Even as Americans begin voting in the earliest 2018 midterm primaries, the public still doesn’t have solid answers about what happened to its election systems in 2016. Instead it has conflicting accounts and official denials. The latest example this week came from the Department of Homeland Security, which slammed a report by NBC News that said the intelligence community had evidence in early 2017 to believe Russian operatives compromised more state voter systems in 2016 than previously known. DHS said NBC’s story was “factually inaccurate and misleading” and stood by its previous assessment, that just one state, Illinois, had its system breached. NBC then slammed that response in a subsequent defense of its story, which quoted a former cyber-expert from the Obama administration, Michael Daniel, who said that when he was in the White House, it believed seven states had been compromised. What’s the real story? How serious were the Russian cyberattacks across the United States?
National: White House Has Given No Orders to Counter Russian Meddling, N.S.A. Chief Says | The New York Times
Faced with unrelenting interference in its election systems, the United States has not forced Russia to pay enough of a price to persuade President Vladimir V. Putin to stop meddling, a senior American intelligence official said on Tuesday. Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the departing head of the National Security Agency and the military’s Cyber Command, said that he was using the authorities he had to combat the Russian attacks. But under questioning during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he acknowledged that the White House had not asked his agencies — the main American spy and defense arms charged with conducting cyberoperations — to find ways to counter Moscow, or granted them new authorities to do so. “President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay and that therefore ‘I can continue this activity,’” said Admiral Rogers, who is set to retire in April. “Clearly what we have done hasn’t been enough.”
The Georgia Senate on Wednesday voted to approve a measure that would move the state from using digital to paper ballots during the state’s elections. The measure, Senate Bill 403, calls for the state to scrap its 16-year-old touch-screen voting system and replace it with a paper-based system. “This looks at replacing voting machines so that every single voter in our state’s vote that’s cast will be preserved,” said state Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-White, the bill’s sponsor. Currently, Georgia’s 27,000 touch screens leave no paper record of how people voted, making it impossible to audit elections for accuracy or to conduct verifiable recounts, lawmakers said. Legislators lately have begun to favor paper ballots because they can’t be hacked.
A conservative Republican who has supported President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that millions of illegal votes cost Trump the popular vote in 2016 will have to prove Kansas has a problem with voter fraud if he’s to win a legal challenge to voter registration requirements he’s championed. The case headed to trial starting Tuesday has national implications for voting rights as Republicans pursue laws they say are aimed at preventing voter fraud but that critics contend disenfranchise minorities and college students who tend to vote Democratic and who may not have such documentation readily available. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is running for governor and was part of Trump’s now-disbanded commission on voter fraud , has long championed such laws and is defending a Kansas requirement that people present documentary proof of citizenship — such as a birth certificate, naturalization papers or a passport — when they register to vote.
Counties would get nearly $115 million in state money to replace aging voting machines in time for the 2019 election under a bill expected to pass the legislature this spring. Total funding largely matches the estimate of what it would cost to replace all voting machines in Ohio with the lowest cost paper-ballot machines known as optical scan. However, the bill by Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, allows counties to choose their own machines, whether they involve paper, more-expensive touch-screen machines known as DREs, or hybrid models. Franklin County could receive up to $13 million from the bill. The county Board of Elections plans to pick new voting machines by August, said spokesman Aaron Sellers. The board has estimated that new machines would cost $16 million to $30 million, depending on the type chosen. Franklin County has 4,735 voting machines now, and the board estimates it would purchase close to 5,000 if it goes with a similar system, Sellers said.
Pennsylvania: U.S. Supreme Court asks for responses to GOP bid to block new congressional map | Philadelphia Inquirer
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Wednesday asked participants in a key Pennsylvania gerrymandering case to respond to a request from top Republican lawmakers that the nation’s highest court step in and block the new congressional map. State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the previous congressional map and imposing a new one. Alito gave participants in the case until 3 p.m. Monday to file responses to that request. He made a similar move a few weeks ago after Scarnati and Turzai filed essentially the same request to step in and stop the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from overturning the state’s congressional map drawn in 2011. In that first request, Alito also sought responses from the parties in the case before ultimately denying the request without comment and without referring it to the whole court.
Lawyers for the Commonwealth of Virginia appeared before the state Supreme Court Thursday arguing that legislators are legally allowed to create electoral district maps — even if the districts are not as compact as critics would hope. The case originated with a challenge to state House and Senate district maps that were drawn in 2011 and 2012. The focus in the underlying lawsuit was on 11 districts that One Virginia 2021, a bipartisan fair elections group, claims are unwieldy and fail to comport with the notion of compactness enshrined in the state constitution.
An pro-Democratic redistricting group headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sued Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, on Monday for declining to hold special elections for two vacant seats in the state legislature. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee alleged in the lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court that Walker was violating the law and denying Wisconsin voters representation by leaving the elected offices unfilled until 2019. The seats, one in the state Assembly and the other in the state Senate, became vacant in December when two Republican lawmakers resigned to accept jobs in Walker’s administration.
Security concerns have re-emerged to further frustrate the Finnish government’s plans to launch a national e-voting system. But the country’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) working group, which is leading the project, insists the venture is delayed rather than mothballed. Finland’s online e-voting project will now enter a problem-solving phase to identify advanced, effective and best practice solutions to protect a future e-voting system. … The MoJ estimates that the cost of launching and operating an e-voting system, based on a 15-year timespan, will be about €32m. But the risks attached to launching online voting in Finland currently outweigh its benefits, said Johanna Suurpää, chair of the MoJ’s e-voting working group (eVWG). “Our present position is that online voting should not be introduced in general elections as the risks are greater than the benefits,” said Suurpää. In its project feasibility report presented to the MoJ, the eVWG conceded that although a Finnish online e-voting system is technically possible, the technology available is not yet at a “sufficiently high level to meet all the requirements”.
Like millions of young Italians, Elio Vagali confronts career options that range from minimal to nonexistent. At 29, he has cleaned homes, picked tangerines and lifted rocks — nearly always off the books, without the protections of a full-time contract. In a measure of his desperation, his dream employer is the dilapidated steel mill that dominates life in this fading city on the Ionian Sea. The complex has been blamed for a cancer cluster in the surrounding community. Yet to Mr. Vagali, it beckons like a portal to another life, one that means moving out of his parents’ apartment. Except the plant isn’t hiring. “You either know somebody, or you don’t get in,” he said bitterly. “There’s nothing here for me.” All of which helps explain why Mr. Vagali and much of the Italian electorate is either indifferent or contemptuous of the national election campaign that, on March 4, will determine who runs Europe’s fourth-largest economy.
President Trump’s choice to lead the National Security Agency (NSA) said Thursday that the United States’ response to Russian election interference has not been sufficient enough to change Moscow’s behavior. Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, nominated to lead both NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, was asked at his confirmation hearing whether he agreed with outgoing NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers’s statement that the response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election has not been strong enough. “It has not changed their behavior,” Nakasone told Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who asked the question. Nakasone appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee two days after Rogers, who faced tough questions over the Trump administration’s response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election during a hearing on the 2019 budget request for U.S. Cyber Command. Rogers heads that command in addition to the NSA.
In November 2013, voters in Takoma Park, Md., made history. The city became the first place in the United States to grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local elections. Since then at least one other community — neighboring Hyattsville, another suburb of Washington, D.C. — has followed that example. Activists have been campaigning for that right in communities across the country, from Memphis to Fresno, Calif. Fifteen states now allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries for elections that will be held after they turn 18. There are two good reasons to reduce the voting age. First, it is likely to help young people establish the habit of voting lifelong. Second, as my recently published research shows, it makes their parents more likely to vote as well.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is preparing charges against Russians who hacked and leaked information designed to hurt Democrats in the 2016 presidential election, NBC News reported Thursday. The charges would center around Russian hackers who leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, according to NBC. Sources told NBC that the charges could be filed in the coming weeks or months, and could involve conspiracy statute and election law violations.
The Arizona Senate split along party lines as it approved a Republican proposal to revamp the state commission that handles the contentious political issue of redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts once each decade. The measure approved Wednesday would increase the Independent Redistricting Commission to nine members with equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and independents. The commission currently has two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent. Redistricting has high stakes in politics because the boundaries and makeup of districts can influence whether a party and individual candidates can win elections.
Georgia: “Misguided” hacking bill threatens to ice security researchers, say critics | Naked Security
The US state of Georgia is considering anti-hacking legislation that critics fear could criminalize security researchers. The bill, SB 315, was drawn up by state senator Bruce Thompson in January, has been approved by the state’s senate, and is now being considered by its house of representatives. The bill would expand the state’s current computer law to create what it calls the “new” crime of unauthorized computer access. It would include penalties for accessing a system without permission even if no information was taken or damaged. One of the bill’s backers, state Attorney General Chris Carr, said the bill is necessary to close a loophole: namely, the state now can’t prosecute somebody who harmlessly accesses computers without authorization.
The federal trial over a Kansas law requiring people to show citizenship documents like a birth certificate or passport when registering to vote begins on March 6 in Kansas City. The American Civil Liberties Union will represent the League of Women Voters and several individuals whose voting rights were violated. Kris Kobach — the secretary of state of Kansas, chief architect of the law, and the defendant in the lawsuit — will represent himself. From 2013 to 2016, more than 35,000 Kansans were blocked from registering because of Kobach’s documentary proof-of-citizenship law — approximately 14 percent of new registrants. Many Kansans, including several of our clients, went to the polls on Election Day in 2014 with every reason to believe that they were registered, only to be told, “Sorry, you haven’t proven that you’re a U.S. citizen.”
Ohio counties could soon get some money from the state to help replace aging voting equipment. About $114.5 million would be allocated to Ohio’s 88 counties to buy new voting machines under a proposal unveiled Thursday by Sen. Frank LaRose. Most voting machines here were purchased in 2005 and 2006 with money from the federal Help America Vote Act. In recent years, county officials have said they’re unable to find parts, and some have resorted to makeshift repairs using unconventional materials or parts from dead machines.
Pennsylvania: Despite landmark court decision, subjectivity remains in congressional mapmaking process | WHYY
In the days after the Pa. Supreme Court released its new congressional map, students in Jon Kimmel’s 8th grade math class huddled around computers to analyze the changes. The class has been closely following the twists and turns of a case that could have an impact on the balance of power in Washington D.C. In January, the Democratic-majority court ruled that the congressional map created in 2011, in a process controlled by Republicans, was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The court found that the old map deprived voters of their right to “free and equal” elections and was designed to give Republicans an unfair advantage, while diluting Democrats’ votes.
Texas: As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sounds alarm about redistricting, super PAC gets to work | The Texas Tribune
As Gov. Greg Abbott sounds the alarm about Democratic efforts to influence the post-2020 redistricting process, he is being backed up by a new super PAC led by a key ally. The super PAC, #ProjectRedTX, has quietly raised a half a million dollars — from a single donor — as it looks to ensure Republican dominance in Texas through the next round of redistricting. Those efforts are ramping up as the state prepares to defend its current congressional and state House district maps before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Washington: State House Passes Washington State Voting Rights Act | The Seattle Medium | The Seattle Medium
The Washington State House of Representatives recently passed the Washington Voting Rights Act by a 52-46 vote. This is the sixth time that the House has passed the Voting Rights Act, but the first time that the House is taking action on a bill that has already passed the Senate. According to supporters, The Washington Voting Rights Act would allow communities that are systemically disenfranchised in local government elections to work collaboratively with their local governing bodies to adjust their elections through local remedies such as districted systems. This act focuses on a collaborative process rather than litigation, which currently is the only path to relief under the Federal Voting Rights Act. If this collaborative process fails, communities can then seek relief in state court.
Gov. Matt Mead on Thursday selected a former Wyoming secretary of state candidate and Laramie County prosecutor as the next secretary of state. Ed Buchanan will serve the remainder of Ed Murray’s term as the state’s election and business registration authority after Murray stepped down in early February over allegations of sexual misconduct. Mead said in a news release that Buchanan’s experience in the Legislature, military career and job as an attorney and prosecutor made him a good choice for the office. “Ed (Buchanan) is committed to Wyoming and to the responsibilities of the office,” Mead said in a news release.
With Europe’s next major election set to take place in Italy on Sunday, fears that false information could mislead voters have again surfaced. Misinformation has thrived on social media, where it can be difficult to tell the difference between real and false quotes, images and articles. And with internet companies and governments struggling to keep up with the waves of false reports, politicians have expressed concern about how the misinformation might skew the voting process and stoke tensions.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives will begin casting their ballots for a new leader on Friday in an online process some candidates are challenging over worries the outcome will be tainted by false memberships and vote-rigging. The campaigns of former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford and political newcomer Caroline Mulroney have flagged concerns with the team running the PC Party’s leadership contest, saying a number of fraudulent memberships could have been purchased in recent weeks with prepaid credit cards. They also say a number of party members are still waiting to receive the paperwork they need to register to vote.
Germany said on Wednesday hackers had breached its government computer network with an isolated attack that had been brought under control and which security officials were investigating. A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said the affected government agencies had taken appropriate measures to investigate the incident and protect data. “The attack was isolated and brought under control within the federal administration,” which oversees government computer networks, he said in a statement, adding that the authorities were addressing the incident“with high priority and significant resources”.
He may potentially be the most powerful man in Italy, yet few people know who he is. Foreign ambassadors seek him out, even though he holds no public office. He claims to be but a simple member of a political movement, volunteering free technical assistance, but critics say he and his small Milan company control the votes, the candidates and the policies of the country’s leading party. As Italy faces critical national elections on Sunday, the media-shy internet entrepreneur, Davide Casaleggio, is the Wizard of Oz-like figure behind the tightly drawn curtain of the country’s front-running Five Star Movement as it approaches real political power.
In Syktyvkar, the capital of Komi in northwestern Russia, there is a junction where October Avenue crosses Pecherskaya Street. It’s a busy spot: the locals drive 14km along this, the longest avenue in Europe, to the outlying district of Ezhva and their jobs at one of Russia’s largest timber processing complexes. Here, there’s a large billboard at the junction, from which a portrait of Vladimir Putin observes the comings and goings of the city’s residents and visitors. The message on it reads: “A strong president means a strong Russia”. Putin’s face radiates confidence and calm. A police car sits next to the hoarding, alternating from time to time with an ordinary car and driver in plain clothes.
The former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, whose push for regional independence plunged Spain into its worst political crisis for 40 years, has abandoned his attempt to return to office and is stepping aside in favour of a candidate who is currently in prison. Puigdemont used a 13-minute video shared on social media on Thursday night to confirm reports he was no longer seeking the presidency. He said that “with the greatest sadness” he had informed the speaker of the Catalan parliament that he was unable to retake the post and that an alternative candidate should be chosen.
Venezuela’s government said Thursday that it was postponing the presidential election until May 20, allowing an extra month before the country’s snap vote but doing little to quell critics calling for a boycott. In addition to announcing the new date, the government said that it would allow international observers to participate and that members of regional councils would be chosen by Venezuelans going to the polls in May as well. President Nicolás Maduro is running for another six-year term after more than a year of crackdowns against opponents that have included jailing popular political rivals and using force to put down street protests.