The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for February 19-25 2018

ProPublica reported on the high costs and cash-strapped budgets facing state and local election officials struggling to replace flawed and aging voting equipment. “Today’s voting systems are not going to last 70 years, they’re going to last 10,” says U.S. Elections Assistance Commission Commissioner Matt Masterson. “Election officials are low on the totem pole, budget-wise,” says Masterson. “A lot…

National: Russia fears have election vendors feeling the heat | Politico

The furor over fake news and Russian bots is overshadowing another weak link in the security of U.S. elections — the computer equipment and software that do everything from store voters’ data to record the votes themselves. Now the voting vendor industry is receiving increased attention from Congress and facing the prospect of new regulations, after more than a decade of warnings from cybersecurity researchers and recent revelations about the extent of Russian intrusions in 2016. … In 2006, a team of security researchers published a report saying that touchscreen voting machines made by the notably litigious vendor Diebold were vulnerable to “extremely serious attacks.” The researchers were so afraid of being sued by Diebold — now a subsidiary of the voting technology behemoth Dominion — that they broke with longstanding practice and didn’t tell the company about their findings before publishing. The team was “afraid that [Diebold] would try to stop us from speaking publicly about the problems,” said J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor who was one of the report’s authors.

National: US mobilises to counter Russian interference in midterm elections | Financial Times

US intelligence and election officials have stepped up efforts to protect this year’s midterm elections over fears that Russia is seeking to influence the public vote and tamper with voting systems. State election officials gathered for two “unprecedented” briefings from intelligence officials last week. “Advanced persistent threats are out there,” said Matthew Masterson, outgoing chairman of the bipartisan US Election Assistance Commission who attended the briefing. Those familiar with the briefing said it focused on the threat from Russia and encouraged states to back up voter databases, regularly patch cyber security lesions and alert authorities of anything suspicious.

National: Homeland Security’s tall order: A hacker-free election | CNET

As lawmakers and federal investigators continue to try to understand the chaos foreign actors were able to create during the 2016 election, the US Department of Homeland Security has taken a central role in helping secure the next election. The agency declared the US election system, which is run by a fragmented group of officials in all 50 states as well as dozens of smaller local governments, to be a part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure” in January 2017. The agency doesn’t have any legal authority over election officials, but it offers programs to help them keep hackers out of voting machines, voter registration databases and public-facing election websites.

National: What’s The Best Way To Verify Votes? | NPR

What’s the best way to safeguard elections from hackers? Good old-fashioned paper ballots, says Marian Schneider, President of Verified Voting. She talks with NPR’s Scott Simon.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Remember hanging chads – harried poll workers staring at punched paper ballots trying to determine what a dangling chad or stray mark may have indicated how somebody wanted to cast their ballot in the presidential election of 2000? Punch-card ballots and paper got a bad rap in favor of smooth, sleek, instantaneous electronic voting systems that were supposed to remove doubt. With those advancements came bigger problems. The major fear is now hacking, and more voices now urge a return to paper ballots. Marian Schneider is president of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that’s dedicated to verifiability in elections. She joins us from the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARIAN SCHNEIDER: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Should we return to paper?

SCHNEIDER: Short answer – yes. But I want to point out that 70 percent of the country already uses an electronic voting system with either a voter-marked paper ballot or a paper record, so it’s not exactly a return to paper. There’s just a few locations that still use what we perceive as unverifiable voting systems, and that’s what we need to change.

National: At least 18 states are looking into changes in the way they draw congressional and legislative districts | Associated Press

Responding to complaints about partisan gerrymandering, a significant number of states this year are considering changing the criteria used to draw congressional and state legislative districts or shifting the task from elected officials to citizen commissions. The proposals, being advanced both as ballot initiatives and legislation, are part of a larger battle between the political parties to best position themselves for the aftermath of the 2020 Census, when more than 400 U.S. House districts and nearly 7,400 state legislative districts will be redrawn. Since the start of this year, more than 60 bills dealing with redistricting criteria and methods have been introduced in at least 18 state legislatures, already equaling the total number of states that considered bills last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

National: Trump Endorses G.O.P. Fight to Keep Gerrymandered Congressional Map | The New York Times

President Trump added his voice on Saturday to the continued conservative outcry over the court-ordered redistricting of the Pennsylvania congressional map, calling the decision “very unfair to Republicans and to our country.” “Democrat judges have totally redrawn election lines in the great State of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “This is very unfair to Republicans and to our country as a whole. Must be appealed to the United States Supreme Court ASAP!” The Supreme Court this month denied a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to stop the state’s highest court from requiring lawmakers to redraw the map of the state’s 18 House districts. The new map, released by the state court this past week, effectively eliminates the Republican advantage in Pennsylvania, endangering several incumbent Republican seats and bolstering Democrat standings in two open races.

National: The rural South faces uphill battle for accurate headcount in 2020 Census | McClatchy

Political, operational and funding uncertainties surrounding the 2020 Census have put rural residents in the Deep South at heightened risk of being overlooked in the decennial headcount. Another possible hurdle to a comprehensive census count: demands for a question about citizenship that researchers say could lay the groundwork for a loss of seven congressional seats from the nation’s three most populous states, California, Texas and Florida.

Editorials: Safeguarding Elections in the Digital Age | Jimmy Carter/New Europe

New media, including social media, are fueling political polarization as people communicate with general audiences and narrowly focused groups, without the deliberation typical of traditional forms of communication. Hacking, misinformation, “fake news” and cybersecurity threats are expanding the power of a few while undermining public confidence in the accuracy of mass media and information. Politicians are using detailed voter information to play to their bases, allowing them to ignore the rest of their constituents. Democratization, which had advanced steadily for decades, is now threatened by the rise of authoritarian governments and the closing of the political space to civil society, journalists and others. Advances in election technology are also bringing new opportunities and new fears — founded and unfounded — about the security of the election process. Technology is being introduced into electoral processes to promote efficiency, but it also moves voting and counting into the unobservable digital realm.

Maine: Court Urged to Institute Ranked-Choice Voting | Courthouse News

Vying to implement ranked-choice voting by the June primaries, Maine political candidates have asked a court to institute the nation’s first electoral system where voters rank candidates by preference rather than casting a ballot for them. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting and eight candidates filed the suit on Feb. 16 in Kennebec Superior Court, quoting Secretary Matthew Dunlap as stating weeks earlier that he planned to delay enactment of the new system, which is also known as instant runoff. Represented by the Portland firm Bernstein Shur, the candidates claim that they are “left guessing which method of election will decide their respective races.”

Minnesota: Justices to hear challenge to Minnesota voting dress code | SCOTUSblog

In 2010, Andrew Cilek went to his local polling place in Hennepin County, Minnesota, to vote. Cilek was wearing a T-shirt that had three different images on it: the Tea Party logo, the message “Don’t Tread on Me,” and an image of the Gadsden flag, which dates back to the American Revolution but is often associated these days with the Tea Party and libertarianism. Cilek also wore a small button bearing the message “Please I.D. Me,” worn by opponents of voter fraud. An election worker in the polling place told Cilek he would have to cover up or take off the shirt and button. Cilek refused to do so, and later made two more attempts to enter the polling place. On his third try, he was allowed to vote, but an election worker took down his name and address.

Nebraska: Federal form gives incorrect info on felon voting rights in Nebraska | Omaha World-Herald

A federal voter registration form incorrectly instructs potential voters that no felons can vote in Nebraska. But, under state law, voting rights are automatically restored two years after felons complete their sentences. The Nebraska Legislature changed the law in 2005. The inaccurate instructions on the National Voter Registration Form were pointed out by the nonpartisan voter advocacy group Campaign Legal Center in a letter to Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale last month.

Ohio: To Make a $30M Decision, Franklin County Turns to Mock Elections | Columbus Dispatch

Special elections March 1 and March 8 will help make what could be a $30 million decision in Franklin County. Anyone can cast a ballot in those elections. You don’t have to be one of the county’s 854,000 registered voters or even an American to vote at the Board of Elections’ 1700 Morse Road location those two Wednesdays. You also can vote as many times as you want. Officials are using those two elections to test the two finalists competing to provide new voting machines for Franklin County. “This is so (voters) can touch it, feel it, see how it works,” elections spokesman Aaron Sellers said. “The purpose of this is to try to get feedback from the general public … so we can evaluate.”

Voting Blogs: A Loophole in South Carolina Law and the Fraud Commission | State of Elections

Earlier in the year, President Donald J. Trump announced his decision through an executive order to establish the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a working group designed in his view to eliminate voter fraud. Concerned with potential for state voter rolls to be inaccurate and misused, the election fraud commission sought voter rolls from all 50 states to vet and review. While the specific tasks of the election fraud commission remain unknown, the ultimate goal, at least publicly, appears to be to ensure the most accurate electoral outcomes possible.

Texas: State acts to ensure disabled Texans are able to vote | San Antonio Express-News

The state will “effective immediately” begin making it easier for disabled Texans who receive job training to register to vote. The action comes after a disability rights group threatened to sue last week if changes weren’t made. The Texas Workforce Commission said in a letter they will begin the process of implementing voter registration services to disabled Texans served by its Vocational Rehabilitation Program. “Please note that the State of Texas … is committed to making sure that all eligible Texans have the opportunity to register to vote, including Texans with disabilities,” the TWC and the Texas Secretary of State office wrote in a joint letter this week.

Cambodia: Ruling party sweeps Senate election after crackdown | Reuters

Cambodia’s ruling party said on Sunday it had won every seat up for election on the Senate in a ballot held after thousands of opposition lawmakers and local council leaders were stripped of their right to vote. Preliminary results published by Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) showed it had won 58 seats on the 62-seat Senate, leaving the other three political parties with nothing. Official results were not yet available, but two officials on the National Election Committee (NEC) confirmed the result published by the CPP, headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Canada: Former MPP says botched online voting system could spell disaster for Ontario PC leadership election | National Post

As if the Ontario Conservatives needed another controversy, a former Tory cabinet minister says glitches with the online voting system for the party’s leadership race could spell disaster, leaving thousands unable to cast a ballot. Frank Klees, a longtime member of provincial parliament who is backing businessman Doug Ford for leader, said Friday that if the problems are not fixed by the time voting starts March 2, the entire party executive should resign. Klees told the National Post he was unable to register to vote online using the secret code sent to him in the mail, and then was told by a party employee that a printing anomaly meant Os appeared as zeroes, Zs as twos and Is as ones.

China: Ruling party proposes to abolish presidential term limits | Al Jazeera

China’s ruling party is considering scrapping term limits for the president and vice president, it announced on Sunday. The Communist party of China has proposed to change the country’s constitution so that the president and vice president can serve more than two consecutive terms. Currently, there is a limit of two five-year terms for both presidents and vice presidents. The amendment would allow current President Xi Jinping, 64, to be elected again during the next elections in 2023.

Germany: Merkel’s CDU votes on German coalition deal after new cabinet picks | Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her Christian Democrats (CDU) on Monday to approve a coalition deal with the Social Democrats (SPD), a step that would bring her closer to a fourth term. The more formidable hurdle to ending a five-month political impasse in Europe’s largest economy comes next week, however. On March 4, results of a binding postal vote by members of the center-left SPD will be announced and they are far less certain. The CDU party congress follows Merkel’s announcement of her picks for a new, younger cabinet intended to revive the party, which has been riven by disagreements over how to respond to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) since losing votes to the far right party in national elections in September.

Iraq: Ethnic, religious groups fragmented as elections near | Associated Press

Long beset by toxic divisions, Iraq seems to be growing even more fragmented ahead of national elections scheduled for May, with Iranian influence set to grow and the minority Sunnis seething as they fend for themselves in areas of the country shattered by the three-year war against the Islamic State group. The Sunnis, many of them in displacement camps, bore the brunt of the war’s destruction and have been left so bereft that many don’t even have the papers needed to register to vote. If they don’t end up feeling the vote was fair, that could badly undermine the international community’s goal of bringing about the more inclusive government critical to maintaining a unified state and avoiding a repeat of the IS disaster.

United Kingdom: Government minister makes statement on expat voting rights push ahead of debate | Euro Weekly

Chloe Smith, Britain’s Constitution minister, has spoken for the government on a bill set to be debated today that would lift current restrictions on expat voting rights if passed. The Overseas Electors Bill will end the 15 year limit on people from Britain who now live abroad casting a ballot in the country’s elections if Parliament approves it. The bill, tabled by Conservative MP Glyn Davies, will go up for debate in the House of Commons today.