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?
Download the Brennan Center/Verified Voting Full Report (PDF) 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…
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.
National: Everyone Agrees That All Voting Machines Should Leave A Paper Trail. Here’s Why It Won’t Happen. | Buzzfeed
Despite Congress’s agreement last week to spend $380 million to help states replace voting machines that don’t produce a paper trail, it’s likely that tens of thousands of voters will cast their ballots in this year’s midterm elections on outdated equipment that the Department of Homeland Security has called a “national security concern.” That’s because the newly approved money will be allocated to all 50 states instead of just those that have the greatest need to replace voting machines. Thirteen states use voting machines that can’t be audited because they don’t produce a paper trail to check against the machine’s electronic tabulations. Of those, only two would receive enough funding under the recent appropriation to replace all their machines; the rest could replace only a fraction of what they need. For example, the funding would cover less than half the cost of what it would take for Pennsylvania — a state whose results were critical to the outcome of the 2016 presidential race — to replace all of its outdated machines.
The Center for Internet Security’s newly established Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) plans to deploy intrusion detection sensors to voter registration websites for all 50 states by the 2018 midterm elections, an official told GCN. The intrusion detection sensors are called Albert sensors, and CIS has been using them on the state and local level since 2010, according to CIS Vice President of Operations Brian Calkin. The open-source Albert sensors provide automated alerts on both traditional and advanced network threats. Albert grew out of a Department of Homeland Security’s Einstein project, which focuses on detecting and blocking cyberattacks within federal agencies. DHS approached CIS about creating similar capability for states and localities, but since the Einstein name was taken, CIS called it Albert instead.
As part of the omnibus spending law passed on March 23, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories are getting funding to improve their elections infrastructure prior to the 2018 elections. On March 29, the Elections Assistance Commission announced how the $380 million will be distributed. An extension of the 2002 Help America Vote Act that distributed funds to states to improve voting systems and voter access issues identified following the 2000 election, the 2018 HAVA Election Security Fund will give states additional resources to secure and improve their election systems. The funds will be made available by the EAC as grants to make it easier for states to access the funds ahead of the 2018 federal elections. States will receive grant award notification letters in April. With primary elections already underway, however, states will be allowed to incur costs against forthcoming grant awards with EAC approval.
After being gamed by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential election, Facebook says it’s working to tighten election security ahead of the midterm elections. Company executives detailed new initiatives to prevent foreign interference and anticipate new tactics to undermine the integrity of the November elections. Thursday’s remarks were part of a widening public relations campaign to rebuild consumer trust following the Cambridge Analytica data leak, which gave access to the personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users to a political ad targeting firm without their consent. They come as concern mounts that Facebook can be too easily exploited to disrupt elections and democracies around the globe. “We’ve gotten progressively better over the last year and a half,” Samidh Chakrabarti, who leads Facebook’s work on election security and civic engagement, told reporters. “We feel like we’re going to be in a really good place for the 2018 midterms.”
Nearly three years after a Russian propaganda group infiltrated Facebook and other tech platforms in hopes of seeding chaos in the 2016 US election, Facebook has more fully detailed its plan to protect elections around the world. In a call with reporters Thursday, Facebook executives elaborated on their use of human moderators, third-party fact checkers, and automation to catch fake accounts, foreign interference, fake news, and to increase transparency in political ads. The company has made some concrete strides, and has promised to double its safety and security team to 20,000 people this year. And yet, as midterm races heat up in states across America, and elections overseas come and go, many of these well-meaning tools remain a work in progress. “None of us can turn back the clock, but we are all responsible for making sure the same kind of attack on our democracy does not happen again,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management said on the call. “And we are taking our role in that effort very, very seriously.”
National: The Motives Behind the Trump Administration’s New Census Question on Citizenship | The New Yorker
Nine years ago, two Republican senators, David Vitter, of Louisiana, and Robert Bennett, of Utah, tried to introduce a measure to change the way that the federal government conducts the census. The Census Bureau tabulates the over-all population, not just that of citizens, and its results have far-reaching consequences, affecting the allocation of federal resources and the apportionment of congressional seats. The senators wanted a law requiring that respondents be asked whether they are American citizens, so that congressional districts could be redrawn. Without such a change, Vitter said, “States that have large populations of illegals would be rewarded.” Other states, like his own, he said, were being “penalized.” The subtext was that the Democrats, who tend to be prominent in areas with high concentrations of immigrants, were gaining an advantage. The measure fell short of the necessary votes, as it did when Vitter proposed it again, in 2014 and in 2016. But his efforts reflected a persistent partisan logic. Now, on the eve of the 2020 census, it has reëmerged.
Two groups that were readying for a major battle on your ballot in November over how Colorado draws its political lines have laid down their swords and joined forces in a grand bargain they say will end partisan gerrymandering. The March 27 announcement of this negotiated pact between a group called Fair Districts Colorado and another called People Not Politicians is a stunning turnabout after six months of saber-rattling, and, at times, accusations of bad faith. The compromise means the two groups have joined behind two new proposed ballot measures they say could end gerrymandering by changing the state Constitution.
Illinois: Redistricting advocates lobbying Illinois lawmakers to consider Fair Maps Amendment | Associated Press
Some advocates are pushing for an Illinois constitutional amendment to change how legislative districts are created in the state. Redistricting advocates have asked lawmakers to consider their proposed Fair Maps Amendment that would form a 16-member independent commission to draw new districts, the Daily Herald reported. The commission would consist of seven Democrats, seven Republicans and two independents chosen by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Constitution requires legislative and congressional boundaries to be redrawn every decade. The process in Illinois is dictated by the party in power, which some critics have said allows parties to manipulate boundaries to remain in control.
Maine: Doubt surrounds Maine’s plan to use ranked-choice voting in June 12 primaries | Portland Press Herald
Questions swirled Thursday about whether Mainers will use the ranked-choice voting system in the June primaries after Secretary of State Matt Dunlap raised concerns about a conflict in the law. Dunlap said his office learned Wednesday about “legal concerns regarding the implementation of ranked-choice voting” caused by conflicting sections of the law dealing with whether primary candidates are elected by a majority or a plurality of votes. As a result, Dunlap said he was reviewing the law even as he moved forward with implementing ranked-choice voting for the June 12 primaries that will decide the Democratic and Republican contenders for governor, Congress and the Legislature. But Dunlap’s surprise announcement sparked a frenzy of activity in Augusta to salvage the system less than three months before Maine was slated to stage the nation’s first statewide election using ranked-choice voting. The debate also took on political overtones when two of the seven Democrats running for governor questioned whether the doubts raised about the legality of ranked-choice voting could benefit another Democratic candidate, Attorney General Janet Mills.
Maryland: Supreme Court wrestles with how political is too political in Maryland redistricting case | Baltimore Sun
Supreme Court justices pummeled Maryland’s meandering congressional districts on Wednesday as they heard arguments in a high-profile case that some hope will reduce political influence in the decennial redistricting process. As they have in past cases, the justices criticized Maryland’s congressional map — with some saying the litigation offered clear evidence of the political motivations behind its design. But the court also appeared to wrestle with setting a standard for just how far mapmakers may go in pursuit of political advantage. “Part of the issue here is you have people from … Potomac joined with people from the far west panhandle,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., pointing to the state’s sprawling 6th Congressional District. “I mean, they both have farms but the former, hobby farms.”
Michigan: Federal judge dismisses complaint to hold earlier elections to replace Conyers | Detroit Free Press
The special election dates to replace former U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, who resigned last year amid complaints of sexual harassment, will remain in August and November after a federal judge dismissed a complaint by voters who wanted the election to be held sooner. U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith dismissed the complaint against Gov. Rick Snyder, who set the special election dates to coincide with the August primary and the November general election. The schedule left some voters in Conyers’ 13th congressional district angry that the seat would be vacant for a year. The plaintiffs — Debra Rhodes, Gloria Mounger, Thomas Williams, Laura Dennis, and Vivian Wordlaw — argued that the the vacancy left them disenfranchised and violated the voting rights act.
Wisconsin: Walker Says He Dropped Special Elections Appeal Because It Was Clear He Would Lose | Wisconsin Public Radio
Gov. Scott Walker said he decided to drop an appeal of a special elections lawsuit because it became clear he was not going to win in court. Walker was rebuked by three judges over the past week for his decision to delay calling special elections in Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District. Walker considered appealing his case to the state Supreme Court where conservatives hold a 5-2 majority, but he changed his mind and called special elections for June 12. Walker said he made the decision when it became clear the plaintiffs who brought a lawsuit to force him to call the elections were going to win.
Early results from Egypt’s election showed President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi headed for a landslide victory with 92 percent of the vote, state media reported Thursday, an unsurprising margin in a race where he eliminated all serious opposition months ago. Mr. Sisi’s token opponent, Moussa Moustapha Moussa, received just 3 percent of the vote, less than the number of spoiled ballots, state media said. With his main rivals in jail or forced from the contest, Mr. Sisi relied on voter turnout to demonstrate his popularity. State media said that about 40 percent of voters cast ballots during the three days of voting that ended Wednesday, down from 47 percent in the 2014 election that formalized Mr. Sisi’s power.
Nigeria: Cambridge Analytica parent company manipulated Nigeria’s 2007 election, documents show | The Globe and Mail
The parent company of Cambridge Analytica boasted of its success in manipulating a Nigerian election by using religious leaders to suppress the vote, according to documents released on Thursday. The documents were released by Canadian whistle-blower Christopher Wylie to a committee of the British House of Commons. They include a promotional brochure by SCL Group, the British affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, which later worked with Canadian firm AggregateIQ in elections worldwide. nThe brochure suggests that SCL considered the option of bribing Nigerian voters to vote for the government, but decided that such “financial incentives” would be ineffective because the voters had so much contempt for politicians that they would simply take the money and mark their ballot for someone else.
Venezuela’s presidential elections, now set for May 20, are designed to help President Nicolás Maduro tighten his grip on power. Originally scheduled for late 2018, the administration brought forward the date of the election in a clear effort to capitalize on disharmony within the opposition. After getting trounced in October in provincial elections that were widely seen as fraudulent, most members of the opposition MUD coalition have decided not to participate in the coming contest. The government’s willingness to stuff ballots, break electoral rules and limit opposition voters from reaching the polls means there is almost no risk of Maduro losing. But four opposition candidates, three from small parties and one independent, have nonetheless thrown their hats into the ring. Most prominent among them is Henri Falcón, a retired military officer and former Chavista politician who broke with the government and joined the opposition in 2010.
Just like their Victorian ancestors, they are asked to mark an X on a ballot paper next to their chosen candidate. But all that could be about to change – in Scotland, at least. The Scottish Government’s consultation on electoral reform closed this week and ministers will soon begin scrutinising responses from across the country. It plans to trial “innovative” electronic voting which would mean votes could be cast on electronic machines within traditional polling stations – using systems “similar to ticket machines at railway stations or supermarket automated checkouts”. More boldly, votes could also be cast remotely via home computers or mobile devices. … But electoral reform is a sensitive subject. Public confidence in the system is vital. Previous efforts to try and streamline the process and increase turnout have not always worked.
United Kingdom: A Cambridge Analytica Whistle-blower Claims That “Cheating” Swung the Brexit Vote | The New Yorker
Christopher Wylie—the twenty-eight-year-old whistle-blower who has detailed how Cambridge Analytica, the controversial political-consulting firm, harvested personal data from as many as fifty million Facebook users—appeared before a committee of British M.P.s on Tuesday. During Wylie’s almost four hours of testimony, he rejected the various dodges, equivocations, and denials that his former employer has made about its use of Facebook data. “It is categorically untrue, categorically untrue, that Cambridge Analytica has never used Facebook data,” Wylie said. “Facebook’s data, and the acquisition using Aleksandr Kogan’s app, was the foundational data of the company. That is how the algorithms were developed. They spent a million dollars, at least, on that acquisition project.”
During the 2016 presidential election, Russian hackers targeted election systems in Pennsylvania and 20 other states, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Those officials fear that, during the 2018 midterms, hackers may target state voter registration databases, county websites and official social media accounts to spread misinformation and sow doubt in the U.S. election system. In February, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, directed all counties that are planning to update aging election equipment to buy machines that create a paper trail. However, the directive from Wolf, aimed at machines used by 83 percent of the state’s voters, did not come with funding attached, placing the financial burden on federal or local budgets.
National: Why adding a citizenship question to the census launched a political firestorm | The Washington Post
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to protect the voting rights of mostly black voters in mostly Southern states. It mandated, among other things, that jurisdictions covered by the law have new voting laws reviewed by the government to assure that they weren’t discriminatory. That provision was tossed by the Supreme Court in 2013. A Texas voter ID law that had been rejected by the Department of Justice prior to the court’s decision was reintroduced immediately afterward — and was quickly found to be discriminatory. During his confirmation hearing last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked about the Voting Rights Act. “It is intrusive. The Supreme Court on more than one occasion has described it legally as an intrusive act, because you’re only focused on a certain number of states,” the then-Alabama senator said in January 2017.
The Supreme Court justices seemed to grasp the problem of gerrymandering in oral arguments on Wednesday and that it will only get worse, as computer-assisted redistricting gets even more refined. But they appeared frustrated over what to do about it — without becoming the constant police officer on the beat. This case, involving a Democratic-drawn congressional district in Maryland, is essentially Act II of the gerrymandering play at the Supreme Court.