proponents of straight-ticket voting claim that it makes the voting process faster, which helps eliminate long lines at the polls. In January 2016, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that eliminated Michigan’s straight-ticket voting option.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper won a big legal decision over Republican legislative leaders last month when the N.C. Supreme Court sided with him in his lawsuit seeking to nullify a GOP-backed restructuring of the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement. Since then, GOP legislators decided to pass the third piece of legislation in 15 months that alters the board’s makeup. Cooper railed against those latest changes but announced that he will let them become law anyway. The litigation isn’t over, and candidate filing this year began last week still without any seated elections and ethics board members.
Ohio lawmakers are debating how much money to give counties to replace aging voting machines, but those funds aren’t expected to be part of the state capital budget. County officials initially had hoped to see money for voting machines included in the two-year capital budget that provides funding for more than $2 billion for infrastructure projects across the state, including university facilities, schools, roads and bridges, and smaller, community projects. The capital budget is expected to pass by April 1, and the goal for GOP leaders in the House and Senate is to introduce a bill within the next two weeks that already has the agreement of both chambers, allowing for a quick, smooth process.
The United States urged the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday to scrap plans to use electronic voting for the first time in elections this year, saying it risked undermining the credibility of the historic polls. After much delay, the DR Congo will hold elections on December 23 that are expected to pave the way to the first peaceful transfer of power in the vast mineral-rich country, ending President Joseph Kabila’s 17-year-rule. US Ambassador Nikki Haley told a Security Council informal meeting that the election commission’s plan to use electronic voting for the first time posed “an enormous risk. These elections must be held by paper ballot so there is no question by the Congolese people about the result,” said Haley. “The US has no appetite to support an electronic voting system.”
Egypt’s western allies have been urged to denounce the country’s “farcical” presidential election, after authorities detained a top anti-corruption official and the former running mate of a challenger to President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Fourteen international and Egyptian rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, condemned the forthcoming March presidential elections, accusing the Sisi government of having “trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections” in his bid for a second term.
There’s a Catch-22 when it comes to whether Congress will address the issue of voting security in time for this year’s elections. On the one hand, the threat posed by Russian hackers has brought significant attention to the issue, leading to the introduction of several pieces of bipartisan legislation to boost the nation’s cybersecurity. But some congressional Republicans worry that raising the Russian threat could call into question the legitimacy of President Trump’s election, so they don’t want to touch it. … Academic researchers and hackers at last year’s DefCon hacking conference showed that voting machines can be penetrated easily, often within minutes. The exercise drew considerable attention, but Lawson emphasizes that the experiment’s results wouldn’t be replicated in real-world conditions. Most of the machines at the conference weren’t certified for use in the U.S., she says, while poll workers would have to be napping for hackers to open them up.
With the threat of Russian interference continuing to loom over American elections, U.S. intelligence authorities are arming state officials with classified updates on risks to their electoral systems ahead of this year’s midterm races. Election officials from all 50 states will receive classified briefings on Friday and Sunday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement on Thursday. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will join in the sessions. The meetings follow a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, where Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers that this year’s elections were a “potential target” for Russian interference. But he acknowledged under questioning that “there’s no single agency in charge” of blocking such meddling even after Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The admission by President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer that he sent $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, who once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, has raised potential legal questions ranging from breach of contract to ethics violations. The lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, told The New York Times on Tuesday that he had used his own funds to facilitate the payment to the actress, Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, adding that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign had reimbursed him for the payment. He insisted that the payment was legal. The Wall Street Journal first reported last month that Mr. Cohen had arranged the payment soon before the 2016 election, as Ms. Clifford was considering speaking publicly about the purported affair.
Editorials: The threat to voting is real. The response is in Congress’s hands. | The Washington Post
The intelligence community’s top brass made one thing clear before a Senate panel on Tuesday: “We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen and other means to influence, to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said. Russia, he continued, sees its past efforts as successful “and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” It says a lot that such truth-telling should seem remarkable. But for an administration run by a man who regularly stokes doubt about such facts, this was a refreshing dose of honesty from a group that included several of President Trump’s appointees.
Editorials: There’s another way to solve gerrymandering. It’s as simple as cake. | Wesley Pegden and Ariel D. Procaccia/The Washington Post
Once a relatively obscure phenomenon, gerrymandering is having its moment. In the past year, there have been legal challenges to election district lines in Wisconsin, Maryland, North Carolina and in our home state of Pennsylvania. Regardless of the outcome of these cases, it’s clear the methods we use to draw our political maps are broken. Where new maps are drawn by state legislatures, majority parties have few checks on their ability to shape districts as they please, creating a circular process that keeps them in power, even when winning a minority of statewide votes. One alternative is to give responsibility to independent commissions, as states such as Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington have done. But this solution hinges on having workable procedures to identify truly independent commissioners who can resist manipulation from savvy politicians.
Republican leaders in the Arizona Legislature are pushing a proposal to dramatically overhaul the independent commission that draws 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. Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s proposal would expand the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission from five to eight members, all appointed by the Legislature. Three would be Democrats, three Republicans and two independents.
In this age of cyber theft and Russian hackers breaking down digital firewalls from the other side of the globe, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill wants to make it harder to steal Connecticut voter identities. Merrill this year will ask the General Assembly to scrub voter birth dates from registration records, while giving people the option of requesting that their information be kept from public scrutiny. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in her Capitol office, Merrill said that some hackers can glean enough information to threaten peoples’ identities, while others can sell voter lists – available for $300 – to marketers.
Three and a half months ago, Maine legislators passed a bill that provoked instant pushback from ranked choice voting (RCV) supporters. The result was an apparently successful bid to repeal portions of that law. Now the Legislature may be faced with a new task related to changing Maine’s vote-count system: funding it. A people’s veto petition to repeal the bill delaying the implementation of RCV to 2021 was submitted to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office Feb. 2. The effort appears to have enough signatures to send the measure to a June referendum.
State officials are making a concerted effort to revamp Minnesota’s defenses against cyber attacks—a preemptive initiative for the 2018 election season and beyond. Secretary of State Steve Simon made his annual 87-county tour of the state, stopping in Brainerd last week to tout new developments to the state’s cyber security systems. Under his guidance, the state has mobilized a cyber security team, hired consultants to analyze cyber security improvements and partnered with agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to address areas of weakness.
A bid to recount the votes cast in the city’s referendum on charter change has failed. State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Nolan ruled on Feb. 6 that “the petitioner presents no facts to support or justify” a recount of the November 2017 vote because there is no law that requires the Saratoga County Board of Elections to do so when the vote margin is slim. Gordon Boyd, a member of the now defunct Charter Review Commission, was looking for a recount after the proposal to update the city’s 100-year-old commission form of government was defeated by 10 votes.
Lawyers for a disability rights group are threatening to sue the state for failing to provide voter registration services to Texans with disabilities who obtain job training from state agencies, a violation of federal law, according to a letter sent Monday afternoon. The letter, from lawyers with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and the Texas Civil Rights Project, states that under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, Texas is mandated to make it easier for disabled people to register to vote if they receive job training from state agencies.
When Colombia struck a peace deal two years ago, the formula to end the western hemisphere’s longest civil conflict seemed simple: in return for handing in their weapons, leaders of the Marxist Farc guerrilla group would be able to run for office in elections this year. But nothing has proved simple when it comes to resolving a conflict that has claimed 200,000 lives, displaced millions and still inflames raw emotions. Although the fighting has not re-started, both the peace formula and Colombia’s democratic credentials are being severely tested ahead of presidential elections in May, thanks to a particularly poisonous campaign.
The chairmen of seven political parties launched a campaign on Monday that seeks to mobilise the public to vote in the presidential election, scheduled for 26-28 March. In a statement issued following a meeting at the Wafd Party’s headquarters on 11 February political leaders said “a central operation room” will be formed in order to mobilise citizens in all governorates to cast their ballots. Yasser Qoura, assistant secretary-general of the Wafd Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the operation room will start work next week. “The campaign is a response to those who are calling for a boycott. We want as many citizens as possible to participate and vote,” he said.
The National Indigenous Congress’ anti-capitalist, feminist and Indigenous candidate will most likely not make it to the ballots. Feb. 18 marks the deadline for gathering enough signatures to be registered as an independent candidate in Mexico. As of now, just a few of them will appear on the ballots. This is the first time Mexico is allowing independent candidates for the presidential elections, and the registering process proved to be discriminatory in more than one way. Of a total of six women and 34 men registered as aspiring independent candidates for the 2018 presidential elections, only three of them –Jaime Rodriguez “El Bronco,” Margarita Zavala and Armando Rios Piter – will be eligible.
Russian authorities blocked opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s website on Thursday a month before a presidential election, a move Navalny said was designed to blunt his campaign for a boycott of what he says is a sham vote. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, said it had ordered telecoms operators to block parts of Navalny’s site because he had ignored a request to remove material covered in an injunction obtained by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska said his claim was related to the dissemination of false allegations about him based on leaked private information and was designed to protect his right to privacy.
United Kingdom: Voting age could be cut to 16 before next general election, says senior Tory | Evening Standard
A historic lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16 could be enacted before the next general election, a senior Conservative predicted today. Sir Peter Bottomley said there was “growing” support among Tory MPs for the reform, which is currently opposed by Theresa May’s Government. “It’s a question of when rather than whether it is going to happen,” the former minister told the Standard. Asked if there was enough backing for it to be made law in the current Parliament, the veteran MP said: “I think it would probably carry. Labour would vote in favour of it, so would every minority party and a growing number of Conservatives support it.”