National: Inability to audit U.S. elections a ‘national security concern’: Homeland chief | Reuters

Not having a verifiable way to audit election results in some states represents a “national security concern,” the Trump administration’s homeland security chief said on Wednesday, looking ahead to U.S. midterm elections in November.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was prioritizing election cyber security above all other critical infrastructure it protects, such as the financial, energy and communications systems, the agency’s chief, Kirstjen Nielsen, told the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearing to examine the Trump administration’s efforts to improve election security came following U.S. intelligence officials’ repeated warnings that Russia will attempt to meddle in the 2018 contests after doing so during the 2016 presidential campaign.

National: Supreme Court takes up 2nd major partisan redistricting case | Associated Press

The Supreme Court has already heard a major case about political line-drawing that has the potential to reshape American politics. Now, before even deciding that one, the court is taking up another similar case. The arguments justices will hear Wednesday in the second case, a Republican challenge to a Democratic-leaning congressional district in Maryland, could offer fresh clues to what they are thinking about partisan gerrymandering, an increasingly hot topic before courts. Decisions in the Maryland case and the earlier one from Wisconsin are expected by late June.

National: Tumblr says Russia used it for fake news during 2016 election | The Guardian

The blogging platform Tumblr has unmasked 84 accounts that it says were used by a shadowy Russian internet group to spread disinformation during the 2016 US election campaign. Tumblr said it uncovered the scheme in late 2017, helping an investigation that led to the indictment in February of 13 individuals linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA). The announcement adds Tumblr to the list of internet platforms targeted in a social media campaign that US officials said sought to disrupt the 2016 election and help boost Donald Trump’s bid to defeat Hillary Clinton. A Tumblr statement said it discovered the accounts “were being used as part of a disinformation campaign leading up to the 2016 US election”. The company said it notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts, and deleted the posts while working “behind the scenes” with the US Justice Department.

Editorials: America’s Warped Elections | The New York Times

Many Democratic voters and activists are giddy about their party’s chances of retaking the House in 2018. Savoring surprise victories in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Virginia, they have visions of a blue wave election. If political history were the only guide, they would be right. Polls in recent days have shown Democrats with around a 9-point average lead on the generic congressional ballot, which asks Americans which party they’ll vote for in the coming election. Under ordinary conditions, a lead that size would be more than enough to net the 24 seats Democrats need to regain a majority. But a big reality check is in order. Even the strongest blue wave may crash up against a powerful structural force in American politics: extreme gerrymandering. Pending court cases, including one scheduled to be argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday (in which our organization filed an amicus brief), may change the terrain going forward. But no matter how the high court rules, its decision will almost certainly come too late to affect the 2018 vote.

Georgia: Legislature Considers New Voter Equipment, but Experts Say Law Needs Fix | Atlanta Progressive News

The State House is currently considering SB 403, to replace the current E-voting machines, which are direct recording, with ballot marking devices, allowing for a paper audit trail in Georgia elections by Jan. 01, 2024. On Feb. 28, 2018, the bill passed the State Senate nearly unanimously, in a vote of fifty to one. However, elections integrity organizations including VoterGA, Common Cause Georgia, Verified Voting, the National Election Defense Coalition, Georgians for Verified Voting, and the Georgia Sunshine Project have expressed their opposition to the House version of SB 403 in part because voter protections were ignored.  

Georgia: State legislature’s final hours focus on paper ballots | Associated Press

Thursday will mark the last day of Georgia’s 40-day legislative session, and several bills, including proposals that would replace the state’s 16-year-old electronic voting system and give victims of childhood sexual assault more time to sue their abusers, await action by either the House or Senate. The final days of the session are generally chaotic as lawmakers push to vote on as many bills as possible and use legislative maneuvers to hitch stalled proposals to other bills. Here’s a look at some of the latest action from the General Assembly and what is expected in its final days: A proposal that has passed the Senate but awaits a vote in the House would move Georgia from its 16-year-old electronic touchscreen voting system with no paper backup, to either a touchscreen system that prints a paper ballot or paper ballots marked by pencil.

Maine: State races to implement election overhaul before June vote | Associated Press

Maine election officials are racing to implement a new voting system in time for the June primary, marking the first use of ranked-choice voting in statewide primary elections. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap plans to submit proposed rules governing the voting method by month’s end. “It is exciting to finally have a clear mandate of what we’re doing. But it’s also very daunting because we’ve never done this before,” Dunlap said. “You get only one crack at it. There are no do-overs in elections.” The system lets voters rank candidates from first to last. A candidate who wins an outright majority of first-place votes is declared the winner.

Maryland: Republicans take electoral map fight to U.S. high court | Reuters

When Maryland Democrats drew new U.S. House of Representatives district maps in 2011, long-time Republican voter Bill Eyler found himself removed from a conservative rural district and inserted into a liberal one encompassing Washington suburbs. Eyler, a retired business owner in the small town of Thurmont roughly 55 miles north of the U.S. capital, said he thinks he and others like him were being targeted by the Democrats because of their party affiliation. He was inserted into a Democratic-leaning congressional district in an electoral map that diminished the statewide clout of Republican voters. “There’s nothing we can do or say or vote that will make any difference,” Eyler said in an interview.

New Mexico: Straight party voting may return to New Mexico | Albuquerque Journal

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver hopes to bring back straight party voting – possibly as soon as November – which would allow voters to check a single box to vote for a major party’s entire slate of candidates. However, critics of straight party voting say the practice gives an unfair advantage to major party candidates – especially Democrats – over those who are independent or affiliated with minor parties. And state Republican Party officials have indicated that they might pursue a court challenge if straight party voting is enacted. A Secretary of State’s Office spokesman said Toulouse Oliver intends to hold public hearings before implementing straight party voting, and it’s unclear whether that will happen in time for the Nov. 6 general election. But he insisted that state law gives the secretary of state the authority to unilaterally reimpose the voting option.

Pennsylvania: National GOP group drops lawsuit threat over Pennsylvania’s special election | Tribune

The National Republican Congressional Committee will not file a lawsuit over “irregularities” the group said occurred in last week’s 18th Congressional District special election, a spokesman said Friday. Republican Rick Saccone on Wednesday conceded defeat in his race against Democrat Conor Lamb. Unofficial tallies show Lamb, 33, of Mt. Lebanon won by 755 votes. The NRCC, which poured more than $3 million into the race, said the day after the election that it was considering legal action over alleged glitches in electronic voting machines, reports from people who said they couldn’t find the right polling places and a Saccone attorney who had to get a signed authorization from the Republican Party before an Allegheny County elections official would let the attorney watch the vote-counting process.

Utah: Hackers penetrate voting machines used in 2016 election at SLC cybersecurity conference | KSL

Huddled in the corner of a small room in the Salt Palace Convention Center are a group of hackers and a row of 12 voting machines. The machines, all of which were used during the 2016 election in Utah, are now strewn in pieces across a table as attendees of HackWest’s first annual cybersecurity conference pour over them, searching for vulnerabilities. And they’ve found a pretty major one. Any hacker can enter a voting booth, remove the card reader from the machine, turn off the machine, then power it back on again. Once the voting machine has turned back on, the screen will display a “no card reader” error message. All the hacker has to do from there is pop the card reader back in, and the machine will display the system setup.

Virginia: After irregular ballot helped decide a Virginia House election, state aims to make ballot more clear | The Virginian-Pilot

It was the ballot seen around the world. One voter’s flawed attempt to be counted in Newport News in December helped decide a pivotal Virginia House election and political control of the chamber. The bubbles for both candidates, David Yancey and Shelly Simonds, were filled in, but Simonds’ had a slash through it. A court had to decide the voter’s intent, which tied the race and setup the infamous name drawing out of the bowl. But had the voter simply asked for another ballot after his or her mistake, the whole thing could have been avoided.

Wisconsin: GOP aims to block judge’s order to call special election | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

One day after a judge dealt Republicans a setback by ordering special elections, Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow GOP leaders in the Legislature said they will pass legislation to block those elections. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said they would take up legislation to change special election rules after a Dane County judge ruled that Walker must call special elections to fill two legislative seats that have been vacant almost three months. Walker quickly committed to signing the bill, which has not yet been released. “It would be senseless to waste taxpayer money on special elections just weeks before voters go to the polls when the Legislature has concluded its business. This is why I support, and will sign, the Senate and Assembly plan to clarify special election law,” Walker said in a statement. 

Egypt: Polls open amid concerns over voter apathy | The Guardian

Egyptians are going to the polls on Monday in an election that is almost certain to result in victory for the president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, after all credible opponents after all credible opponents were prevented from getting on the ballot. The country’s 60 million eligible voters have a choice between the incumbent and a little-known candidate who has previously expressed support for Sisi. But amid concern that the personality campaign that inspired “Sisi-mania” before the 2014 election is likely to be met with widespread voter apathy this time, the government has mounted a fierce campaign in an attempt to boost numbers at the polls. Turnout is seen as the only issue that will be in doubt in this election.

Hungary: Disunity and Gerrymandering Frustrate Anti-Orban Voters | The New York Times

In Budapest 1, a parliamentary district at the heart of the Hungarian capital, most voters will not support the party of Viktor Orban, the country’s far-right prime minister, in a general election on April 8. Yet as things stand, Mr. Orban’s party, Fidesz, will hold on to the seat — and its huge majority in Parliament. That speaks as much to the relative strength of Mr. Orban’s base as it does to his gerrymandering and his allies’ takeover of most private news outlets. But it’s also because Hungary’s gaggle of small left-liberal opposition parties, who collectively form a majority in seats like this one, refuse to join forces behind a unity candidate.

Italy: We still don’t know who will lead Italy. But one clear winner is the Kremlin. | The Washington Post

Italy’s Parliament convened Friday for the first time since anti-establishment forces shattered the old-line political system, and it remains unclear who will lead the country. But one victor is certain: the Kremlin. The populist Five Star Movement and the far-right League — the two parties most likely to bring together a ruling coalition — have called for a swift end to European sanctions against Russia. Both want to reorient the NATO defense alliance away from its increasingly robust stance in Eastern Europe, where it has stationed troops and tanks to defend against a possible conflict with the Kremlin. And both say Russia is a valuable partner in the global fight against terrorism in Syria and elsewhere.

Mexico: Mexico fights its own ‘fake news’ battle ahead of vote | AFP

With allegations of Russian interference and a flood of “fake news,” the race for Mexico’s presidential election is shaping up to look a lot like the last one in its giant northern neighbour, the United States. The campaign for the July 1 polls officially opens Friday, but already the internet is swarming with dubious “news” stories: there are allegations of meddling by Moscow, and attention is fixated on scandal-rocked data miner Cambridge Analytica’s local activities. Trying to get ahead of the curve, the National Electoral Institute (INE) recently signed deals with Facebook and Twitter, and is due to sign another with Google, seeking to fight the fake with the true. “We are going to ask all the social networks to let us publish official information” on their platforms, said INE board member Enrique Andrade. That includes broadcasts of the three presidential debates and live election results.

New Zealand: Legal battle over prisoner voting ban heard at Supreme Court | Radio New Zealand

The career criminal, Arthur Taylor, has taken his legal battle challenging a ban on prisoner voting to this country’s highest court. The High Court and Court of Appeal have already ruled against them, but in December the Supreme Court agreed to give them one last hearing. In 2010, Parliament passed a law preventing all sentenced prisoners from voting, regardless of the length of their sentence. However, earlier electoral legislation allowed prisoners serving a jail term of less than three years to vote.

Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone court halts preparations for presidential run-off | AFP

Sierra Leone’s High Court on Saturday ordered the electoral commission to halt preparations for a March 27 presidential run-off following a legal filing by a lawyer linked to the ruling party. The order stops the National Electoral Commission (NEC) from working until “the hearing and determination of this court”, adjourning the matter until Monday, the eve of the vote. This would allow time for the commission to submit a question to the Supreme Court, it said, after which the High Court would sit again to reconsider the matter.

Turkmenistan: Pro-government candidates in election for rubber-stamp Turkmen parliament | Reuters

Turkmenistan is voting in a parliamentary election on Sunday, with a choice of three parties and some independents, but all the candidates are ultimately loyal to President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, leader of the gas-rich nation. One of the candidates is the president’s son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, regarded by observers as a potential successor to the 60-year-old leader, who is referred to by local people as Arkadag, or Protector. Although the vote takes place against the backdrop of foreign currency shortages brought on by a drop in gas exports, there are no opposition parties in the former Soviet republic of six million. Polling stations greeted voters with national music and dance shows, and snacks.