The top U.S. intelligence official insisted on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s administration is “actively engaged” in countering Russian efforts to influence the November elections, even as he warned of Moscow’s continuing “malign activities.” “The White House is actively engaged,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a Senate hearing, where lawmakers pressed for answers on election security. “This is a high priority for them,” he said. Coats and other intelligence officials have warned repeatedly that Russia is already trying to interfere in the 2018 mid-term elections by using social media to spread propaganda and misleading reports, much as it did during the 2016 presidential race.
These could be tumultuous times for the tiny federal agency called the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In a mid-term election year in which the threat of Russian meddling in American balloting continues as front-page news, the 30-person staff in Silver Spring, Md., with its $9.2 million budget is forging ahead to help states and localities modernize voting equipment, recruit poll workers and make polling stations more accessible. Some Republican critics in Congress, however, have continued a years-old bid to defund the agency set up in 2002, calling it duplicative and proposing during this year’s continuing budget battle to move some functions to the Federal Election Commission.
National: Trump floats idea to secure elections: ‘It’s always good to have a paper backup’ | Politico
President Donald Trump has one idea to blunt the impact of Russian meddling in U.S. elections: “It’s called paper.” “One of the things we’re learning is, it’s always good — It’s old-fashioned — but it’s always good to have a paper back-up system of voting,” the president said Tuesday during a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. “It’s called paper. Not highly complex computers, paper. A lot of states are doing that. They’re going to a paper back-up. And I think that’s a great idea. We’re studying it closely. Various agencies, including homeland security, are studying it very carefully.” Trump, who has acknowledged Russia meddled in the 2016 election but has said his team was not involved in the effort, has been adamant that Russia had “no impact” on votes. He told reporters Tuesday that other countries “probably” were involved in presidential-election meddling as well.
Voter registration data in most states are public by law. What happens when voter registration data are compiled and parsed with data from internet browsing, shopping and social media? It’s a well-known fact that our foreign adversaries have attempted to influence and breach our election systems. We believe that they are trying to do so again and we need to stay two steps ahead of them in order to solve problems that may arise in securing voter data and the integrity of our election system. While we can all agree that elections systems are vulnerable, there is much more to the story. Ideas such as the Securing America’s Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act, proposed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), would allow election officials access to classified information and would designate election systems as critical infrastructure. Designating these systems as critical infrastructure will trigger additional cybersecurity controls and require oversight at many levels, state and federal.
California: Voters with sloppy signatures must have a chance to correct them, court rules | The Sacramento Bee
California elections officials must notify voters before rejecting their mail-in ballots over concerns that the signature is not authentic, a San Francisco judge ruled this week. Current California election law allows officials to toss out vote-by-mail ballots if they suspect the signature on the envelope does not match the signature on file for the voter, without giving the voter a chance to respond. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Northern California and law firm Cooley LLP sued Secretary of State Alex Padilla, arguing the practice is unconstitutional.
Massachusetts’ top court on Tuesday weighed whether it should declare a requirement that people must register to vote 20 days before an election unconstitutional, in a case that could impact the ability of thousands of citizens to cast ballots. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in an appeal by the state’s top election official of a ruling by a lower-court judge in July holding that the registration cutoff violates the state’s constitution. Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat who oversees the state’s elections, appealed the ruling, arguing that the 20-day rule did not impose a severe burden on voting rights.
Pennsylvania: Hearing looms on Pennsylvania congressional redistricting issue | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The only certainty in the congressional redistricting case is that Republicans lose if they can’t persuade a three-judge panel to grant a preliminary injunction, said Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law professor. The federal judges are scheduled to hear arguments Friday in Harrisburg. A preliminary injunction stops one side from taking an action while the other pursues its legal challenge. In this case, Republicans want to bar the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf from implementing a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 2011 congressional map for Pennsylvania drawn by GOP lawmakers. Since there’s little debate that map — considered one of the country’s most gerrymandered — is unconstitutional, the only question seems to be whether it will be used one last time for the 2018 elections, Ledewitz said.
Four Erie County residents on Tuesday called on County Council to switch from electronic touch-screen voting machines to paper ballots to ensure the security and integrity of elections. Their comments come on the heals of last month’s directive by Gov. Tom Wolf ordering counties that plan to replace their electronic voting machines to replace them with machines that leave a paper trail. Wolf said the order would increase the security of voting and make elections easier to audit, according to the Associated Press. In November, federal officials identified Pennsylvania as one of at least 21 states that had its election system targeted by hackers before the 2016 presidential election, according to AP. “You don’t have a paper trail for each vote,” said Hugh McCartney of North East Township. ”…What are we going to do. I know two options: Either you pay up those millions of dollars or go back to paper ballots.”
Legislation aimed to thwart a newly passed Utah Republican Party rule threatening to expel candidates who gather signatures to get on the primary election ballot passed a House committee Monday. HB485 would ensure that candidates who have already filed for office would be allowed on the 2018 primary ballot. The measure would ensure that candidates can be on the ballot with their party affiliation, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, told the House Business and Labor Committee. “We want clarity for this election,” he said. “We want candidates who decided to gather signatures and/or go to convention to feel comfortable with their decision, maintain the status quo.” The committee endorsed the bill 9-3, sending it to the full House for consideration.
State lawmakers passed the Washington Voting Rights Act the week, meant to give underrepresented minority groups a larger voice in elections. And that could mean more district-based voting in the future. The act encourages local governments to use district-based elections, like city councils in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane do already. The state senate gave final approval of the act Monday, sending it to Governor Jay Inslee for his signature. Democratic state Representative Zack Hudgins was among the bill’s supporters. “The bill before us addresses the problems that we saw in Yakima, and that we’ve heard about in Pasco,” he said.
Editorials: Why the Dutch plan to scrap advisory referendums is a step back for democracy | Matt Qvortrup/The Conversation
Dutch voters will go to the polls on March 21 for a referendum on the Security Act 2017, a law which grants the authorities extended surveillance rights. As in many other states, such legislation has raised concern in the Netherlands that the government is snooping on emails and other personal communication. Unlike most countries, however, Dutch voters can currently do something about it thanks to a 2015 law that means the government must hold an advisory referendum if 300,000 voters call for one. But the Dutch government now plans to overturn this right in the future. On February 22, a majority in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, voted to scrap the referendum law. It’s unlikely that the vote will be undone by the Senate when it comes to vote on the issue.
Electoral authorities of El Salvador will start today a final countdown of the legislative and municipal elections, among international denunciations of ballot-buying. Preliminary counting already left a very precise idea of the result of elections carried out last Sunday, characterized mainly to abstentionism and null votes, that favored rightwing Arena Party.
In 1983, Ailbhe Smyth was spat at and denounced as a “baby murderer” in the street as she campaigned for Irish women to have the right to abortion. Thirty-five years later, the activist is still at the heart of Ireland’s abortion battle, fighting for her daughter, granddaughter and other women to get control over their bodies. This time, she is hopeful that the country’s prohibition of abortion, even in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality, which is enshrined in the constitution, may be overturned in a referendum expected to be held on 25 May.
In Italy’s national elections on Sunday, Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister, a long-time spy chief and a member of the center-left Democratic Party, was soundly defeated in his parliamentary race by a candidate without a party. The winner was a man who had been kicked out of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement because he admitted he’d broken a party rule and not tithed part of his salary back to the movement. The majority of the other ministers in the current government, a grand coalition of center-left and center-right led by the Democratic Party, also lost in direct contests, although they’ll enter parliament through a proportional system.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will win the election — that’s a given. He maintains the overwhelming support of the Russian people, while the state has kicked his main opponent out of the race and sanctioned other candidates in the running. The outcome is so deeply etched in stone, even Putin himself seems bored. His campaign has been woefully lackluster. But on March 18, there will be one thing for the President to worry about: Turnout. It could be embarrassingly low, some polls suggest, and could raise questions about the legitimacy of Putin’s long-running authority. Putin is seeking a second consecutive term as president — a fourth altogether — to cement his power.
A deadly mudslide. A horrible Ebola virus that killed thousands. And a nation still in recovery from a civil war that killed more than 50,000 people. As Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on Wednesday, they hope to elect a leader who can help them overcome these tragedies. More than a dozen candidates are vying for votes in Wednesday’s election in what officials hope will be a peaceful democratic transition more than five decades since Sierra Leone gained independence. Though recent elections have been peaceful, several episodes of violence have occurred at political rallies this time, at least one death has been reported and several people have been seriously wounded. The Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the European Union have all issued statements calling for a peaceful election, as have many of the candidates.
A group of more than 40 charities, campaign groups and academics have written to the government to warn that plans to trial compulsory voter ID at the local elections in May risk disenfranchising large numbers of vulnerable people. The letter to Chloe Smith, the constitution minister, says the pilot scheme is a disproportionate response to the scale of electoral fraud, noting that in 2016 there were just 44 allegations of voter impersonation, the issue that compulsory ID is intended to combat. It said Electoral Commission figures indicated that 3.5 million people in Britain – 7.5% of the electorate – do not have access to any form of photo ID.