After months of stalled progress in Congress, efforts to promote and fund nationwide election security improvements have finally gained some momentum this week. The Senate Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited election infrastructure defense recommendations. Senate leaders got behind a revised version of the Secure Elections Act. And late Thursday night, the Senate passed the omnibus spending bill, which includes $380 million for securing digital election systems. All the pieces are in place. The solutions are clear. All that’s left is the doing. But, of course, that turns out to be the hardest part. Experts say that while Congress did take meaningful action this week, it likely comes too late to play an extensive role in securing this year’s midterm elections. “This is a great first step, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” says Marian Schneider, president of Verified Voting, a group that promotes election system best practices. “Just the heightened awareness of what is the threat model and what are best practices for dealing with that threat model makes me hopeful and optimistic that those steps will be taken. But I would like to see the vulnerable systems replaced, and the clock is ticking. The farther we get into the year, the less likely it is. That’s just a reality.”
The Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with a case with the potential to reorder the country’s political landscape: How much gerrymandering is too much gerrymandering? Republicans who sued to overturn the congressional district lines that Maryland implemented after the 2010 census map found allies in the court’s four liberal justices, who expressed sympathy for their claims during oral arguments. What’s less clear is whether those four can recruit another justice to their side — the most likely targets would be Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Anthony Kennedy, typically the high court’s swing vote on election law cases. Both asked tough questions, but neither tipped his hand. At issue was Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, represented for 20 years by a Republican. After the 2010 census, Democrats in the state legislature and the then-Democratic governor redrew the district lines to move large numbers of Democratic voters into the district. Democratic Rep. John Delaney won the seat in 2012 and was reelected twice after.
Verified Voting Blog: Federal Funds for Election Security: Will They Cover the Costs of Voter Marked Paper Ballots?
Under the terms of the omnibus spending bill voted on by the House, states will receive $380 million within months to start to strengthen the security of our nation’s election infrastructure. This near-term funding is the product of tireless work by members of both parties, and a critical acknowledgment from Congress that protecting our elections is a matter of national security. States can use the funding immediately to begin deploying paper ballots, post-election audits, and other essential cybersecurity improvements. However, the new funding is only a first step, as many in Congress have acknowledged, and further Congressional action will be necessary in order to ensure that future elections are secure.
Most significantly, the omnibus funding as allocated to the states under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) will not be enough for some states to replace their insecure voting machines. Because paperless electronic voting systems are highly vulnerable to cyberattacks, it is urgent that those systems be replaced as soon as possible, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) recommended earlier this week. Until this is done, it will be impossible to ensure that election results as reported by the voting system have not been corrupted by a cyberattack.
Thirteen states, including key swing states like Pennsylvania, continue to use paperless voting today. One of the main reasons is cost: cash-strapped states simply can’t afford to replace this aging equipment. Unfortunately, our analysis shows that under the new federal funding, five of the 13 states with paperless machines will receive less than 25 percent of the money they may need to replace them. Moreover, most states will also need to use some of the new funding to pay for improved auditing and other security measures, leaving even less for crucial technology upgrades.
In a last-minute move that would give Republicans an advantage in maintaining control of the House of Representatives, the Trump administration is reinstating a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. Coming from an administration that has been hostile toward immigrants, the change was not surprising, but it’s galling nonetheless. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the decision Monday, less than a week before the Census Bureau, which his department oversees, is supposed to send final questions for the 2020 census to Congress. If his decision stands — the attorney general of California has filed a lawsuit to block it, and other elected officials are preparing to do so — it would be the first time in 70 years that the federal government has asked people to specify their citizenship status on the census form sent to every household.
A judge on Tuesday ordered Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to dismantle Florida’s “fatally flawed” system of arbitrarily restoring voting rights to felons and to replace it by April 26. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee issued a permanent injunction in support of the Fair Elections Legal Network, which sued the state a year ago. The group successfully challenged the constitutionality of the state’s 150-year-old voting rights restoration process for felons in the nation’s third-largest state. “This is a victory for the principle that the right to vote cannot be subjected to officials’ gut instincts and whims,” said Jon Sherman, senior counsel for the nonprofit voting rights group. “We are also heartened that the court prevented Florida from following through on its threat to be the only state in the nation with an irrevocable lifetime ban on voting for all former felons — what the court called ‘the ultimate arbitrary act.’ ”
Georgia: Bill to replace Georgia’s electronic voting machines falls short | Atlanta Journal Constitution
Georgia lawmakers didn’t pass a proposal Thursday that would have replaced the state’s electronic voting machines amid deep disagreements over how to safeguard elections. The measure, Senate Bill 403, died at midnight, the end of this year’s legislative session. The House had approved an amended version of the bill earlier Thursday, but the Senate rejected those changes. Georgia is one of the last five states to rely entirely on electronic voting machines that don’t leave an independent paper backup. Roughly 70 percent of the country uses paper ballots. While many legislators wanted to replace Georgia’s hackable electronic voting machines with a system that uses paper ballots, they couldn’t agree on how to do so.
Missouri could largely reduce the number of electronic voting machines it uses at election polls and instead rely heavily on the traditional paper ballots method. A Senate committee could vote this week on the proposal sponsored by State Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring. He says his measure would create a double layer of protection by having a physical record of each vote. “This would slowly phase them (machines) out upon life cycle replacement or mechanical failure,” he says. “So we’re not going to require anybody who has electronic devices to arbitrarily replace something that still has a useful lifespan.” Eigel says his legislation would still allow polling locations to be equipped with devices that could serve disabled voters. Phillip Michaels of eastern Missouri’s University City has built computer systems for large and small companies. He says St. Louis County has about 1,500 electronic machines and Eigel’s bill would have real savings.
Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker abandons court fight to hold off special elections | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
An appellate judge Wednesday became the third in a week to rule against Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to hold off on two special elections, prompting Walker to abandon an attempt to take the issue to the state Supreme Court. Walker is expected to order the special legislative elections by Thursday’s noon deadline set by a judge last week. Walker and his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature this week have been advancing legislation that could avoid the special elections and they could still pursue that option — which would trigger a new court fight.
From modern downtown bookstores to dusty street-corner bookstands where venders peddle Xeroxed copies of international best-sellers, one new release has proved popular this winter in Cairo: translated copies of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Ahmed, a thirty-one-year-old bookseller in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, told me that Egyptian readers found the bluntness of America’s new President entertaining. “Trump is funny,” Ahmed said, declining to give his last name. “He says what he thinks.” For Egypt’s democracy and human-rights activists, Trump is something far different: an enabler of repression who has embraced Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as he carries out the most repressive crackdown in the country in decades. Three days after taking office, Trump phoned Sisi and effusively pledged his support for the authoritarian ruler. When Sisi visited Washington last spring, Trump warmly welcomed him to the White House, reversing an Obama Administration policy of declining to meet the former general because of his government’s sweeping human-rights abuses.
Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court has approved the election commission’s request to delay Tuesday’s runoff presidential vote until the weekend after the lifting of an interim injunction that had stalled preparations. Lawyers for the National Electoral Commission (NEC) said the injunction order had thrown the country’s election into “chaos.” The upcoming vote will see ruling party candidate Samura Kamara face off opposition candidate and leader of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), Julius Maada Bio. Bio won the initial March 7 election by a thin margin, securing 43.4 percent of the vote compared to Kamara’s 42.7 percent. But because neither candidate secured the 55 percent of the votes needed to govern outright, a runoff election was scheduled for March 27.