Top election officials from across the country grappled with a delicate question this weekend: How do you tackle the threat of election interference, and be transparent in doing so, without further eroding the public’s trust in the voting process? “I’m always trying to straddle the line between sounding the alarm on this issue and being alarmist,” said Steve Simon, Minnesota’s Secretary of State. The four-day annual meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, which featured a new classified briefing from national intelligence officials, came at the end of an extraordinary week. On Tuesday, the nation’s top intelligence officials told Congress to expect Russian interference in the upcoming midterm elections and beyond. Three days later, the Justice Department’s Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, filed an indictment against 13 Russians, which laid out in granular detail the size, scope, and complexity of a covert Russian disinformation campaign in 2016.
Ten months before the United States votes in its first major election since the 2016 presidential contest, U.S. state election officials huddled in Washington this weekend to swap strategies on dealing with an uninvited guest: Russia. A pair of conferences usually devoted to staid topics about election administration were instead packed with sessions dedicated to fending off election cyber attacks from Russia or others, as federal authorities tried to portray confidence while pleading with some states to take the threat more seriously. “Everyone in this room understands that what we are facing from foreign adversaries, particularly Russia, is real,” Chris Krebs, a senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told an audience of secretaries of state, who in many states oversee elections. Russia, he added, is “using a range of tools against us.”
More than 15 months after a general election that was stained by covert Russian interference, the chief election officials of some states say they are still not getting the information they need to safeguard the vote. They say the federal government is not sharing specifics about threats to registered voter databases, voting machines, communication networks and other systems that could be vulnerable to hacking and manipulation. In some cases, the election officials say they have no legal access to the information: After a year of effort, only 21 of them have received clearance to review classified federal information on election threats. Top federal officials have promised to do better. Still, some leaders worry that there will not be enough time to protect the integrity of the midterm election season, which will kick off in some states in the next few weeks. “It’s not about 2020, it’s not about November 2018 — it’s about primaries that are upon us now,” said Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state.
The real adults in the room are the youth from Parkland, Florida, who are speaking out about the need for meaningful gun control laws. They are proving that civic engagement among young people can make a difference. The ironic part? They can’t even vote yet. Several municipalities in the United States allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections. Takoma Park, Maryland, was the first city to lower the voting age, thanks mostly to the advocacy efforts of youth themselves who convinced the city council that they should have a voice in local governance. Other cities in Maryland, like Hyattsville and Greenbelt, have followed suit. Larger cities are also debating the measure: In 2016, Berkeley, California, voters agreed to lower the voting age to 16 for school board elections, while a ballot proposition in San Francisco to lower the voting age for all city elections narrowly lost. Advocates are likely to try again in San Francisco in 2020.
Arizona: Panel okays proposal for state lawmakers to tap U.S. Senate nominees | Arizona Capitol Times
Claiming they’re being ignored by John McCain and Jeff Flake, Republican state legislators took the first steps Tuesday to allowing them — and not the voters — to choose who gets to run for the U.S. Senate. On a 6-3 party-line vote, members of the House Committee on Federalism, Property Rights and Public Policy approved a a measure which would give lawmakers the power to nominate Senate candidates. Legislators from each political party would choose two nominees for each open seat, with the four names going on the general election ballot. HCR 2022 now goes to the full House. If it gets approved there and by the Senate, the change would have to be ratified by voters in November. In essence, the proposal would partly return Arizona to the way things were prior to 1913 when U.S. senators were chosen outright by the legislatures of each state, with no popular vote at all.
Most people would not expect a 13-year-old computer to function properly, yet Illinois has allowed its voting technology to become just as obsolete, said Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. The nonprofit political advocacy group is working with Illinois officials to raise awareness of the state’s aging voting equipment and the need for new voting machines. Some voting jurisdictions are still using floppy disks, and election administrators have to search the internet for replacement parts, according to Brune. The last time Chicago purchased voting equipment was in 2005, said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections. While the current system has not had security issues, new equipment would improve election transparency and auditing processes. Suburban Cook County is in need of an update too, he added.
Fayetteville resident Fred Cutter knows his representative in the state House for years has been Marvin Lucas. This year? He’s not so sure. Not that Cutter would vote for the Spring Lake Democrat — “I’m about as blood-red Republican as you can get,” Cutter said. But confusion over North Carolina’s scrambling of district boundaries since 2016 could be a major theme of this year’s crucial midterm elections. Even as candidates began filing to run last week, neither congressional nor state legislative districts are certain, due to unsettled court battles over the role of race and politics in district boundaries. The courts may order more changes to districts, which could throw campaigns into chaos ahead of the May primaries or November election.
Pennsylvania: State Supreme Court releases new congressional map for 2018 elections | Philadelphia Inquirer
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday released a new congressional district map to be used for the 2018 elections for U.S. House seats.Its plan splits only 13 counties. Of those, four counties are split into three districts and nine are split into two districts. By contrast the most recent map, enacted in 2011, split 28 counties. It also includes significant changes to the state map, including dividing Philadelphia into only two congressional districts; currently three House members represent parts of the city. In another win for local Democrats, the fourth district is centered on Montgomery County. Critics of the map adopted in 2011 often pointed to Montgomery County, which was split into five districts in that plan and had no member of congress living in the county. Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties also receive districts based largely on their areas.
Perhaps no event will do more to reshape the fight for control of the House than the new congressional map just released by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. At stake was the fate of a Republican gerrymander that intended to cement a 13-5 Republican advantage in an evenly divided state. Now the Republicans will have little to no advantage at all. Democrats couldn’t have asked for much more from the new map. It’s arguably even better for them than the maps they proposed themselves. Over all, a half-dozen competitive Republican-held congressional districts move to the left, endangering several incumbent Republicans, one of whom may now be all but doomed to defeat, and improving Democratic standing in two open races. Based on recent election results, the new congressional map comes very close to achieving partisan balance.
Tennessee: Jim Cooper calls for $28 million to address hacking threat for Tennessee voting system | The Tennesseean
Warnings from the national intelligence community point to a “serious threat” to the nation’s voting system, and immediate changes are needed in Tennessee to avoid a compromised 2018 election cycle, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said. The Democrat told reporters at his Nashville office Friday the country’s six top intelligence chiefs have unanimously acknowledged the U.S. election system, which depends on accuracy at the state and local level, has been targeted and is open to compromise. Cooper called for a paper ballot back-up system to electronic voting machines and for at least $28 million in state-held federal funds to pay for it. He also urged state lawmakers now in session to form a special committee to look into digital security gaps ripe for hacking.
Amid the passage of controversial voter ID laws, this session Texas lawmakers also tackled a different form of voter fraud in a significantly less controversial manner. The Texas Legislature took steps to end voter fraud stemming from mail-in ballots. Senate Bill 5 passed the legislature and was signed into law on June 15. The law becomes effective on January 1, 2018. This law expands the definition of mail-in voter fraud and increases the penalties for the crime. Several voter fraud cases were prosecuted in recent years, and there have been concerns from individuals who received mail-in ballots they never requested.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Monday that her government will hold a general election by the end of this year, as scheduled. “The election will take place on time and the people will exercise their voting rights,” Hasina said.
The prime minister was speaking at a press conference on her return home from an official visit to Italy and the Vatican. Hasina addressed threats from the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) that it will boycott the election unless its chairperson, Begum Khaleda Zia, is released from prison. Zia — who was herself prime minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996 and from 2001 to 2006 — was sentenced to five years in jail for embezzlement on Feb. 8.
The brouhaha over use of smart electronic voting machines (EVMs) in India’s legislative elections has reached an ear-splitting pitch, leaving the 850 million constituents confused and confounded. All set for the five-year general polls scheduled for 2019, India’s Election Commission has time and again asseverated that the voter-friendly devices are tamper-proof and cannot be manipulated, but opposition parties have been demanding a ban on the high-tech gizmos and want the poll panel to return to the good old paper ballot system. Browned off by the belligerent mood of seven national and 35 recognized state parties bent on blowing the whistle, the exasperated commission has now thrown a gauntlet before them and invited politicos of all hues to examine the EVMs from June 3 onwards and show how the indigenously-manufactured machines can be hacked.
The 37-page indictment issued by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team last Friday may have revealed the details of Russia’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections. But to some, what appeared even more striking were the details about just how vulnerable the United States had become to such — sometimes barely disguised — attempts to sway public opinion. On page 24 of the indictment, one of the defendants, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, is quoted with a worrisome assertion, made in September 2017: “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.” … While some in the U.S. government still appear unwilling to fully confront the problem, other countries are now leading the way in developing possible solutions. With elections coming up in March, Italy has emerged on the forefront of European efforts to stop interference.
Mexico: Presidential campaign takes shape, with 3 candidates formally accepting party nominations | Associated Press
Three presidential candidates formally accepted the nominations of Mexico’s main political parties on Sunday, entering what is shaping up to be a crowded, six-person race to the July 1 election. In dueling rallies in the capital, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Ricardo Anaya and Jose Antonio Meade addressed key domestic issues such as violence, corruption and the economy, and also relations with the United States. Lopez Obrador of the leftist Morena party, the early front-runner in what is his third bid for the presidency, proposed to tackle insecurity by creating a federal public security department and a national guard incorporating both police and military forces. “Those who violate human rights will be rigorously punished,” he said, in allusion to abuses by Mexican security forces. “There will be no torture in our country.”
Samoa is moving to electronic voting in the 2021 general elections. The Electoral Commissioner, Faimalōmatumua Mathew Lemisio told Talamua the new voting system will solve the delays in obtaining preliminary election results on polling day. “After the 2016 by-election, we looked at ways to improve our service, and the electronic voting system is included in our 5 year Strategic Plan.”
The election roadmap is facing a stumbling block due to a court issue over the software required to ensure legitimacy during the voting process. Laxton Group Ltd won the tender to supply the BVR kits that have been used during the voter registration process. Laxton Group argue that ZECs decision to award the de-duplication tender to IPSIDY could compromise the fairness of elections and they feel they are in the best position to provide the de-duplication service since they handled the registration that comes before de-duplication. We don’t know why ZEC decided to award different companies the respective tenders. Laxton supplied the kits that were used for registration. The next important step has been taken away from Laxton and awarded to a different company Ipsidy. Laxton says this may comromise the new voters’ roll.